Cover Letter No-No's (What Kills the Chances of Yours Getting Read)

Cover letter techniques to help you get noticed by hiring managers

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An estimated 50 percent of recruiters never read cover letters. It's no wonder why. After speaking to several recruiters I know who place hundreds of people in jobs each year, here's what they shared:

When they open a cover letter, if they skim it and see it's just a repetition of what is already in the resume, they skip reading it.

In fact, studies show you have less than six seconds to get their attention. According to my recruiting colleagues, most job seekers fail miserably in that short window of time!

A Cover Letter Isn't a Resume

The resume is a fact-based summary of your skills and accomplishments. A cover letter is your chance to share with the employer how you feel aligned with their company, mission, product, service, etc. According to my recruiter friends, here are just a few examples of things job seekers commonly put in cover letters that they don't like:

1) As you'll see, I'm a motivated, high achiever with 15 years of experience in...
You are telling the recruiter flat out you are repeating what they'll see in the resume, ultimately, wasting their time.

2) I know I would be a huge asset to your team.
You are making a big assumption about your value, which recruiters don't appreciate. They'll be the ones to decide if you could be a "huge asset."

3) At XYZ Corp, I was instrumental in a cost-saving measure that...
Again, telling them something they can find on the resume, and therefore, wasting their time.

4) I am applying to your ____ position as seen in the _____.
They already know you are applying if you are submitting the application online. Don't use up the body of the cover letter explaining the obvious. If they asked you to make note of the job you are applying to in the application, simply put a "RE: Applying for ___ Position" below their address and before your "Dear Hiring Manager," in your cover letter as a way to let them know.

I could give you a lot more examples, but you get the drift. If you want your cover letter to get read, give the recruiter something worth reading!

Good Test For Your Cover Letter - Would You Say It In Person?

A great way to tell if your cover letter is sending the right message is to ask yourself, "If the hiring manager was standing in front of me, could I read this cover letter to them and sound normal?" The answer is usually "no," because we tend to mistakenly write cover letters in a formal, self-promotional tone.

4 Tips for Creating a "Disruptive" Cover Letter

If you want to improve the chances of your cover letter getting read, then you need to give it a F.A.C.E. Lift. You should focus the content of the letter to include the right:

Format - Clean-lined font, 11 point in size, left-text justified with one-inch margins. Stay clear of fancy, scripted fonts and tiny type - both make it impossible to read. And, keep margins in place so there is plenty of whitespace on the page for easier reading.

Attitude - Use conversational speech (no fancy words) and don't be afraid to show enthusiasm. This is your chance to let your personality show.

Connection - Discuss how you feel connected to the company's product, service, mission, business model, etc. You have to share how you feel part of their corporate tribe.

Experience - Tell a story about a personal or professional experience that taught you how important the work is they are doing. Find a way to back-up the connection you share with them by validating it with an experience that taught you what they do is valuable.

PS - Always Start With An Exciting Statement

The best cover letters get hiring managers at "hello." Don't be afraid to open the cover letter with a bolded, powerful statement like,
  • I remember the first time I used your product.
  • My life was changed the day I learned how to ____.
  • I've been tied to your company for 10+ years now. Here's how...

These are wonderful openers that engage the reader to pay attention to the story you are sharing with them. And, if you do a great job, they'll be inspired to go over and check out your resume, too - they might even give it the proper attention it deserves. (Here's a free video tutorial where I explain step-by-step how to create a disruptive cover letter with a bold opening statement.)

Better still, when done right, the disruptive cover letter makes for a great conversation piece when the recruiter contacts you. Many of my clients have told me the first thing a recruiter has said to them during a phone interview is, "Wow, your cover letter really was outstanding. It was so refreshing to read one like that." And that's exactly what you want, right?

First time reading my posts? Nice to meet you! Here's another I've written for AOL that you might enjoy:

4 Things to Keep Off Your Resume
Filed under: Cover Letters
J.T. O'Donnell

J.T. O'Donnell


J.T. O'Donnell is a career and workplace expert who founded the top-ranked career advice site, In 2009, she launched CareerHMO, the first on-line career care membership site which specializes in curing chronic career pain.

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Angela Hayes

It is very important to keep it simple and straightforward, professional services can be a very good option
in some situations (trades/employers), I always take into account the standards of the seeker and appreciate
a true assessment. Companies requirements would depend on qualifications for that post.

