3 Things to Never do in a Cover Letter
August 8, 2018
Every time I sit down to review applicant files, I am a little stunned when I get to the cover letters. In my experience, there are three types: those that are stellar – on point, well-written, provide all of the necessary information, and they structurally look good, then there are the generally good ones, and finally the ones that look like the applicant spewed information onto the page with little regard. Today, I am going to address the latter.
Out of some twenty or more cover letters I have read over the course of the last few days, almost 50% fall into that latter category. In looking at them, I have come up with three things you should never do when writing a cover letter.
Never Skip Structure
In many of the cover letters I read, applicants didn’t follow any type of structure, the letter was nothing more than a few block paragraphs, no address, salutation, etc. When a cover letter does not follow any type of standard structure, it often looks messy and haphazard. It can also be harder on the eyes. The lack of any structure suggests, whether true or not is irrelevant, you don’t care about the position or don’t pay attention to detail – certainly not the impression you want to make.
Never Forget Your Contact Information
In at least a quarter of the cover letters, the applicant did not include their contact information. How is a potential employer going to contact you if you don’t provide your email address or your phone number? Don’t make the potential employer work to engage with you because they won’t. Usually, there are far too many qualified candidates, which means the hiring manger will quickly move on to the next one.
Never Use Multiple Fonts
Another quarter of the applicants used multiple fonts in their cover letters, in two cases, the applicants used multiple fonts in the same paragraph. I suspect they copied and pasted the different segments from different other cover letter versions, and then never went back a proofread the letter. This looks sloppy and lacks professionalism, again not the impression you want to project.
A cover letter should always be crafted with care and effort. Not only does the content speak to your skill-level and experience, it also speaks to your personality. Between the lines, a cover letter can demonstrate attention to detail, enthusiasm, persistence, creativity, professionalism, respect, or it can demonstrate apathy, laziness, ignorance, or arrogance.
The three nevers - never skip structure, never forget your contact information, and never use multiple fonts may seem incredibly simple and obvious, but that is the point. These are so simple and obvious that some applicants overlooked them. Of the 50% or so that included some, or all, of these elements, at least half of them were highly qualified people. Let me say this an emphatically as I can - professionalism will win every time. There are few hiring managers who would sacrifice professionalism for skills because it is easier to teach someone how to use software or accounting rules than it is to teach them how to act like a professional. So, don’t let your next cover letter end up in the real or virtual trashcan because you rushed it, didn’t edit it, or didn’t take the time to craft it with care, respect, and attention to detail.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies