How to Avoid an Impersonal Cover Letter

Nancy Anderson
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It may seem logical to craft just one cover letter that details your skills and experience. It may even save time to use a template you can send to all potential employers. However, this common mistake during the job search could be limiting your career opportunities. Templates are impersonal, and hiring managers can easily detect general language. Show hiring managers that you are seeking a personal connection and are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to personalize your application materials. Find out how to avoid impersonal cover letters so you stand out among the rest of the candidate pool.

Avoid Common Language

Every cover letter template begins with a general statement about the position the candidate is seeking or how they learned about the job opening. Leave out the generalities, and personalize your letter with an introductory paragraph that captures interest. Tell a story about a work experience that is related to the open position, or highlight something noteworthy you learned about the company while researching. Toss the standard language, and make each cover letter you write unique and personal.

Drop the Elevator Pitch

Although it is important to prepare an elevator pitch for networking events, your cover letter is not the place to use it. Instead of highlighting all your skills and qualifications, pinpoint skills desired or required by the company. Comb through the job description, and use keywords found within your cover letter. For example, if the job description notes the need for a team player or strong communicator, provide scenarios or examples in which you have displayed these skills. Include your experience with equipment, software or hardware that is detailed in the job description, too. These keywords are included in the company's job ad for a reason. You can use them to your advantage when personalizing your cover letter.

Don't Create Distance

Even though you have not yet met the hiring manager, it doesn't mean you can't make a personal connection in your cover letter. Avoid creating a distance that may be hard to bridge. Instead, mention what you know about the potential employer and reference any employees who referred you. If you met the hiring manager at a job fair or networking event, use this to your advantage. Mention that is was nice meeting the person, and remind them of how you have connected in the past. A potential employer who remembers your face and your name is more likely to call you in for an interview if you have made a personal connection.

Avoid Repeating Your Resume

A cover letter is designed to expand upon the experience, skills and achievements listed on your resume. It should not just repeat the same information. Personalize the letter by showing off your personality. Provide examples of how you met deadlines, interacted successfully with clients and worked in teams. Research the company extensively to get an idea of the culture. Use this information to set the tone within your cover letter. For example, read through the company blogs to determine if the tone of the writing is traditional, innovative, casual or reliant on industry jargon.

Eliminate the Robot Approach

Hiring managers read through hundreds of cover letters. If your letter reads exactly the same way as your competition, you are less likely to stand out or make a good impression. Instead, let your personality shine through within the letter. Beyond providing specific skills and examples of achievements, show how you can fill this need. Use confident language, and state assertively that you are the best fit for the position. Back up this statement with examples of how you can impact productivity and profitability while also meshing well with the internal culture.

Writing a cover letter is a challenging task, but by personalizing the document, you increase your opportunities for employment. Make a connection right away with hiring managers by showing off your personality, your professionalism and your willingness to join the team.

Photo Courtesy of Suzanne 245 at


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Robert starting a cover letter with "to whom it may concern" is really quite impersonal. Take a few minutes and research the company, if you can. Check out their website and see if you can't find out who is hiring. Look at Linkedin and see if you can learn more about the company - or maybe you might find someone that you know. Either way, try to find the name of the hiring manager. You can always call the company and ask. That way your cover letter will stand above those who didn't take a few minutes to find out who the hiring manager is. If you still can't find anything out, then yes - you can use to whom it may concern.

  • Robert Axelrod
    Robert Axelrod

    When starting the letter is it To whom it may concern


    Many times unfortunately, a hiring manager does not fully read and or review the completed resume. A well crafted cover letter is an exceptional took to put your best foot forward. Make sure your grammar and spelling is spot on. The higher the position the more important the Cover Letter.

