Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Job Search / Cover Letters

7 Cover Letter Words and Phrases That Are Costing You the Job

You want this job. You’re putting everything you’ve got into this cover letter. You’ve tailored it to the role and company, written an amazing opening, and made sure you’re showing just enough enthusiasm. But still, you want to go that extra mile. You want to make sure you’re not using cover letter words and phrases that the hiring manager has read a hundred times already. You want even the most jaded, exhausted hiring manager to perk up and pay extra attention.

You’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together a list of words and phrases that can sabotage even the greatest cover letters—and will tell you what to write instead.

1. “I think I’d be a great fit…”

When I was in high school, my English teacher told us never to use “I think” in an essay because if we were writing something, well, it was obvious that was what we thought. The same holds true for cover letters. Not only are “I think,” “I feel,” “I believe,” and so on redundant, they also make you sound insecure.

Alternatives to “I think I’d be a great fit…”

Get rid of every “opinion phrase” in your cover letter. Ninety nine percent of the time, you won’t even have to reword the sentence. For example, instead of saying, “I’m confident my communication skills would make me a strong project manager,” write, “My communication skills would make me a strong project manager.” It’s shorter, simpler, and more convincing.

2. “Good”

Sure, you could say you’re “a good writer” or “good at working with other people.” But there are so many options out there, and they’re almost all more powerful than “good.”

Alternatives to “good”

Replace “good” with one of these descriptors:

  • Skilled
  • Talented
  • Experienced
  • Accomplished
  • Expert
  • Successful
  • Seasoned
  • Thorough
  • Capable
  • Competent
  • Adept
  • Efficient

Note: Make sure the alternative you choose accurately represents your skill or experience. If you’ve got two years’ worth of recruiting under your belt, you’d probably want to call yourself a “skilled,” “capable,” or “enthusiastic” recruiter rather than an “expert” or “experienced” one.

3. “This job would help me because…”

You, your friends, and your family members care why this job would help you. But the hiring manager does not. All they care about is finding the best person for the role. Read: They want to hire the person who would help them the most. So if you find yourself explaining how this position would help you develop your leadership skills, learn more about your desired industry, or get established as a thought leader—hit the delete key.

Alternatives to “This job would help me because…”

You do need to explain how you would help them.

Here’s the magic formula: your abilities + the company’s needs = desirable results.

Let’s say you’re applying for a front-end engineering job. By following this formula, you’d get:

“My four years of experience with open-source JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS3, combined with my passion for building responsive web applications, would allow me to create elegant, maintainable, and functional front-end code—and ultimately make Panther’s products even more user-friendly than they already are.”

4. “As you can see on my resume…”

This is a common filler phrase. But if the hiring manager can see something on your resume, announcing its presence is unnecessary.

Alternatives to “As you can see on my resume…”

All you have to do is remove this phrase—no other changes needed! So instead of saying, “As you can see on my resume, I’ve been working in marketing and PR for the last five years,” you’d write, “I’ve been working in marketing and PR for the last five years.” Bonus: Your directness will project confidence.

5. “I’m the best candidate because…”

Confidence is good, but arrogance is not. And even if you’re sure that you’d be an absolutely fantastic choice, you don’t know you’re the best. Imagine reading through six cover letters in a row from people who all claim to be “the best candidate.” That would get annoying pretty quickly, right?

To stay on the hiring manager’s good side, refrain from using “best.” Along similar lines, I’d also stay away from “ideal” and perfect.”

Alternatives to “I’m the best candidate because…”

You want to choose descriptors that are in between “good” and best.” Words like:

  • Excellent
  • Great
  • Terrific
  • Strong
  • Outstanding
  • Unique

6. “To whom it may concern”

There’s no quicker way to communicate to a hiring manager that you’re not truly interested in a job than to address your cover letter in such a bland, impersonal way. Not only does it sound old fashioned, but it tells whoever’s reading that you couldn’t be bothered to figure out the name of the hiring manager, an HR employee, or even the department you’d be working for. 

Alternatives to “To whom it may concern”

Your first choice for addressing a cover letter is always the hiring manager for the position. If you can’t figure out who the hiring manager is, read this list of other options—all of which are infinitely better than “To whom it may concern.”

7. “I may not have a lot of experience, but…”

…or any other phrase that apologizes for not meeting the exact requirements for a position. Your cover letter is a place to make the strongest case possible for yourself, so you don’t want to bring in any negatives.

Alternatives to “I may not have a lot of experience, but…”

Just get rid of this phrase. Instead, focus on the qualifications you do have and all the unique ways you’d be great at this job.

Done cutting? Great, now go send the thing!

Regina Borsellino contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.