Cover Letter Do’s and Don’ts – Putting Your Best Foot Forward

After months of searching job postings, you’ve finally found it; your dream job. You’re highly qualified for the role and have the CV to prove it.…

A photo of someone typing a cover letter on a laptop

After months of searching job postings, you’ve finally found it; your dream job. You’re highly qualified for the role and have the CV to prove it. You send everything along to the hiring manager and wait. And wait. Eventually, it becomes clear that you won’t be getting a callback. So what happened? Despite your impressive list of experience, it could be your cover letter that’s holding you back.

It’s easy to disregard the importance of a cover letter when applying for a new position. After all, this section is typically marked “Optional” on most digital applications. However, in the same way that no one can force you to tie your shoes, failing to do either is likely to result with you falling flat on your face. With that, we’ve gathered some of our best do’s and don’ts of cover letter writing to help you stand out from the crowd.

Cover Letter Do’s

Research the Company Before Applying

The best way to show genuine interest in a role is by including specific information about the company in your cover letter. In particular, their mission statement is a great way to learn about their core values and reflect these sentiments in your introduction. Taking it one step further, seek out interviews with the CEO. Referencing a quote by them in regard to why you want to work for their company is a great way to demonstrate that your interest runs deeper than a cursory job board search.

Pay Attention to Keywords

In the case of particularly popular roles, hiring managers and recruiters lack the bandwidth to read through endless stacks of applications. When this happens, screening software is often used; shuffling highly-qualified candidates to the top and discarding those deemed unqualified. While this software works on a few different levels, most tend to rely heavily on keyword analysis. If your cover letter and CV use an appropriate volume of these keywords, you are far more likely to advance through the screening process.

There are a few reliable ways to determine which keywords you should prioritize, including AI programs designed to analyze your application. A much more low-tech and free option however, is to compare the job posting to others in the same field. Look for areas of overlap between all of them. If you see the same skills or buzzwords appearing throughout, it’s a safe bet that you should include them in your application. Rather than jamming these keywords in wherever possible in your CV, your cover letter is a great way to include them in a contextually relevant space.

Highlight Your Strongest Points

As impressive as your experience may be, there will almost certainly be other qualified candidates vying for the same role. When your work history alone isn’t enough to secure the job, focus on what makes you unique. Faced with two identical-on-paper candidates, companies will want to know who has more to offer. What wow factor do you bring to the table that others don’t?

With it’s narrative format, a cover letter is the perfect place to share noteworthy achievements from your previous roles. Anything you can add that demonstrates your ability to go above and beyond the basic responsibilities of the job will help you to stand out from the crowd. 

Be Yourself

This may sound like cliched advice, but it’s true. You are more than the list of work experience on your CV. Most employers will want to get a sense of who you are as a person before making any hiring decisions. As workplace culture becomes an increasingly central focus for companies, how well a candidate fits with the general vibe of the office will influence whether or not they get the job. That’s not to say you should disregard grammar rules and all formalities, but be sure to let your personality shine through in your writing.

Keep Your Cover Letter Brief

Including all of the above in a single piece of writing may feel like a lot, and it is. However, you should never let your cover letter exceed one page. Anything longer than that and you run the risk of it being immediately discarded due to length alone. As challenging as it may be, learn to cut the fluff from your writing and hone in on the most important details. When recounting your notable achievements, focus on the results rather than the process you took to get there. Counter to old adage, in this case, it’s the destination, not the journey that matters most.

Cover Letter Don’ts

Reuse the Same Cover Letter for Each Application

When applying to dozens of roles, the temptation to copy and paste your cover letter is understandably high. However, this should be avoided at all costs. After reading through stacks of applications, hiring managers develop a sixth sense for sniffing out form letters. Sending a completely generalized cover letter is a clear signal to those reading that this position is just one of many that you are mass-applying for. Much like a first date, it’s essential to put in a little effort if you want to relationship to develop.

Use Cliched Opening Lines

“To whom it may concern, My name is So And So and I am applying for the position of…”, is a line we’ve all written many times before. By this point, one could be forgiven for thinking it’s a mandatory part of the cover letter writing process. However, as our collective attention spans become increasingly shorter, so too does our tolerance for repetition diminish.

Most hiring managers report reading CV’s for an average of 10 seconds before deciding whether or not to move on to another candidate. There’s no guarantee that your cover letter will be read, but don’t take the chance of immediately losing their interest with a cliched introductory paragraph. Instead, open with a particularly impressive and applicable experience that highlights why you deserve more than a passing glance.

Make it All About How You Stand to Benefit

There are a multitude of reasons why you may be applying for a particular job. Whether it be a higher salary, better hours, or the professional experience you will gain, your decision is likely based around how you will personally benefit. While that’s generally understood, it’s not what companies want to hear. Rather, they want to hear how they will benefit from hiring you.  This advice goes hand in hand with one of the points above – use a past achievement to highlight what they can expect from you if hired. That’s not to say you can’t express eagerness to work for the company in question, but make it about what you have to offer them.

Use Overcomplicated Language

When it comes to formal writing, many of us take an overly critical approach. There is a natural tendency to think that longer or less common words sound more intelligent than their widely-used synonyms. However, a Princeton study suggests that the opposite is true. Rather than impressing readers, overcomplicated language gives off the impression of trying too hard. You may already have an impressive vocabulary without the need to reach for a thesaurus, but ease of readability should be your primary goal. When in doubt, remember that it takes a truly smart person to explain a complicated topic in a way that’s easy to understand.

Craft Your Perfect Cover Letter

It may seem daunting at first, but a unique, well-crafted cover letter could be the difference between getting an interview or a rejection notice. Take some time to practice self-editing with the advice above and it will soon become second nature. Whenever you’ve mastered your cover letter writing skills, our team of recruiters is ready to help you find your next career.

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