Forbes reckons that 90% of cover letters never actually get read. So, why should you bother writing one?
The answer is simple. You should do everything you can to ensure that your application stands out from the rest of the pack. And if that means going the extra mile by taking the time to write a cover letter, it will only work to your advantage in your job search.
Your cover letter is the first contact you’ll have with the company you’re applying to as it acts as a preface to your CV. You don’t get a second chance to make this first impression, so your letter needs to be on point.
If you’re going to write a cover letter (and you really should), you want to make sure that you’re not doing yourself a disservice by including mistakes that could jeopardise your chances.
Here are our top tips on what not to do.
1. Don’t open your letter half-heartedly
The start of your cover letter must clearly state the role you’re applying for. But instead of using boilerplate text and subbing in your name and the job title, tweak your opening paragraph so it showcases your personality and immediately highlights why you’re a good fit for the job.
Do you have years of experience? Do you have some tangible results under your belt?
Lead with what you’re most proud of, that sets you apart from the other applicants. For example:
“Your requirement for an experienced sales manager is met by my five-year history of working in a big name organisation. This experience has enabled me to bolster my sales skills, resulting in an X% revenue increase from my client base this year.”
2. Don’t repeat your CV
Your cover letter is the chance to explain a few essential requirements and experiences in more detail to prove why you’re a match for the role. As a result, it should delve into the detail of the key skills on your CV, not simply repeat them.
Identify your most relevant abilities and expand on them in your cover letter to make it clear to the employer that you’re the talent they need.
3. Don’t be vague about your skills
Recruiters ultimately want to know what you will bring to the party. The company is hiring because they have a requirement that is not being met.
Writing a cover letter that references your skills without specific examples of your abilities is weak. Everyone can say that they’re a great catch, but without evidence, your claims are too vague and may cost you the role.
Instead, show prospective employers what value you will bring by supporting your achievements figures.
For example, if you’re applying for a digital marketing job and the employer is looking for someone that can increase traffic, show why you’re the perfect match. Did you increase your current employer’s traffic? If so, by how much and what did you do to enable this?
Discuss your abilities with tangible metrics to prove to the employer that you’re the talent they’ve been missing out on all these years.
4. Don’t talk about what you want to gain
When writing a cover letter, many job hunters fall into the trap of discussing how great a job opportunity would be for them, and how it will their enable growth and development.
While this may be true, it’s not the primary message you want to communicate with the potential employer. After all, recruiters aren’t judging a candidate’s suitability based on how much they want the job.
Employers have a problem, and their next hire is the solution. Your cover letter needs to display how you can bring the company success, rather than how much you need them.
5. Don’t be pessimistic
Your cover letter is not the place to explain in detail why you were laid off from your last job, or what difficulties you have been facing recently. Your woes are highly unlikely to create a positive impression.
Instead, recruiters would prefer to know what path you’re on and where you see your career trajectory heading. Employers want to hire people with drive, who possess an ability to get up and go. Show them your energy and give them reasons to hire you, not to pass you over.
6. Don’t write War and Peace
You aren’t writing a novel. You’re writing a cover letter. Like your CV, it should be succinct and pithy. Keep it to one A4 page tops. Make sure your sentences are short and your paragraphs are no more than three or four sentences. No one wants to come face to face with a wall of text, so break up your letter to ensure a digestible read.
Remember that you only need to include enough information to get you through to interview – then you can delve into more detail. In the meantime, write enough to pique the employer’s interest; make them want to find out more about you and your skills.
7. Don’t leave in typos, grammatical errors or factual inaccuracies
Finally, and probably the most important point of all, make sure your letter doesn’t contain any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. There’s no greater turn off than a lack of attention to detail.
Proofread your cover letter thoroughly. You might like to print it off and read it aloud to ensure you’ve captured every mistake.
While you’re checking for typos, also scan for any incorrect details, such as numbers, dates and any other claims. The last thing you want is to catch yourself out in a job interview or sell yourself short and not land the interview at all.
For more expert advice on job searches, careers and the workplace, visit their Career Advice pages.