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3 Cover Letter Mistakes and Why They Matter

Coffee being poured into a mug that says, "Ugh."

Cover letters are your best, first chance to impress a hiring team. So you’ll want to be sure to take advantage of this valuable real estate and avoid these three application-killing cover letter mistakes.

Mistake #1: Personal story overshare

As a nonprofit professional, you may feel extra comfortable sharing stories about your personal connection to the mission, but like most things, it’s important to strike a balance. If you spend too much time sharing personal anecdotes, there’s a good chance you’ll lose your audience.

But don’t shy away from devoting two or three sentences in your cover letter to what draws you to a specific organization or role; in fact, that’s pretty much a cover-letter requirement. A brief nod to the personal reasons you’re applying for this job in the first place can be a huge help.

Pro Tip: Sharing a personal connection to the work can turn out to be especially helpful for sector switchers.

Mistake #2: Not highlighting important connections

This mistake occurs most often in one of two ways:

1). Not explicitly connecting your work history to the specifics of the job description.

2). Failing to identify the two or three most important aspects of the job description, and as a result, not tailoring your cover letter accordingly.

Here are some things to remember when drafting your cover letter to ensure that you don’t fall prey to mistake #2:

  • First, do a close read of the job description for requirements and responsibilities. These details are almost always in bold or subheaders in the description.
  • Select two or three responsibilities to focus on. The bulk of your cover letter should draw obvious connections between your experience and what the employer is looking for.
  • Draft two to three sentences that highlight prior work or volunteer experience. This should result in a compelling case as to why you would excel in this area.

Consider these examples:

  • If an employer identifies strong research skills as a requirement for a position, you can say: “I have a strong research background conducting qualitative and quantitative analysis over the last three years.”
  • If an employer is looking for a seasoned manager, you can say: “In my past roles, I’ve managed direct reports, interns, and cross-functional teams.”

Mistake #3: Typos, typos, typos…..

Proofread and sleep on it. There’s nothing worse than finally hitting send only to catch a typo.

After you put the finishing touches on your cover letter and resume, hit save, and walk away from it for at least a day. When you return to your screen, you'll have a fresh set of eyes to help you avoid any small or large errors.

Want more resources on what goes into a great cover letter? Check out our cheat sheet and guide to spotting formatting errors.

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About the Author | Sarah Goff has nearly fifteen years of experience working in NYC’s public sector in what can only be described as an elegantly haphazard career path. She geeks out on politics and social policy and is deeply passionate about the the social sector. She has participated in numerous public sector fellowship programs and has her M.S. in Public Policy from The New School.

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