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Top 5 Cover Letter Don’ts

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Photo provided by Flickr user Bryce Watanabe.

Graduation and summer are here, and applying for jobs is soon to be top of mind. A good cover letter is a key opportunity to sell yourself as the best candidate for the position, but everyone knows that blank page can be intimidating. Not enough space to say everything, just enough space to say too much. The cover letter can be kryptonite for even the best candidate.

Fear not, we have your back. We checked in with career service experts around campus to find out how to make a good first impression with your cover letter — and what are some big mistakes to avoid.


1. Don’t Start with “To Whom It May Concern”

Starting with “To Whom It May Concern” doesn’t make a strong first impression. Instead, find the name of the person who will be reviewing your application. Look on the company website or use the company name or human resources department representative in your greeting. Personalizing the greeting sets the standard at the start that you pay attention to details.

2. Don’t Use a Standardized Cover Letter

Using a generic cover letter can make you look like a generic candidate. Like your resume, your cover letter should highlight specific experience and skills that are relevant to your prospective employer — not describe every job you have ever had. You can update an existing cover letter for different jobs by editing the details (your skills, experience, company name, etc.). But proofread carefully: tweaking the same cover letter to apply to different jobs may result in a letter that says you look forward to working at the wrong company.

3. Don’t Be Too Casual

Cover letter writing could be considered “business casual” ­— professional and clean, yet personable. From your salutation to the formatting of the paragraphs, it’s important to demonstrate that you are competently following professional standards in your correspondence.

4. Don’t Open with a Boring First Line

In reality, the recruiter who receives your application might only skim your cover letter. So make sure the first line of each paragraph counts. Like any paper, a strong topic sentence grabs attention, sets the tone and highlights information.

5. Don’t Focus on Why You Want the Job

The hiring manager doesn’t want to know what the job will do for your resume or career. They want to know what skills, experience and value you’ll bring to the job. It’s important to convey your enthusiasm for the position, but keep your focus on what you can do for the job.

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Email: UTMedia@utexas.edu
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The University of Texas at Austin

Five Resume-Writing Don’ts

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