Well, if we are being honest, there are probably thousands of phrases that will ruin your cover letter, but we have to start somewhere. Also keep in mind, as we often remind our clients, the ultimate purpose of a resume and cover letter is to get you shortlisted for an interview, and ultimately help get a job. So the goal of this blog is to prevent you from saying things that will detract from that goal!
With that said, the following 10 phrases are examples of things not to say in your cover letter.
1. Don’t tell your life story
Does your cover letter contain anything resembling the following phrases:
- “I was born on the East Coast and I was the middle child…”
- “I was voted most likely to succeed…”
- “I’m looking forward to starting a family…”
Unless any of the above phrases are directly related to your role or future career aspirations, you should avoid using them. Keep your cover letter content focused on things that will show suitability for the specific role and demonstrate how you will bring value to the company, rather than general interesting facts about you and your life.
2. Avoid PORP
This goes without saying, we hope, but a cover letter is no place to share your Personal Opinions on Religion or Politics. No need for examples on this one, we hope.
3. Avoid phrases related to money or salary in the cover letter
We are strong believers in being open and honest about asking for what you deserve when it comes to salary negotiation, but there is a time and place. Saying something like “My goal for this role is to make at least $45,000” is a definite turn-off, and it might be a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating your salary.
4. Avoid negative statements against your current or past employers
Yes, we also know that you are looking for a new job because something was not right with the current or previous employer, but be careful not to badmouth them in your cover letter.
When referring to your previous employer and experience, avoid the following phrases:
- “I’m excited about leaving my terrible job and my boss…”
- “Looking forward to working with a company that’s not a horrible environment…”
- “Unlike my previous company, I’ve heard great things about this company…”
It is a very small world when it comes to Hiring Managers and Recruiters, so be careful with how you speak of your previous employers.
5. Don’t call out your weaknesses or lack of knowledge
Yes, you should be 100% honest about your skills and expertise, but you also don’t want to draw attention to your lack of skills in certain areas.
Try avoiding the phrases when it comes to your experience and skills:
- “although I have never worked for a company as big as XYZ”
- “I don’t know the first thing about selling XYZ product”
- “I hope I can stand the pressure of working in the XYZ industry”
Not everyone is 100% qualified for their new job, but you want to focus on your strengths, rather than weaknesses.
6. Focus on the current role, not beyond that
The last thing a recruiter or hiring manager wants to hear is that their company is just a stepping stone for you. You find to find a balance between showing ambition and commitment.
“This marketing coordinator role will give me the experience I need to go after my dream position…” You will have plenty of chances to share your career aspirations once you have the job.
7. Avoid phrases that limit your potential
Don’t use limiting phrases, such as, “ I can only work 9-5” or “I can never work on the weekend”. You will have plenty of opportunities to discuss the job requirements during the interview process.
8. Don’t mention goals and skills you have yet to achieve
For example, be careful about using phrases such as “One day I hope to go back and finish my Master’s Degree…” or “I have always wanted to learn basic coding…”
If you do mention these future goals, make sure to layout a SOLID timeline, and plan of how you will achieve them.
Instead, you want to do your research and use statements that demonstrate your knowledge of the company or industry.
9. When listing your skills and expertise make sure to avoid phrases that are vague or generic
The following phrase could prevent your cover letter from passing the ATS screening process:
- “I’m great at sales and customer service…”
- “I have always excelled at project management…”
- “I always hit my targets and goals at my previous roles”
Need more advice? Check out Pro Cover Letter Tips from a Hiring Manager
Instead, use actual data and figures to make your point.
- Out of 26 Account Managers, I was able to hit my target of $450k in quarterly sales in 4 consecutive quarters and maintained a 60% closing ratio.
BOOM! You’re hired.
10. Keep your content as neutral as possible
You never know who will be on the other side reading your cover letter, so try and be extra cognizant of EVERY phrase you write. Here are some obvious phrases to avoid.
- I’m not a big believer in taxes for the rich
- I don’t’ agree with company culture and fitting in
You get the idea.