Mistakes to Avoid on Cover Letters

Written by on January 14, 2018 in Blog, cover letters, Grammar, Writing with 0 Comments

I know I already wrote about mistakes to avoid on cover letters, but that didn’t encompass all the common mistakes. It’s time to look at a few more of the common errors.

More Cover-Letter Mistakes

A cover letter opens up wonderful opportunities, but it is also where mistakes appear most often. In a cover letter, as opposed to a résumé, you write in complete sentences; your thoughts must be fluid, your points valid. In other words, show the gatekeeper that you’re capable of communicating using the written word. This is both a chance to shine and a pitfall awaiting an unwary victim. If you slip up on the cover letter, the gatekeeper will never see your résumé .

The cover letter is where I see a tremendous misuse of words, and, since it’s the first thing the gatekeeper looks at, that’s not good.

mistakes to avoid on cover letters

Let’s cover some of the most common mistakes:


I have also seen this quite often on cover letters: “I am not adverse to…”

Many people confuse “adverse” and “averse”. The difference is fairly easy to remember. If you are using the word “to” after it, use “averse”.

So if someone writes, “I am not averse to rolling up my sleeves and doing hands-on work,” they would use averse to not adverse.

I am going to interject yet another opinion here. I wrote a post about simple words versus two-dollar words. Averse might not be a two-dollar word, but you can achieve the same effect (not affect) using a simpler phrase. So instead of saying, “I am not averse to rolling up my sleeves and doing hands-on work,” it would be a lot (not alot) cleaner by saying, “I don’t mind rolling up my sleeves and doing hands-on work.” Trust me, the gatekeeper will be impressed.

Assure/ensure/insure—these words are frequently found on resumes and demand to be included. This threesome falls into the worst offenders category. Many people use these words interchangeably, and, according to most grammarians, erroneously. At first glance, they all seem to have the general meaning of making the outcome of a particular circumstance certain; however, there are distinct differences.

I often see statements like this on a résumé:

Insured delivery of products on time and under budget by…”

The proper way to state that would be “Ensured delivery…”

To break it down further:

Assure is typically used to assure someone/some living thing, of the outcome. Example: You might assure your boss that the project will get done on time and under budget.

Ensure is used more for things than people. So to ensure the project gets done on time, you hire more people and secure additional resources.

Insure, in its pure form, refers to money or insurance. So I insured the project for $10 million dollars in case of accidents.

Here’s the easiest way to remember the distinction between these words:

Assure is used for people. (You can make an “ass”of yourself if you promise your boss something and don’t deliver.)

Ensure is used for things.

Insure deals with money/insurance.

Alright/all right—Many people think that alright is all right, but a lot of others disagree, and to those who disagree, using alright is like using ain’t. Why bother when so much is at stake? Just use allright.

Alot/a lot—this is an easy one. Alot is not a word. It is always a lot—two words.

Anxious/eager—Some people use anxious and eager as if they were the same word, with similar meanings. It is becoming more acceptable in common usage (which is a damn shame), but there are differences—meaningful differences. “Anxious” stems from the word anxiety. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines anxiety as:

a: anabnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and of fear often marked by such physical symptoms as tension, tremor, sweating, palpitation, and increased pulse rate.

Most all dictionaries cite examples of anxious being used in the sense of being eager, but I prefer to follow the more formal line. This is from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: “Anxious has a long history of use as a synonym for eager, but many usage writers prefer that anxious be used only when its subject is worried or uneasy about the anticipated event.”

Usage examples:

  • I am eager to see my fiancée; she has been away for two weeks. But I am anxious about meeting her family.

Notice that eager is usually coupled with to and anxious goes with about.

So you wouldn’t tell the gatekeeper you are anxious to come for an interview. You might actually be anxious about interviewing, but tell the gatekeeper you are eager to come for an interview. That will mean more to her.

Lead/led—The mistake I see most often is the misuse of “lead” and “led”. I did a search of my database, which contains almost twelve thousand résumés. From the search results I pulled up all the résumés that used the word “lead”. I randomly went through the first three hundred. In an astonishing 27 percent, the person had used the present tense “lead” instead of the past tense “led”.

Here is an example from a résumé :

  • Developed prototype for new product geared toward revolutionize testing for…
  • Lead efforts of twenty-seven engineers and brought in product on schedule and under budget.

As you can see, the first accomplishment was fine—done properly in the past tense using the word “developed”. The second, however, uses “lead” in the present tense, instead of “led”, which is the past tense of the verb.

This leads (present tense) me to believe that people don’t have a good command of the English language. I was led (past tense) to this belief by seeing so damn many résumés with this same error.

Peeked/Peaked/Piqued —If you’re going to use one of these words, make certain you use the right one.

  • Peeked is used for things like “He peeked around the corner to get a look at the new neighbor in her bikini.” (I’m not referring to me. No way. Not ever.)
  • Electricity usage peaked during August, typically the hottest month in Texas. (I can vouch for that.) This can also refer to the peak of a mountain.
  • Dear Gatekeeper: my interest was piqued by reading an article on the company’s new product. (Ah! There’s the definition we were searching for.)


I often see phrases such as very unique.

I hope you know what’s wrong with that. Nothing is very unique. There are no degrees to unique. Its meaning is absolute. Nothing can be really unique, quite unique, or very unique. Other words fall into this same category: equal, infinite, perfect, complete. Something is either unique, or it isn’t. Something is equal, perfect, infinite, complete—or it isn’t. It’s like being dead. Either you are or you aren’t. You can’t be very dead.

Unique and many of the other words mentioned here are “absolutes”—words that shoudn’t be modified; they’re not gradable. I did a post on absolutes at one of my other sites, so if you’re interested, check it out.

If you really want to see more of the common mistakes made in the business setting, see one of my other books Misused Words for Business. It’s full of referenes to words and phrases commonly found in business, and that shouldn’t be used.

mistakes to avoid on cover letters

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Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes nonfiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series as well as books about grammarpublishing., and children’s fiction and nonfiction.

When Giacomo isn’t writing, he’s helping his wife take care of the animals on their sanctuary. At last count, they had forty animals—seven dogs, one horse, six cats, and twenty-five pigs.

Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar, who used to take walks with Giacomo every day.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with forty-five loving “friends.”  

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About the Author

About the Author: When I’m not headhunting, or writing, I help my wife take care of our animal sanctuary. At last count we had 45 animals—11 dogs, 1 horse, 6 cats, and 26 pigs. Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar named Dennis who takes walks with me every day and happens to also be my best buddy. For information on my mystery/suspense books, go to giacomog.com .

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