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Andrew Arkley

5 Common Graduate Cover Letter Mistakes – and How to Fix them

Graduate cover letter

A great CV is your ticket to a job interview. But first you need to get your CV seen – and the way to do that is with a killer cover letter.

Stepping into the job market as a recent graduate can be daunting. You’ll be vying for recruiters’ attention in a sea of graduate job seekers, so you need to make sure your cover letter stands out.

Fortunately, we’ve put together a list of five of the most common graduate cover letter mistakes, and how you can avoid them to put yourself ahead of the game.

So, without further ado…

Being too formal

We’re not suggesting you start your cover letter with ‘Hey’ or sign off with a nickname, but graduates often make the mistake of going ultra-formal in their cover letters.

Rather than sounding businesslike, phrases such as ‘my qualifications appear to be consistent with the requirements of the position’ sound unnatural and robotic.

This sort of language can be alienating to recruiters. Ideally, your cover letter should give them a sense of who you are – and that’ll be a lot more difficult if you’re not writing in your authentic voice.

How to fix it: Step away from the thesaurus! Instead of trying to use long or impressive words, just use clear and simple language. 

Your tone should be genuine and friendly. If you’re not sure, try reading what you’ve written out loud. If it sounds unnatural, rework it until it flows. 

Going on for too long

When it comes to cover letters, longer is not better. Recruiters are busy, and they won’t want to trawl through pages and pages.

How to fix it: Keep it short and sweet – one page should be the maximum. Be direct and concise, and avoid repeating any information you’ve included on your CV. 

All your cover letter needs to do is introduce you to the employer and draw attention to the qualities and experience that make you perfect for the job – your CV should do the rest.

Making it all about you

One of the most common graduate cover letter mistakes is to focus too much on how the job will benefit you.

For example, phrases like ‘this job would be a brilliant way to start my career’ sound selfish, and say nothing about how you would contribute to the company.

How to fix it: Recruiters want to know what’s in it for them, so let them know how you’ll add value.

Every sentence you write should aim to communicate why you’d be an asset to the company, and why you’re perfect for the job – not why it’s perfect for you.

Say things like ‘I would relish the opportunity to use my skills and experience to contribute to such a highly-regarded organisation’.

Waffling

Sentences like ‘I am hard-working, dedicated and highly reliable’ are essentially just lists of positive words, and are a waste of space.

In fact, they’re used so often that they’ve pretty much ceased to mean anything to recruiters.

How to fix it: Only make claims that you can back up with concrete examples, and stick to qualities and skills that are relevant to the job.

If the job description calls for ‘a great team player’, highlight something from your experience that demonstrates how well you work in a team.

Underselling yourself

Sure, you don’t want to come across arrogant in your cover letter – but you don’t want to sell yourself short either.

As a recent graduate, you might not have very much – or any – work experience. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do the job.

Phrases like ‘I may not meet all the requirements of the job, but…’ and ‘I don’t yet have any experience in this field’ may negatively influence a recruiter’s opinion of you. 

How to fix it: Focus on the positives, not the negatives. It might be true that you don’t meet all the requirements of the job – but instead of pointing it out, focus on the skills and experience you have that do match the job description, or are transferable.

Recruiters won’t expect graduates to have tonnes of experience. They’ll be looking for qualities and achievements that demonstrate how you’re the right fit for the job and company.

If you avoid these five mistakes, your cover letter should stand a much better chance of making an impression. 

A great cover letter needs to be backed up by a great CV. If you’d like help writing one, get in touch with us today.

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