Four common cover letter mistakes to avoid

Joshua Crofts
Wednesday 13 December 2023

A cover letter is an important part of many job and internship applications. It’s crucial that you avoid four of the most common mistakes we see students and graduates make when writing one.

1. Not tailoring

When applying for many opportunities, it’s tempting to submit the same cover letter as part of every application you make. This is especially true if you are applying to several roles that seem to be similar.

But your cover letter should always be unique to the opportunity you are applying for. This is because it’s your opportunity to explain why you meet the requirements of this job, in this company, in this sector. If you are submitting the same cover letter to different roles, even if they are similar, you are probably not doing a good job of explaining why this is the opportunity you want–and there’s a good chance the employer will be able to tell.

2. Not formatting

Cover letters should be formatted like a formal letter. This means including your own address, the employer’s address, the date, a subject, and a formal salutation (‘Dear…’) and valediction (‘Yours…’).

Remember that you should try to find a named contact at the organisation you are applying to, avoiding the generic ‘Dear Sir/Madam…’. If you can find a named contact, end with ‘Yours sincerely…’. If you can’t, end with ‘Yours faithfully…’.

After formatting, your cover letter should fit on one A4 page, assuming a professional font (such as Calibri, Arial or Times New Roman) at a size of at least 11.

3. Not saying why you want the job, and why you will fit in

It’s very common to focus on how you can do the job or internship you are applying for in your cover letter. But while this is important, it’s equally important to explain why you want the job, both within the sector and within the company.

You should take time to explain why this role interests you, and how pursuing it fits with your wider career ambitions. But just as important is explaining why you want to work for this organisation in particular, and how you would be a good fit for it.

When doing this, try to avoid repeating the company’s marketing material or statement of values, since this shows a lack of in-depth research or commitment. Instead, you could read news reports, look at its financial statements, and note anything specific that the organisation has achieved or challenges it has faced.

Where possible, support your claims to be interested in the sector and a fit for the employer by using evidence from your own work experience, volunteering, extra-curriculars, and education.

4. Not paying attention to detail

Your cover letter reflects your professionalism and attention to detail, skills that are desirable to employers. This means that your cover letter should be written in good English and be formal in tone throughout.

This can sometimes be difficult, but there are several ways of getting help. If English is not your first language, the University can support you through the Academic English Service. If English is your first language, it can be helpful to read your cover letter out loud, preferably to somebody else. If you have a specific learning disability that might pose additional challenges in this area, you may find it helpful to contact the University’s Disability Team.

Remember also that when applying to jobs in the UK, you should write in British English.

Careers Centre help

The Careers Centre has many resources to help you write a cover letter:

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