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8 things to avoid when writing a cover letter


By April Murphy

As of December 2020, the Australian unemployment rate was sitting at 6.6%, one of the most undesirable outcomes of COVID-19. Although the index has improved since June 2020, many Brisbane residents are actively looking for work. has released a list of tips for job seekers to assist with the cover letter production, the first step in the race for a career. The tip sheet is informative and includes a list of things that should be cut out of your letter.

Seek states that a cover letter is like an introduction to a future employer – it’s your first chance to make a good impression, and outline who you are and why you’re suited to the job. So, when you set out to write it, there are some words you’d be wise to avoid.

Words that should not be in your cover letter:

  1. To whom it may concern’

“If you can’t find the name to address the letter to, use a job title, such as ‘Dear hiring manager’ or ‘Dear recruitment manager’,” says Mark Smith, Managing Director of recruitment agency people2people.

2. ‘Self-starter’

Some terms are so overused that they’ve lost all meaning – and ‘self-starter’ is one of them, says Smith.

“It’s a cliché and recruiters are tired of reading it,” he says. If you want to show that you’re motivated to succeed, Smith suggests including an example of when you have shown initiative and the results it delivered.

3. ‘I believe’

A cover letter is an opportunity to explain why you’re the best person for the job, so use confident language and powerful, active verbs that highlight your relevant skills and experience.

For example: ‘I exceeded my budget by x per cent’, ‘I managed a team of four’, or ‘I created a new revenue stream that resulted in a $x profit increase’.

4. ‘Dynamic’

Another cliché that lacks clear meaning, ‘dynamic’ will not set you apart from other cover letters in the pile.

“It’s a word that belongs in a game of business buzzword bingo,” Smith says. “What does it really mean in the context of what you can bring to an organisation?”

5. ‘Dependable’

Employers generally assume that workers are dependable, so there’s no value in writing it.

6. ‘Salary’

Mentioning salary in your cover letter may limit your opportunity to negotiate, so don’t include it.

“Don’t mention your salary expectation, because it may not be aligned with the employer’s budget,” Harvey says. “And avoid writing ‘salary negotiable’, because you may be selling yourself short. A cover letter is not the time to mention salary – save it for the job interview.”

7. ‘People person’

Almost every job will require you to work with at least one other person, so why mention it?

8. ‘Incredible’

While it’s important to sound confident, avoid overreaching words and statements, like ‘I am an incredible salesperson’ or ‘I delivered huge results’. You’ll risk sounding arrogant or self-congratulatory.

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