Don’t fall back on these cover-letter clichés.

Let’s face it: Nobody gets excited about writing a cover letter. It’s one of those necessary tasks that can often make the job search feel even longer and more challenging than it ought to be.  

Those feelings aside, your cover letter can be a great way to highlight your personality and showcase your skills to a hiring manager – but only if you do it right. Rather than focusing on all the things you should include in your cover letter, here are the things you should avoid. Read on for the eight most common clichés found in cover letters and why they are secretly working against you.

1. ‘To Whom It May Concern / Dear Sirs’

There are many ways to address a cover letter, but despite what you may have heard, ‘To whom it may concern’ is not one of them. Even worse is the old-fashioned ‘Dear Sirs’. Avoid this tired cliché by sourcing the name of the recruiter or hiring manager and addressing your cover letter directly to them. It will prove you’ve taken the time to do your research.

2. ‘My name is’

If your mission is to send the hiring manager soaring into snooze town, then go right ahead and begin your cover letter by stating your name. However, if you want them to keep reading, avoid this overused paragraph starter and instead tell the hiring manager something about yourself that makes you stand out. Remember, it’s your accomplishments, not your name, that will get you the job.

3. ‘I have exceptional written and verbal communication skills’

Most hiring managers will be looking for a candidate with strong written and verbal communication skills. Luckily for you, simply presenting a well-written cover letter is half the job done, so there’s no need to state it yourself. In addition, use your experience to demonstrate your communication skills. For example, if your previous roles involved conducting meetings, presenting, managing staff, client services, liaising with other departments or similar tasks, you can refer to them to demonstrate your communication skills. Shift the focus so that the hiring manager can see your skills in action – it makes a much stronger impression than simply stating the fact.

4. ‘I think outside the box’

This may be the most trite cliché of them all. Not only is it overused, but it also doesn’t tell the hiring manager anything relevant. Instead, give them an example of a time when you ‘thought outside the box’ in a previous job. If you don’t prove it through your experience, it will remain an empty statement.

5. ‘I am a fast learner/hard worker/problem solver’

These types of statements are considered fluff by most HR professionals. So, if a recruiter has written these qualities on the job description and you wish to highlight them, the key is to show that you possess these qualities without stating the fact. For example, if you wish to highlight that you are a fast learner and can pick up new systems quickly, you could write something like ‘In my previous role at (company), I was a proficient user of (insert database/software name).’ This is simple, but shows that you can pick up new systems and have experience with that particular program.

6. ‘I work well independently and as part of a team’

This is a popular phrase that has worked its way into many a cover letter for years, so don’t feel bad if it plays a starring role in yours. It’s true that employers often seek candidates who can work autonomously and be a team player, but you don’t need to put it on your cover letter. You only get a few paragraphs to impress so use them wisely and remove the fluff. By using specific language, you can use your CV to highlight what you accomplished individually and collaboratively.

7. ‘This is exactly the kind of role I’m looking for’

That may be true, but chances are this is the exact kind of role 240 other candidates are looking for, too. The recruiter or hiring manager already knows that you’re interested in the role – they’re looking at your cover letter for that reason. Your goal is to convince them why this job is right for you by demonstrating your relevant experience and personal attributes. And, more importantly, your goal is to convince them why you are right for the job. Speaking of…

8. ‘I’m the best candidate for the job’

How do you know you’re the best candidate for the job? Have you met the other applicants? Plus, telling the hiring manager that you’re the best person for the job can seem a little self-congratulatory. Ultimately, whether or not you are the best candidate is for them to decide. If you want to swing the vote in your favor, it’s not about telling them. It’s about proving it to them with your best and most relevant skills and personal qualities.

Final thoughts

If you’re still feeling unsure what to put in a cover letter, remember to keep it simple; focus on staying direct, concise and relevant to the job. Then, if you’re feeling confident, go one step further and try to craft a conversational and memorable tone that showcases your personality. But above all, don’t default to these clichés. If you want to stand out to a hiring manager, you’ll need to use your own words, not ones they have already seen.

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Clichés have no place on your CV either. Submit for a CV critique for free, objective feedback.

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