10 Mistakes No One Should Have Time for in a Cover Letter

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#1 Addressing the Wrong University

This would seem like common sense for most; however, if you are using a generic cover letter, or updating a cover letter that you’ve sent out before for a similar position, it can be easy to forget to change the name of the university throughout your cover letter.  One second you’re talking to University of Awesome, but towards the end of your letter, you’re addressing State University of Awkward. Pro Tip: Highlight where you are going to be using any type of name/title (i.e. university, committee chair, position) and make sure they are consistent throughout before you remove the highlights. 

#2 Stating Everything That's On Your Resume

In most cases, you will be submitting a resume along with your cover letter. The primary purpose of the cover letter is to briefly introduce yourself, how you heard about the position, why you are interested in the position, and what you would bring to the table. Your resume lets them know what QUALIFIES you for the position (i.e., what you’ve already done). Pro Tip: Think of your cover letter as your 1-minute elevator pitch and let your resume do the rest of the work.


#3 Giving THEM a Deadline

When it’s our dream job that’s on the line, we sometimes get a little antsy. If the job posting has a close date listed, then you already have a timeline to work with. If there is no close date listed, you still don’t want to rush the search committee by stating, “If I don’t hear from you by next Tuesday, I will contact you again.” Pro Tip: Be patient! Most search committees are working within a structured timeline. 

#4 Bad Grammar, Slang, and Assumptions

Their is no easy way too put this but bad grammer is no good [See what I did there].  Your cover letter is going to be the first impression employers have of you.  Take your time to make sure you are using the correct verb tense and proper word choice throughout the document.  Try not to assume that the person reading your cover letter will automatically know what the associate student development counselor is.  Many titles translate differently across institution type; a Resident Assistant (RA) one place is a Community Advisor (CA) somewhere else. Pro Tip: Read the next bullet and take it to heart. 

#5 Not Getting a Second Opinion

It will be in your best interest to have someone else (possibly a mentor) look over your cover letter before you submit it. When you have looked over a document numerous times, small issues can be overlooked. Remember that feedback is love; so keep an open mind to the critiques that you receive. Also, be sure to give yourself plenty of time for at least two revisions. Pro Tip: Give your reviewer a copy of the job posting and your resume so they have a frame of reference while they critique your cover letter. 

#6 Flat Out Lying

Student Affairs is a small field. Play it safe and don’t lie about anything. Don’t embellish. Just tell the truth! It will be very evident in the interview if you have lied about something in your cover letter. You should be able to speak confidently about everything you have shared in your cover letter. Pro Tip: The six degrees of separation theory is real in Student Affairs (sometimes its less than six). It’s very easy to find out more about you and what you’ve done; so stick to what you know. 

#7 Name Dropping

Telling the search committee that you are best friends with the Vice President of Student Affairs, the provost, and the athletics director is most likely not going to give you any extra help.  Let your work speak for itself! However, it is ok to mention the name of a person if that is how you learned about the job. Pro Tip: "It’s not who you know, but who knows you and what you know." ~Anonymous 

#8 Telling Your Entire Life Story

It’s not an online dating site. If your cover letter is longer than one page, you are most likely doing too much. The search committee does not need to know that your favorite color is lilac, your favorite TV show is WWE, or that you own two parakeets. Pro Tip: Remember to keep it professional.


#9 Making It Too Flashy

While it is ok for your cover letter to reflect the style of your resume (and it should), you don’t want either document to be “overly designed”. Stay away from large scripts and images. Use a simple and easy to follow format. Pro Tip: Head shots are not necessary.



#10 Not Doing Your Research about the Position

You want the search committee to know that you are indeed the right candidate for the job and that starts by doing your research.   The experiences that you include in your cover letter and resume should reflect the qualifications listed in the post. If your experiences don’t match up exactly with what the qualifications are, you will want to show how your skill set would be transferrable. Pro Tip: Research hot topics for that particular area; this could be institution specific, functional area, or regional issues.

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