3 Cover Letter Mistakes That Amuse (or Confuse) Employers

Want to show an employer you have good communication skills? Then don't make these three mistakes when writing your cover letter: run-on sentences, dangling clauses, and misplaced modifiers.

Any one of these three no-no's could weigh down your cover letter and send a confusing — and sometimes amusing — message to the employer who's reading it. So let's go over each of these common but easy-to-fix mistakes.

Run-On Sentences Make a Cover Letter Hard to Read

A run-on sentence does what its name implies — it runs on and on sort of like a river rambling aimlessly through the country side. Just as a traveler on a long, twisted river may lose his sense of direction, so the reader of a run-on sentence can get confused and frustrated. You don't want to do that to your next boss (the reader of your cover letter), do you?

Hint: You probably have a run-on sentence if one of the following is true:

  • You have to come up for air before reaching the end.
  • You have to read the sentence more than once to follow its train of thought.

Both are true for this example:

At Westinghouse, I was assigned, and completed, a wide variety of tasks, usually on a limited budget I might add, and I have had significant success at both coming in on- or under-budget and completing the assignments on schedule, much to the satisfaction of my employer.

Phew! That long-winded sentence is a lot to chew on! It should be broken into at least three parts, making it much easier for the reader to swallow. See how simple it is to understand the following revised version?

At Westinghouse, I completed a wide variety of tasks. Despite having limited budgets, I had significant success at coming in on- or under-budget. I even finished the assignments on schedule, much to the satisfaction of my employer.

After writing your next cover letter, go over it with a fine-tooth comb to make sure you haven't written any run-on sentences. Avoiding this one mistake will help keep your letter concise (see my cover letter template) and easy to read.

Hanging by a Dangling Phrase

We've all said and probably written them — I'm talking about those tricky little buggers: dangling phrases. What is a dangling phrase? When a phrase at the beginning of a sentence does not agree with the subject of the sentence, the phrase is called a dangling phrase. Dangling phrases are considered poor sentence structure, which means you don't want them in your cover letter.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, check out the following examples of sentences with and without danglers.

Dangling: After staying up all night, the bank statement was impossible to reconcile. (Did the bank statement stay up all night?)
Correct: After staying up all night, I found it impossible to reconcile the bank statement.

Dangling: To meet the deadline, the data must be input quickly. (The data isn't trying to meet the deadline. I am!)
Correct: To meet the deadline, I have to input the data quickly.

Anyone Find a Misplaced Modifier?

A misplaced modifier is a word or phrase that's put in the wrong place within a sentence. Because it's in the wrong place, it gives unintended meaning. In fact, it may turn a serious statement into a funny one.

Here are some misplaced modifiers to chuckle over:

  • I received some helpful hints on protecting my investments from my local bank. (Hmm, I guess I can't trust my bank anymore.)
  • I think my associate dropped the letter Jim was working on in the mailbox. (Jim was in the mail box?)

Probably the only place a misplaced modifier belongs is in a joke. And since you're serious about getting a new job, be careful not to have a misplaced modifier in your cover letter.

Need help putting together a good cover letter? Use a cover letter template from my Ready-Made Resumes program.

2 thoughts on “3 Cover Letter Mistakes That Amuse (or Confuse) Employers

  1. I’m trying to get a job as a Human Resources Manager but it appears that my military experience is not stacking up to the civilian sector. How do I make my resume competitive to get to the interview stage? Also, where can I look for letters of recommendation? Some of my old bosses asked me to send them one. After sitting at the computer all day I don’t won’t to say the wrong thing in a recommendation when I’m writing it for several Colonels.

    Please help…
    v/r
    Worried

    • Dear Worried,
      There are a few ways to translate your military experience so it relates to a civilian employer.
      – Use civilian job titles instead of your military rank when you list your military experience.
      – Use a combination resume format, which has skill headings to group your achievement statements under. Make sure those skill headings are ones that define your job objective so the employer will know you have the skills he’s looking for.
      – Avoid military speak when possible. For example, instead of “riflemen” use a word like “staff.”

      I don’t have any resources for writing a letter of recommendation for someone. Try a google search for that.
      Best of luck with your transition into the civilian workforce. And thank you for your service to our country!
      Best,
      Susan

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