10 tired phrases to ban from your cover letter

May 27, 2024

5 mins

10 tired phrases to ban from your cover letter
Debbie Garrick

Freelance writer and translator, ex-recruiter

Ever feel like your cover letters are just a tired and uninspiring introduction to your hard-earned resume? Are you churning out the same old phrases over and over again for every role? You may be tempted to start phoning it in, but a recent survey found that 94% of hiring managers say cover letters influence who they decide to interview. So, if you think yours may be lacking, it’s time to breathe some new life into your cover letter!

Your cover letter is an opportunity to showcase a bit of personality, bridge any gaps in your CV, and start winning over the hiring manager, so we asked Wendy Briones Reimann, cover letter expert and founder of Lighthouse Writing to offer some advice on ditching boring, repetitive cover letters and crafting something compelling, interesting and personal to you to help you land those interviews. Check out 10 common phrases you should erase from your cover letter and learn what to say instead.

1. “To whom it may concern”

With the internet at our fingertips, this header can come across as lazy when a simple LinkedIn search could likely give you the name of the person you need. Even if you can’t find the name of the person you’re addressing, there are more modern options to choose from that don’t immediately send the reader into snooze mode. Reimann recommends, “If you do not know the name of the person you’re addressing, but you know the department you can say, ‘Dear Finance Department Leadership Team’ so that it’s at least a bit more specific.”

If you have the name, she suggests you write to that person and their team, e.g. Dear Ms. Reimann and team – using the correct moniker of course. “The other [thing] I tell people to use instead of ‘to whom it may concern’ is ‘Dear Hiring Committee,’ because at least you’re addressing someone and often hiring is done by a committee now.” Whatever you do, don’t go too far outside the box and opt for something informal like, “Hey how are you?” Cover letters still need a degree of formality.

2. “Hello, I’m applying for…”

After the introduction, the opening sentence of your cover letter should grab the reader’s attention. Yes, it might be stating the obvious when you’re applying for a job, but Reimann encourages you to show some enthusiasm. “‘Hello, I’m applying for…’ is really dry and not super fun to read, but you can elevate that language by saying, ‘I am eager to speak to you about X’ or ‘I am eager to apply for X.’ For example, ‘I am eager to apply for the financial management position at Coca-Cola listed on your website.’ Then immediately jump into a quality.”

The idea is that you immediately address the company name so the reader knows your cover letter has been tailored to this company and role. Reimann explains that “the most important thing is customization. So many people do a generic cover letter that they send to everyone and they really should tailor it to the specific company and job. Once somebody realizes it’s generic, they just toss it and you’ve wasted an opportunity to say something about yourself.” So, once you’ve shown your enthusiasm and included the role and company name, you can then add something like, “Managing finances at JP Morgan and studying international business at Harvard University has prepared me to step into this leadership role.”

3. “I’m a good communicator”

Are you really, though? According to Reimann, “Everyone says [they have] great communication skills and that’s not always true. Companies expect you to be able to communicate so that one is a given.” If communication skills are an important part of the role you’re applying for, Reimann suggests that you “Show, don’t tell — share a fact that demonstrates your communication skills.” If not, then highlight more relevant, role-specific skills.

4. “I’m a team player”

We live in a collaborative world, and to an extent, everyone needs to be a team player. You’re just stating the obvious here. Still, you need to think show, don’t tell. “When you say ‘I’ve actively led a project,’ they know that you can communicate, collaborate, and use Microsoft Word just from that one sentence (mentioning MS Word is another one of Reimann’s pet peeves to strike from your cover letter and resume). You don’t have to keep listing basic skills. Instead, you can focus on softer skills or unique hard skills that you have.” For example, if you have a special certification or know how to use certain software, that’s something concrete that shows what value you would bring to the position, rather than overused buzzwords.

5. “I’m a go-getter”

Reading clichéd language can leave a bad taste in a recruiter’s mouth, and that’s not what you want when trying to land an interview. If you want to show you’re ambitious, do it by showcasing your goals or explaining your biggest achievements and how you accomplished them.

6. “I’m leaving my company because…”

While your reasons for leaving your current role are certainly valid, it’s never a good idea to speak negatively about your previous employer. Reimann cautions against bad-mouthing anyone in a cover letter. “Criticism or any type of negativity in your cover letter should absolutely be avoided. People do it, they say something negative about their previous company and it’s a big no.” Focus on what you’ve achieved there or how you’ve overcome challenges and keep it positive. Emphasize why you want to join another company, not why you want to leave your old one.

7. “I think you should change…”

While it may seem like common sense not to criticize the company you’re applying to, Reimann says that people try to stand out by shining a light on something they feel a potential employer should change. The problem? It can be easily misinterpreted. “It comes off as critical or negative and you don’t know how they feel about what they are doing.” Instead, mention something you think the company is doing that’s interesting, but keep your cover letter about you, your experience, and your motivations. Save the criticism for when you’ve got the job.

8. “I will fix things”

Everyone wants to sound confident when they’re applying for a new role, and that’s a good thing. You want to be convincing and not seem hesitant in your abilities. However, Reimann cautions, “There’s a fine line between confident and arrogant. Phrases like ‘I will do X,’ ‘you need X,’ or ‘I’ll improve your bottom line’ sound more arrogant than confident.” Reimann’s tip for fixing it? “I use the words ‘I believe.’ When you say ‘I believe,’ people connect it to your self-confidence. So, at the end of a cover letter you can say something like, ‘I believe I can make an immediate impact on your team and I look forward to speaking with you further.’ That sounds confident but gentle and open. If you want to say ‘I know,’ I usually tell people to state the facts like, ‘I know the importance of a good financial system and I believe I can build one for you.’”

9. “I have successfully led ERP implementations utilizing PMBOK methodologies to maximize ROI”

Did you find that easy to understand? Acronyms should be avoided in cover letters. Why? Reimann explains, “When you include acronyms, oftentimes people think they’re industry acronyms but they’re not. They’re internal acronyms that your own company developed, and the person reading it is thinking, ‘I don’t know what you mean by these ten acronyms that you used.’” It’s best to just write out the words for clarity and not to get hung up on industry jargon.

10. “XOXO”

You’re probably not including this, but it’s on example of casual language that isn’t appropriate in a cover letter. However, traditional farewells like “Yours Sincerely” can be a little dry or out-dated. Luckily, Reimann has a few tips for closing your cover letter like a pro:

  • Express that you’re interested in speaking with them further (people often forget that!).
  • Reiterate that you’re excited and eager.
  • Mention that you’ve included copies of your resume.
  • If the recruiter is already in your network, you can suggest a meeting or be a little less formal.
  • Finish with “Kinds Regards,” “Best regards,” or “Best”
  • Don’t forget to type your name! Lots of people sign emails with a single initial but don’t do that here.

To put it simply, a killer cover letter is a crucial tool in your job-hunting armory, so it’s worth spending some time to get it right. Just be sure to:

  • Be specific about who you are and why you’re interested in the role
  • Keep things formal
  • Be enthusiastic
  • Show, don’t tell
  • Write with confidence, not arrogance
  • Always include a great opening and closing line

Photo: Thomas Descamps for Welcome to the Jungle

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