Have you been applying for jobs, but not getting called for interviews? Perhaps you’re wondering if your cover letter has been killing your chances of winning your dream job? Well, your cover letter is an integral part of your job application. I hate to say it, but if your cover letter isn’t up to scratch, it could be the reason you aren’t being inundated with phone calls about job opportunities.
If that is the case though, don’t worry. All hope isn’t lost. There is still a chance to go back to basics with your cover letter and make sure it is on point, before you send out your next job application. In this post, I am sharing a quick process you can do to evaluate your cover letter and make the changes required to take it to the next level.
First up, are you actually including a cover letter?
Forgive me for asking, but as a recruiter, I've seen way too many applications coming across my desk with no cover letter attached. So, do you always need to include a cover letter? Well, there are two situations when you don’t need to attach a cover letter:
- You are applying for a role that requires a selection criteria response. In that case, you can skip the cover letter, as you are outlining your claims to the role through the selection criteria.
- The advertisement specifically says that you should not include a cover letter. Of course in this case, you should demonstrate that you can follow instructions.
If one of the above doesn’t fit, then the answer is yes. Every single time.
Are you tailoring your cover letter to suit every role?
What are you saying, girl? Yeah. You heard me. Are you tailoring your cover letter to suit every role? I know it sounds like a lot of work, but if you aren’t writing a new cover letter for each role you apply for, you are doing yourself a disservice. Naturally, if you are applying for similar jobs, this may only involve changing a few words here and there, or adding some additional information. No matter how much effort it is though, it is a key step in the process.
Over my career, I have seen heaps of cover letters. I have seen heaps of crappy cover letters. There are a few major things though that stick out like a sore thumb and show me that the candidate has definitely not spent enough time tailoring their application. Here are just a few:
- addressing your cover letter to the wrong person or company;
- mentioning application to a different role than the one being applied for;
- lots of general sweeping statements, with no links to the role on offer;
- describing what you are looking for in a role, and it doesn’t match up; or
- making comments that show a lack of understanding about the organisation and the type of work we do.
I promise you. The extra time to tailor your cover letter, is a great investment.
Are you submitting your cover letter in a Word or PDF document?
If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you will know that PDF is my strong preference for any application documents. But, if you are submitting your cover letter in a Microsoft Word or Apple Pages document, I won’t crucify you. So, what’s the alternative? The alternative, my friend, is one of those “please submit your cover letter here” text boxes that are available above the upload button on your favourite job sites.
Let me be clear. This is not a suitable alternative. Under no circumstances, should you use one of those boxes, unless there is absolutely and unequivocally no other way. Upload your cover letter as a document, attach it to your resume and upload it as one file or send it by carrier pigeon or smoke signal, before you type a cover letter into a text box.
Now, I know, I like things that are aesthetically pleasing and when cover letters come through from those sites in unformatted text, it looks rubbish. But it also shows that you couldn’t be bothered preparing a proper cover letter – it looks lazy and unfinished. Please, don’t do it!
Is your cover letter ruining your chances of securing your ideal job?
Are you demonstrating your skills and talking about your achievements?
So, I have already mentioned sweeping statements, but I feel like it deserves another comment. Another huge mistake I see candidates making in their cover letters, is making too many broad, sweeping statements and not spending enough time demonstrating what they can do, and quantifying their achievements.
Yeah, yeah. I know you are a great team player and that you can also work autonomously. I also know about your excellent attention to detail (I read about both of them in your resume, but we will get to that next…). Declarations like this are delightful. But they mean diddly-squat. So skip them, and focus on how you can convince your potential employers of your abilities. By showing them what you have already done.
If you regularly met and exceeded a monthly gross profit target of $50,000, you should talk about that in your cover letter. So, you managed a team of 25 team members in a contact centre, who successfully kept call times to less than 2 minutes per call? Talk about that. If you oversaw a $1M IT project and ensured that it was completed within a strict deadline imposed by your client, guess what? You should talk about that. Are you picking up what I’m putting down? Talk about what you have done. Talk about what you have achieved. Don’t talk fancifully about what you might be able to do.
Do you repeat all the information from your resume, in your cover letter?
Your resume and cover letter are valuable real estate. That is to say, you don’t have fifty pages to dilly-dally around your point. So, get straight to it, and use the space wisely. Now, I don’t want to come across as a cranky old recruiter lady. I promise I’m not. I just really want you to succeed in finding and securing your dream job, and you won’t do that if you faff around repeating the same information.
You may know that I like a short resume. Two to three pages, max. So you don’t have a lot of space in your resume as it is, to provide a lot of detail about your achievements. The trick here is to provide a teaser in your resume, a little more information in your cover letter and then you can follow up and go into more detail when you are invited for an interview.
Does your cover letter focus more on what an employer can do for you, than what you can do for them?
Finally, think about what you are trying to achieve with your cover letter. Are you trying to convince an employer that you really want the job, because you are looking for part-time hours and free parking, whilst also working for a company where you can climb the ladder using your law degree? Or, are you trying to convince the employer that you are the most suitable candidate for the role?
I hope you chose the second option. If not, we need to talk! Your cover letter, as I have already drilled into you, is the perfect opportunity to sell yourself, your skills, experience, knowledge and achievements to future employers. But for some reason, lots of candidates use their cover letter to explain why they really really really want the job, and how they will enjoy all of the career progression opportunities it will offer.
Passion alone, doesn't win jobs.
Without a doubt, passion is attractive in a candidate. I am often impressed by a candidate who genuinely understands and wants to work for my organisation. But it isn’t everything. Feel free to mention your passion, excitement, interest and appreciation, but remember what your overall aim is.
So there you have it! I hope you take some time to review your cover letter and identify whether you are making any of these mistakes. They are common, so there’s no need to panic. Just make the required changes and don’t be afraid to tweak and change your job applications as you continue your job search. If there’s anything I can do to help, please feel free to reach out. If you need help preparing your cover letter for a specific role, this is also something I can help with, so make sure you check out my services page.