Writing a Cover Letter: 5 Words & Phrases That Might Lose You the Job

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You’ve customized your cover letter to the role and company, drafted compelling opening and closing lines, and even figured out how to address the most frequent issues about writing cover letters.

But your job is not yet done. Once you’ve got a working draft, it’s time to grab your red pen. Double check your cover letter to make sure you’re not using any of the words and phrases below that might sabotage your chances of securing a job interview.

1. “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To Whom It May Concern”

Why avoid this phrase?: 

If you don’t have the name of the person to whom you can address your cover letter, you should make every effort to find it using Google, the social media (LinkedIn, Facebook), company website, the telephone, a contact within the company, or whatever other means you have.

Using a generic salutation can create a negative first impression and may suggest that you’re not quite resourceful to find out who the Hiring Manager or Recruiter is for the role.

A better alternative:

“Dear Mr. Jones,” or “Dear Ms. Fox” (Indicate the real name of the person to whom you are addressing the letter).

Why is this better?

By addressing the Hiring Manager or Recruiter by name, you’re able to create a personal connection, and it also shows that you put in the extra work to find out the recipient of your cover letter.

2. Opinion Phrases such as “I think,” “I believe,” “I guess.” 

Example: 

“I think I’d be a great fit for this role.” “I guess I want this job because it fits my qualification.” “I believe I’m the right candidate for this position.”

Why avoid this phrase?: 

Opinion phrases show a lack of confidence. This adds a level of doubt to your sentence, which is not exactly the kind of message you want to convey to your prospective employer.

A better alternative:

“I will be a great fit for this role.” “I’m interested in this job because it fits my qualification.” “I’m well suited to this role.”

Why is this better?

These phrases show assertiveness and conviction without sounding arrogant or pretentious. These also eliminate any element of uncertainty, ultimately securing the trust and confidence of your potential employer.

3. Complicated ‘Big’ Words

Example: 

“The job entails a steadfast individual who will navigate the constant influx of content and propagate information on a daily basis. My multifaceted skill-set in this domain will burgeon in this role.”

Why avoid this phrase?: 

Avoid using language that your recipient will have to look up in the dictionary, or that will over-complicate the message of your cover letter. Applicants who apply highfalutin words in their writing may be regarded as untrustworthy and overcompensating by their colleagues.

A better alternative:

“My skills in publishing relevant content will enable me to excel in this role.”

Why is this better?

Writing in clear and straightforward English will guarantee that Hiring Managers and Recruiters can relate to you as an articulate human, and not as an alien from another planet. It’s always best to write in a way that enables the employer to understand what you are saying without the need for them to speculate.

4. “I’m Just”

Example: 

“I’m just writing an email to apply for the Health Club Manager role.”

Why avoid this phrase?: 

Most applicants unconsciously use this phrase when submitting their cover letter. It’s a phrase that shows a lack of confidence and comes across as being apologetic. This phrase, primarily when used in the opening line, is also generic and unmemorable, not giving the Hiring Manager or Recruiter something about which to get excited or be intrigued.

A better alternative:

“I was excited to find an opening for the Health Club Manager role with Company XYZ, especially since that I’m passionate about fitness and have attended several of your company’s health events.”

Why is this better?

If you’re genuinely interested in a specific industry, attracted to the company’s brands, or have used their products or services before, this is an excellent opportunity to say so. Employers value real enthusiasm since it often translates to highly motivated and successful employees.

5. “Average,” “Good”

Example:

 “I’m good at using Excel and has average skill in using the HMTL language.”

Why avoid this phrase?: 

Avoid putting anything on your cover letter that will showcase you being merely average. Remember that the function of your cover letter is to show off your strengths and not expose your weaknesses. There are also many adjective options out there, and they are almost all more potent than “good” such as “skilled,” “proficient,” “talented,” “apt,” and “capable.”

A better alternative:

“I’m proficient in Excel and interested in expanding my knowledge of HTML. I’m eager for the chance to improve these skills.”

Why is this better?

If, for some reason, you feel the need to mention something that you’re not excellent at, perhaps because the employer requires you to disclose your skill level on a particular task, then it’s always best to emphasize the fact that you’re willing to put in the extra effort to enhance these skills.

Other Words and Phrases to Avoid

“As you can see on my resume” 

This is a common filler phrase. But if the Hiring Manager can see something on your resume, announcing its presence is not necessary.

“I’m the best candidate because…”

 To stay on the Hiring Manager’s good side, avoid using “best” as it may seem arrogant. And even if you’re sure that you’d be a fantastic choice, you don’t know if you’re the “best.”

“Really, truly, deeply, totally, very” 

Flowery language and excessive adverbs can come across as insincere. A sentence without these fillers is more succinct, and thus more effective

In Summary

Excellent cover letters leave an impression that attracts potential employers to proceed with reading your resume. On the contrary, lousy cover letters repel recruiters.

You can control how your cover letter introduces you by avoiding these undesirable words and phrases. Why not start revisiting your cover letter now?

Written By
Rev Santos is the Founder of a fast-growing resume writing agency (Rev-Up Your Resume) based on the Gold Coast and Canberra, Australia. Rev leverages his 8 years' background in brand marketing and communications to help job seekers build their personal brand by conveying on their application documents their exceptional qualities that distinguish them from the average candidate.

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