If you want to write a good cover letter, beware these fatal mistakes.

There's an art to writing a good cover letter, and it can take some trial and error to find your footing. While this is perfectly understandable, there are certain mistakes that you absolutely want to avoid, no matter where you are in your cover-letter-writing experience. Here's a handful of the most fatal cover letter pitfalls and how to rectify them before you submit your application.

Sticking to a template rigidly

Whether you're applying for your first job or have applied for plenty over the years, cover letter templates are incredibly useful for structuring your letter to the tee. However, you mustn't take the template too literally, or your result could be too generic – and be warned, 48 per cent of hiring managers will bin a cover letter that's not customised. Instead, use the boilerplate text as a guide – and only that.

Sub in your name, the position you're applying for and other details marked by blank spaces. Continue by tweaking the paragraphs so that they are tailored sufficiently to you and your application, highlighting your most pertinent achievements.

Most importantly, adjust the text so that it sounds like you and isn't obviously a template. Make it personable with your own writing style and point of view. Templates can be great starting points, but your own words are how you'll convince the recruiter that you're genuinely interested and a good fit for the role.

Regurgitating your CV

Repeating your entire CV in your cover letter is a huge no-no. Recruiters already have a copy of your CV, so what value would they gain from a rehash?

Your cover letter is your chance to explain the most valuable achievements in your CV that show how and why you're a fit for the position. Further elaborating on your CV will give the recruiter a better sense of who you are as a professional.

Hook the recruiter by explaining your skills and accomplishments that are in line with the company's market position. By zooming in on these details in the context of the company's requirements, you'll show that you could be an asset to them.

Discussing only yourself

The job you're applying for might be a huge opportunity for you and your career, but that alone won't convince the recruiter to hire you. Remember this is a business and the employer won't hire you out of the goodness of their heart.

You must sell your skill set in a way that demonstrates how it will fulfill the company's needs. Consider why the company is hiring for this role and what dilemmas this position will solve. Ultimately, how can your abilities plug the gap for the employer and make their business even better?

Answering these questions will undoubtedly capture the recruiter's attention because you'll display yourself as a solution to a problem.

Poor grammar and typos

Would you buy a product if its packaging was tarnished or error-strewn? Probably not, even if the product inside was A-OK.

Think of your cover letter in the same way. Since your letter is your sales pitch, if it's marred with a few typos, the recruiter is more likely to toss yours out. Why consider the stained cover letter when another candidate's is slick and polished?

To write a good cover letter, use spell check, Grammarly or any other automated proofreading tool. Those are great places to start, but note that they may not catch every mistake. For example, you may have written 'manger' instead of 'manager', but a spell checker won't catch that since both words are legitimate.

Reread your cover letter, speaking it aloud. You're more likely to spot the errors because you'll physically trip over incorrect words as you talk. Failing that, hand it over to a trustworthy friend for a final proof.

Writing over a page

Recruiters are quick-moving people who spend approximately six seconds reviewing a CV. It's unsurprising then that most employers favour a cover letter that's one page or less.

There's no need to write a novel; just get your key points across in under a page. And if you're struggling to make your paragraphs fit, don't be tempted to shrink the font or the page margins ‒ conservatively. White space is important as it creates a positive reading experience, helping recruiters identify essential information quickly.

Being overly formal or informal

One of the most common difficulties when writing a cover letter is judging how formal to make it.

You have the formal take at one end of the spectrum, starting your cover letter with full addresses like 'To whom it may concern', and polishing it up with 'Yours sincerely'. At the other end of the spectrum, there's the informal take, beginning with 'Hi Joe' and finishing with 'Kind regards' or 'Thanks in advance and speak soon'.

A good cover letter matches the branding and tone of the prospective employer. Identify the company culture by reviewing the company's website, LinkedIn company page and reviews on Glassdoor. If it's corporate, it's safer to opt for a formal approach. But if it's a startup, shoot for a more casual tone. However, resist the temptation to be overly colloquial and stuff your cover letter with exclamation marks and emojis. You still want to paint yourself as a professional.

Writing a cover letter can feel like walking a tightrope ‒ you can use a template for guidance, but you have to make significant changes; you need to discuss your qualifications, but you can't talk only about yourself. Really, the only concrete rule is that grammar errors and typos are unacceptable. Still, though it is difficult to find, striking a balance is absolutely necessary. Only then can you avoid these fatal cover-letter mistakes.

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Some CV mistakes are fatal as well. Get a free, objective CV critique to find out where you stand.

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