The cover letter: a necessary evil in most job applications.
While you can often get away with doling out the same resumé to different organisations for similar positions, a copy-paste cover letter job will likely jeopardise your entire application.
“The worst cover letters are the generic ones that are clearly sent to a number of companies at once,” Gartner Australia recruitment manager Mckenna Haverberg told Yahoo Finance.
“Recruiters can see it straight away and won’t then invest the time in reading your CV.”
And if you think it doesn’t matter, it does: in fact, 7 in 10 recruiting managers would reject you if you didn’t include a cover letter, according to a ResumeLab survey of more than 200 HR experts.
So if you're on the hunt for a new job, like many Aussies are right now, use this as a checklist of things to get rid of lest your applications end up in the bin.
We’ll cut to the chase: these stand out like a sore thumb, and simply have no place being on a professional document that is your first impression to a potential employer.
“Typos, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes are all real turn-offs when recruiters are sifting through cover letters,” Indeed head of career insights Jay Munro told Yahoo Finance. So proofread it, use spell check, or even send it to a friend before sending.
It also shows you lack attention to detail, added Adecco Australia managing director Kelly Van Nelson. “[It] gives off the impression that you do not care enough about the job to check your work.”
What the data says: 76 per cent of HR professionals would immediately reject cover letters with any typos or spelling mistakes.
Open in the right way that shows you’ve done your research, says Seek head of consumer insights Elyssia Clark.
“Don’t write ‘To whom it may concern’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’; find out who to address your cover letter to,” Clark told Yahoo Finance.
If in doubt, get in touch with the company to ask. “It’s more personal that way and shows you’ve taken initiative.”
What the data says: Hiring managers don’t like informal or impersonal greetings without a name. 61 per cent rated informal greetings as either a moderate or serious problem.
And just in case it needs to be said, don’t use ancient email addresses from 2001.
“If your email has a ‘badboi’ or ‘princess’ in it, or references a personal interest or hobby, it’s time to set up a new one that includes your given name,” said Munro.
Delete: Too many words that don’t say much
While it’s tempting to jam in as much as possible, all the experts who spoke to Yahoo Finance were united on this: the shorter, the better.
“Often they are way too long. Your cover letter needs to be short, detail oriented and specific to the role,” said Haverberg. The same rules apply for your résumé too, she added.
“If a CEO can fit their resume on two pages, so can you.”
What the data says: 82 per cent of HR recruiters believe cover letters should be less than a page.
“Keep it short: 250 to 350 words, on a single page, is the sweet spot,” said Seek’s Clark.
Read your cover letter out loud and cut any complicated or flowery wording, or sentences that are too long, she added. “Use clear, concise language.”
Delete: Anything bordering on oversharing
Your cover letter should contain professional reasons why you’re suited to the job, said Munro, and nothing more.
“Hirers don’t need to know the finer details about your personal background or the reasons why you might be in need of the role.” So don’t include your date of birth or any photos, he said.
The overwhelming message is: keep it very professional. “You’d also be surprised by how many people use very casual language – including swearing – in their cover letters,” Munro added.
What the data say: 50 per cent of recruiters don’t like seeing overly casual tones in cover letters or résumés, according to the New College of the Humanities.
Delete: Snarky comments, lies
No matter how you left your last employer, your cover letter shouldn’t reveal any of the gory details – especially if you parted on less than great terms.
“Negative comments about past employers, colleagues or interviews never go down well on a cover letter or in an interview. A positive attitude is a must,” said Munro.
So keep it clean and keep it honest, too. You may think you can get away with a couple of white lies on your resume or cover letter, but recruiters – and these days, technology – are trained to keep an eye out for these.
What the data says: Unsurprisingly, 91 per cent of HR professionals see lying on cover letters as a problem on some level.
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Delete: Bad fonts
Your resume should be clear and easy to read, so picking a zany, unconventional font won’t do you any favours.
“Applicants should use their resumé to carve a point of difference from the competition through their skills, capabilities, and experience, not through a flamboyant font,” recruitment firm Robert Half director Nicole Gorton told Yahoo Finance early last year.
What the data says: Turns out recruiters actually have a favourite font. In the lead is the classic Times New Roman, followed by Calibri and then Arial.
Delete: The whole thing if it’s not tailored
This is the greatest sin of all. While it’s tempting to recycle the same document, nearly every recruiting expert made a point to say that each cover letter should be tailored.
“Your application is their first impression of you,” said Adecco’s Van Nelson.
“You always need to put your best foot forward and you need to understand the job you’re applying for back to front.”
Make sure your cover letter addresses what the job description is looking for. “Show them that you know about the job, the organisation, and how you would be a great fit for them,” Van Nelson added.
Gartner’s Haverberg recommends looking up other people in the same or similar role on LinkedIn and seeing what their main skills and tasks are.