  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    To avoid regurgitating information found on my resume in a cover letter, I pick out one or two job tasks listed on my resume and then expand on these tasks by describing specific on-the-job experiences I've had to highlight my expertise. This way, both my cover letter and resume remain related and logically connected. By working in tandem, my cover letter and resume provide enough information for hiring managers to determine whether to call me in for an interview.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    Is there a clear cut way to navigate the requirements of a personal cover letter and outwitting the ATS programs that most employers use? Crafting a personalized, engaging letter that is also laden with keywords and phrases enough to land on the hiring managers desk seems like a recipe for a very choppy and disappointing cover letter.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Duncan as long as the cover letter is about the company and not about you. The cover letter should inform the hiring manager how he will benefit from hiring you - what you can do to help increase the bottom line. You have already included your skill set on your resume. This is a time to tie your skills and knowledge into the company's future. So very true - you should never repeat your resume in the cover letter.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    I believe that by the time you decide to apply to that specific company, you have done your home work well by going through their activities and requirements for the job. This should prompt you to only give them skills that run in line with their requirements. This is why I recommend a cover letter that does not repeat your resume, so that it only brings out the outstanding skills that you possess.

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    It’s a great idea to read the company’s blog to see what tone the company prefers to communicate in. It’s hard to write a cover letter that stands out from the rest in a good way. Knowing what type of writing the company itself uses gives you an advantage that can help make your cover letter memorable.

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I disagree with the point about a robot approach; no one knows what another applicant's cover letter looks like, so there's no way they'd know how to copy it. I feel there is value in reusing elements from one cover letter to another, just as the resume is virtually the same from one application to another. Uniqueness is good, but there's no sense reinventing the wheel, so to speak, for every cover letter.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Erin the ATS doesn't care if we personalize or not. As long as your cover letter and resume are readable, it will be fine. The way to get through the ATS isn't with formatting but with keywords appropriately placed on your application. Then, after it gets through ATS, human eyes will have the opportunity to view your application. You just need to get passed the gatekeeper first.

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    How can a personalized cover letter pass the HR software test? Assuming the company uses software to pre screen applicants, what would make your cover letter stand out to the program? Would the use of longer syllable words be of any help or should an applicant attempt to tailor a cover letter to a prospective employer while attempting to incorporate all of the keywords that a program might pick up?

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    It is so true that hiring managers can detect a template right away. When I worked in HR and reviewed cover letters on a regular basis, it was the letters that had unique introductions that captured attention. In addition, applicants who detailed information about the company also surpassed the competition.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Shaday certainly they are open. The 3-4 paragraph cover letter is just the standard. But it would depend upon your industry. As a creative type, take some liberties as it would probably be expected. When I submit a cover letter, I will typically try to include a short comparison chart from their desires to my qualifications and then explain how their company would benefit from hiring me. Remember, this is when you get to toot your own horn.

  • Shaday Stewart
    Shaday Stewart

    Are hiring managers generally open to other formats besides the typical 3-4 paragraph letter, as long as it's simple, clean and free of graphics? I have achieved positive results in the past with an opening paragraph, comparison table and closing paragraph. I have read about other job seekers successfully using other types of non-graphic formats, but it would be interesting to hear the employer perspective. These formats accomplish the same thing as standard letters, but they can help to break up a mundane layout and provide a side-by-side breakdown of the job requirements and your qualifications. However, it may limit space for personal experiences, and I wonder if some hiring managers view it as a sign that the candidate isn't comfortable with writing.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    It takes time to craft an original letter for each job application — and that can make it very tempting to reuse the same document multiple times. But there's an upside: it's valuable writing practice. Even if you're not going to be doing much writing in the job you're applying for, creating unique cover letters forces you to think outside the box many times over — and that type of original thinking is an asset in any vocation!

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    In today's competitive job market, it's very important not to sound like a robot. I think the key is not to write to a recruiter or hiring manager as if yours is the only letter they'll receive in a day. If you send a robotic, form letter, chances are high that you'll be overlooked no matter how well qualified you are. So definitely compose a letter you'd read and want to know more about if you were the recipient.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I think a cover letter is the perfect place for an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch lasts 30 seconds, and it gives you a chance to display your passion for the position. That's exactly what a cover letter achieves--it shows a potential employer you're the perfect fit for the job by giving HR an impassioned, personal reason for why you want to work for a particular firm.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Abbey only you can answer that one. Personally, I would never include a name for someone who is not going to give me a glowing report. You don't have to even say a person's name because you could simply say my former supervisor, etc. without name dropping.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I have always heard people suggest networking and name-dropping, but where do you draw the line? Obviously you don't want to mention the name of someone with a poor performance record, and certainly not someone who might have bad things to say about you. But, how well should you know a person before using their name to your advantage?

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