So you've found a great job, prepared a great resume but then you see those dreaded words – cover letter optional. Don’t let this last step trip you up by making these 6, very common mistakes.
Are Cover Letters Really Necessary?
First, let's talk about what 'optional' really means. You may be tempted, especially if you are in a hurry, to decide not to include a cover letter.
Remember this. When applying for jobs online, the key, as always, is to first get through Applicant Tracking Systems. Even if you create the perfect cover letter it will make no difference to your application if you don't have a great, ATS optimised resume to accompany it.
But if your resume has made it through and got you to the shortlisting stage, and if it is a close thing between you and other similar candidates, a great cover letter could be just the thing to tip the odds in your favour.
If you have made it through to shortlisting stage, and it is a close thing between you and other similar candidates, a great cover letter could be just the thing to tip the odds in your favour.
Beware though. It does have to be a great cover letter otherwise it can have the opposite effect.
6 Common Cover Letter Mistakes - and How to Avoid Them
There are many mistakes jobseekers can make with their cover letters but they tend to fall into 6 main categories. I am going to go through each in turn top so you can produce a cover letter that will work for you and not against you when you apply for your next job.
Ignoring Application Instructions
In other words, give recruiters and HR exactly what they have asked for. Often you will find directions regarding the type of content they are looking for on the job posting.
For example, if they say 'please submit your resume along with a cover letter explaining why you are interested in working at Company X' then you must do it.
Getting a cover letter template off the internet, filling in the blanks and not giving specific answers relating to a position or company, just isn't good enough.
Telling Your Life Story
Recruiters and HR are deadline driven and time poor so you need to make it easy for them to get to the information they want to see with a few well-structured paragraphs.
Never go over 1 page and don't bore them with background information that is totally irrelevant such as jobs over 10 years ago, awards you got at school, and your hobbies and interests.
Duplicating Your Entire Resume
The job of your cover letter is to get people interested in reading your resume further. It's a bit like a trailer for a film or the blurb on a book cover. It needs to pick out key points so that the reader will want to see more.
Simply duplicating the content from your resume is pointless as it will offer nothing new or enticing and will make you look lazy.
Using a Crazy Design
If you are sending a hard copy, don’t experiment with colours and weird designs.
Yes, it will make you stand out - but for all the wrong reasons.
If it is an online application, don’t add pictures, graphs, headers or footers for the same reason you shouldn't with your resume - ATS or Applicant Tracking Systems
Being Generic, not Targeted
You should always target both your resume and your cover letter to each position you apply for so this will take a bit of time and research on your part.
Sending a 'one size fits all response' is actually worse than not attaching a cover letter at all.
This shows that you were not prepared to invest your time into preparing a targeted, full application for the role which begs the question of whether you have the right work ethic should they offer you the position.
Not Checking for Typos
Check, check, and check again. It can be really hard to spot mistakes if you have been writing the document yourself so its a good idea to run it by someone else because fresh eyes may pick up a flaw.
Be mindful that autocorrect can change words to an accurate spelling but it can end up not making sense. For example, 'personnel' changing to 'personal.'
Other things to check are company names, project names, and contact information.
My advice is to always include a cover letter if you are given the option. You never know, it may be the point of difference that will get you an interview. But remember to avoid these 6 cover letter mistakes and make sure it is a good one. Otherwise it could have the opposite effect.
Keep in mind though that every part of the process to getting your next job is important. Everyone is only as strong as their weakest point.To ensure you have no weak areas, check out our other content on Resume Writing, Job Search advice, how to submit perfect Job Applications and how to prepare and succeed at Interviews.
And if you have any specific questions for me I will be happy to help. Just drop a comment in the section below.