While the cover letter on a resume isn’t a requirement, it’s still good etiquette. When you’re applying for a lot of jobs online at once, yes, it can be extra work. But look at it this way – it can be a nice introduction to who you really are. As a companion to a stellar skills resume, you can use it to leverage your appeal.
A bad cover letter, though? Yeah, that can hurt you. Despite great transferable skills, painting an odd portrait of yourself with your cover letter can lessen the impact of an otherwise great resume.
I’ve mentioned in other posts before that in my other other job, I’m a hiring manager, so see a lot of resumes. And honestly? A lot are great, but an equal number are total crap. Online resume submission portals and the worry to key word load skills resumes have become big concerns.
Fair enough. Man against machine makes us do crazy things.
However, recognition programs don’t evaluate people for the right job. People do that. You can do skills testing all you want, but nothing gets you more for your time than a great behavioural interview. It’s far superior and done (or should be done) by people who know how to pull out the good stuff. These same people are the ones you are speaking with through your cover letter.
Never forget, despite that an algorithm may have flagged your resume for review, there’s a person other the other end of that doing the manual review. Use that knowledge to leverage yourself further along the queue with a well-constructed, human cover letter.
The goal is to get the call or email invitation to interview, not to kill your shot right out of the gate!
6 Big Cover Letter Gaffs That Affect Interview Invitations
I guess this is on my mind, because I’m going through another round of hiring and this time, have seen some of the most ridiculous cover letter mistakes I’ve ever seen to date. Someone has to say something, so it may as well be me. If you’ve done any of these things in the past, don’t worry – shake it off, round file your cover letter, write a new one, and keep going. Don’t look back.
1. To be blunt, don’t be an idiot – proofread your cover letter!
If “high attention to detail” is one of your skills and your cover letter is full of typos and spelling mistakes, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot. I never thought it needed to be said, but seriously. I’ve seen more than 30 cover letters this past month that contained multiple typos. Proofread, man!
2. Don’t try to be something you’re not
What I mean by that is, if you’re not a literary writer, don’t bust out a thesaurus to make your cover letter flowery and full of fifty-cent words you’d never use in the course of your natural life.
As soon as I meet you and you speak your first words, I’m going to find out you lied to me. That’s going to make me wonder what else you lied about. Then you’re going to have to spend the rest of the interview working twice as hard to regain my trust and convince me why I should take a chance on you. And you know what? That’s going to get in my way of finding out if you’re a good personality fit. So I’m probably not going to bother. Once you break my trust, it’s tough to get back and so easier for me to move on to the next person.
Do yourself a favour and write your cover letter in whatever, simple natural language comes to you. Write your cover letter the way you would say those words to me in a professional interview setting – don’t add-to. Trust me, your regular, every day words are good enough for me. Most companies aren’t hiring literary writers, so just do it.
3. Don’t waste my time
A new trend revealed itself in the second half of this year – ridiculously long cover letters. I’m talking pages. I thought it was an anomaly, but then there were more. Ugh. These tomes recounted “hard luck stories” (most of which really weren’t actual hard luck stories) from the time of childhood through every life change and work or volunteer experience right up to the moment they applied for the job. What the fuck is that, man?
I’ve no idea how widespread this advice is yet, but it’s bad bad terrible advice – don’t do it.
This is a cover letter, not your personal journal. I want to know what the aggregate of those experiences is. I’m looking for the person you are now. And honestly? I don’t care how you got here. If you want to make a good impression with me, don’t subject me to a badly-written personal essay when you’re looking for a job. I won’t read it through to the end – I don’t have time. I’ll dump it and move on.
I just evaluated a group of younger candidates (25 and under) with little real-world work experience enrolled in a job training program. These “hard luck stories” were my introductions to them. To get into their program, they had to write a lengthy personal essay which was apparently what I received as a cover letter. I extrapolated from that (and verified by asking them), that this was advice they were given about how to apply for a job. I know university admissions also require this kind of recounting of life experience, so younger people entering the work force with only this type of experience under their belt may believe this is suitable for the job market.
If no one has ever let you know there’s a distinction between academia and the business world, let me be the first. There is. I don’t give awards for you showing up to do something I already pay you to do. And in the context of being a piece of the company where my biggest concern is ensuring it continues to make money, so it doesn’t close and I lose my job? I don’t give a shit how hard your life is. As a person, sure I care, but work is work and the company is a capital endeavour, not a charity organisation.
I don’t want to read one more novella-length “hard luck story” cover letter. Please, knock this shit off.
4. Don’t be clever
There’s some cover letter advice floating around for how to get noticed that says be creative and quirky in your cover letter. Very wrong for most industries. For marketing or some of the arts, perhaps, being quirky could give you an edge, because they’re buying your performance, so you have some leeway there. But for a regular job? Please, don’t.
You’ll get further ahead presenting your transferable skills well. Some insight? I usually read the cover letter last. I’m buying aggregate skills experience, so I look to the resume first and I can tell you, I’m not the only one. Be quirky on your own time – I’m hiring people for what they’ll be able to do for me every day, not their entertainment value.
I do, in fact, hire for personality fit, but that’s in the second cut. After I sort through anyone who has the skills I’m looking for, I look for best fit. So, don’t be clever in your cover letter – use your time to make a stellar skills resume instead, because that’ll get your resume into my second look pile.
5. Don’t be unprofessional – write a proper business letter
Again, this isn’t your personal journal or a Facebook post – this is your introduction to a place you’ll potentially spend the bulk of your every day with. Be professional, present yourself in a professional manner. And do it in a human way.
This is your first opportunity to speak to me, so talk to me, dude. Be polite – I’m big on manners and trust me, there’s always time for them. Manners impress me. How about thanking me for my time instead of being a whiny, self-entitled child? Tell me, in your own words that add up to no more than two lines, a couple of things that make you a good fit. Don’t know how to write a proper business cover letter? Try this template you can edit right in Microsoft Word or this all-purpose business letter form broken down by section with explanations.
6. Don’t send the same cover letter to every place you applied
Another thing I never thought I’d have to mention. Last week, I saw three separate cover letters state they were applying for a completely different job, not my ad. All three even included a couple of lines about why they’d be a good fit for the position. They even listed skills and experience that had nothing to do with what I advertised for. I had two other cover letters thank me for my time, which was refreshing. Except they were replying to an advertisement for a completely different job at another company. Thanks for caring.
When you do dumb things like that? I know you’re not even interested in the job I posted. And you know what? If you can’t take the time to read my ad (where I clearly list, in bullet points, what I’m looking for), I won’t waste any more time on your resume, because I already know you’re not who I’m looking for.