10 Words And Phrases That Are Killing Your Cover Letter

These common, sneaky words and phrases show up in writing that’s trying too hard to impress.

10 Words And Phrases That Are Killing Your Cover Letter
[Photo: Flickr user Luke Hayfield]

For creative writing, Joyce Carol Oates got it right when she advised, “Be daring, take on anything.”


But when you are trying to make a good first impression on your future boss, concision and confidence sets a qualified applicant apart from one who doesn’t sound sure of her own experience.

We’ve scrutinized corporate-speak, and begged office jargon offenders to end the madness.

It’s easy to use these common fluff phrases in writing that’s trying too hard to impress. Read your work out loud, and these meaningless filler words will reveal themselves; then, it’s time to start cutting.

1. “I think”

Using “I think” or “I believe” weakens statements. “For these reasons, I believe I would be a great fit at your company.” If you only think you’re right for the job, why should the hiring manager be convinced? Owning your words is intimidating if you’re used to softening every phrase, but it isn’t pushy–it’s an exercise in clarity.

2. “I feel”

Similar to “I think,” feeling something in writing makes your message weak. “I feel confident in my abilities” becomes “I am confident.” And hey, you sound confident!

3. “In the city of…”

The reader knows you’re naming a city from the context and doesn’t need to be told: “I moved to the city of San Francisco.” Add the state if the city isn’t well known, rather than padding with filler words.


4. “In the month of…”

Similar to the place-name padding above, saying you were hired at your last job “in the month of November” or in “the year 2010” doesn’t add anything expect for a road block to getting to the point.

5. Really/Very

These good-intentioned words show up in writing like verbal tics. Omit them, and the meaning stays the same while strengthening your writing backbone. “I’m very enthusiastic about data entry,” and “I’m enthusiastic about data entry,” mean the same thing.

6. Absolutes

Saying you’ve “never been more excited to apply” or “have always wished for this opportunity” seems insincere and probably isn’t true. Don’t exaggerate with absolutes, but don’t be tempted to replace them with “often” or “sometimes,” either. Omit the word altogether, and see if the phrase still holds up.

7. “Things”

This word is fat and lazy, and takes up precious space where a more specific word can work harder. “There are several things in my experience I’d like to note.” Like what? Replacing “things” with meaningful abilities leaves a lasting impression. Don’t tell the reader that there are “things,” tell them what those things are.

8. “The fact that…”

If it’s a fact, state it. Simple as that.

9. All Excess Adverbs

Don’t stop at “really” and “very.” Channel your inner Hemingway: Hunt down adverbs and cut them ruthlessly. A phrase like “I eagerly await your response and appreciate your attention to my application” becomes, “Thank you for your time.”


10. Clichés

Jargon has its place in industries that rely on technical know-how. Clichés, however, are white noise: The reader glazes over whole phrases (“in my wheelhouse,” “detail-oriented,” “team player with a track record of success”) and your material is dulled by dead spots. Ask yourself what you mean by “dynamic leader,” and then say it, straightforward.



About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.