November 07 2013 at 6:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So in this authors opinion we should be unprofessional when submitting a cover letter and either way only 50% will be read. So very disappointing. I am sticking with the professional cover letter. When I was hiring for my businesses those were the ones that stuck out. Professional positions require professional responses and professional cover letters.

October 28 2013 at 12:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ms. O'Donnell, what kills the chances of this or any other article written by you being read is the basic lack of fundamental knowledge of correct punctuation that is not only taught in elementary school but has been eradicated in the simple thought process through the invention and high usage of "spell check," thus ensuring the continued deterioration of basic English and Language Arts, not only in the spoken form but also, sadly, in the written form, as evidenced by this ridiculously long run-on sentence which, I am quite sure, you yourself was blissfully, albeit ignorantly unaware of. (By the way, the imperfect grammar and ending the sentence in a preposition was absolutely deliberate.)

October 28 2013 at 11:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Angela's comment

"Run on" sentences ...

February 09 2014 at 9:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Taunt-On Sadie

I can't even read this article because of the glaring grammatical error in the article's title. How can we possibly trust anyone to tell us what to write and what not to write when this person obviously missed the lesson on the proper usage of apostrophes in school.

October 27 2013 at 12:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This information was not a big help at all. You say what not to say, yet you don't write here what one should say. Most jobs that are listed don't even have a company name, so how can you relate to a company you don't even know the name of, let alone heard of until the job posting.

October 26 2013 at 4:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Now retired, I, as an aerospace company manager, read many resumes and cover letters. The four tips offered by this "expert" would have turned me off immediately. Of all the silly asinine things to incorporate into a cover those four are the worst.

October 25 2013 at 4:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Another stupid article written by a stupid woman.

October 25 2013 at 3:17 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to agranon2's comment

I think that some people have forgotten that this is supposed to be a PROFESSIONAL forum. Please try to keep it that way, people, and remember that your current, past and future colleagues/employers may be reading this!

October 28 2013 at 4:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Heather's comment

Of course! An employer is going to know exactly, who is agranon2. Hi Jerry, how's the weather in Panama? Seriously! If that is your true name, I am not really sorry. However, I can say that I actually agree. This seems rather counter-intuitive. Why would some lazy arse employer want to read a cover letter, when they could hire someone who is completely unequipped for the position? I see it all the time. Stupid employers (yes, I mean that in the most polite way possible) hire mormons, seems in my state that mormons look out for their own. This is rather irritating, because I can assure you, that I could be a wonderful addition to you team -so bold in saying that eh!- I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true.

But then again, everybody lies on their Resumes, so why would it be any different. Employers „Hire” to get more money from the state, which in turn goes directly to the yacht and the ****** that the CEO sleeps with -hush hush money, really- The employees are set to 8.25 dollars an hour and are taught a lesson; because we all know that the poor need to work an learn not to use welfare, but the CEO's complain that their employees know jack squat about dip squat. The cycle of idiocy continues until the Union pushes for another raise, but the corporate owners think that is: like totally stupid, like OMG.. Like I want to live in my large house where only 3 rooms are being used... They all were at least used when we first moved in... if you know what I mean ;)

What really irritates me is that their are a ton of companies that claim they are hiring. But are they really? NO, **** NO. That is what irritates me... When you see a „Now hiring” sign in the window, it means that the CEO spent all his money on his mistress and his wife is 3-4 days away from finding out that the Yacht's parking spot payment was be late. Should you have anything to counter my „total disrespect for the rich and subsequently mentally incapable” please do help me figure out. I should say that for every bloody position I have applied for, AND gotten a call back on, NOT ONE have I been brought back for a secondary interview. Why? my guess is that I'm too bloody good for their company. I DON'T DEMAND TOO MUCH MONEY, JUST ENOUGH TO SUPPORT THE UNNECESSARILY EXPENSIVE UNIVERSITY COSTS, and other payments.

Is that really all that hard to ask for? I have personable skills, I can make a wonderful asset to your team (**** off with the whole: We decide if you'll be good or not... truth be told, first impressions are more often than not, totally inaccurate. And from what I gather, your judgement sometimes doesn't seem to be very much admirable.) Too blunt? or god forbid you can't read and post: So lang werde nicht das durch lesen!

This world is no more what it used to be. When you hear the phrase: Cash is king, you can bet top dollar, that it certainly is.

April 07 2014 at 4:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

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