The Dos and Don’ts of Cover Letters
Research shows cover letters are still an essential part of the application process. They allow applicants to express their greatest accomplishments, skills, and past experiences alongside their future aspirations and goals with the intention of finding a new position. From an employer’s standpoint, cover letters let hiring managers and recruiters learn more about a candidate and find out what sets them apart from the competition.
If you're ready to start your cover letter but not sure what to include and what to leave out, read our “dos and don'ts” below for the best practices.
The “Dos” of Cover Letters
Personally address your cover letter when possible
If the position you are applying to includes a name in the job description or you’re asked to send your application to a specific person, be sure to include their name in the cover letter. If you’re unsure of their exact name, try searching on the company’s website or LinkedIn page for a specific person to address your cover letter to. This will add a personal touch to the cover letter and will also show that you’ve put in the extra effort to find out who you’ll be speaking with throughout the hiring process. If you’re unsure of the person’s gender or pronouns, it’s best to avoid gendered terms such as Mr. and Mrs. and stick with their full name. Likewise, if you’ve searched for a name to the best of your ability but your results are coming back unclear, a simple “Dear Hiring Manager...” or “Dear XYZ team…” are more personal than an overly formal “To Whom it May Concern…”
Include a call to action
Before adding your regards and signing your name, thank the recipient for their time and consideration followed by a call to action. A call to action can be politely requesting more information regarding the position or asking to set up a time to further discuss your background and qualifications with a formal interview. This will not only serve as another opportunity to express your interest in the role, but can also show the recipient you are determined and ready to take the next steps in the hiring process.
Proofread your cover letter (more than once!)
Proofread your cover letter for clarity, grammar mistakes, or missed opportunities to highlight additional skills and accomplishments. Also take into consideration whether or not all of the information you included is necessary. When candidates include too much information, recruiters and hiring managers may not read the entire cover letter. Read your cover letter aloud or use your computer’s text-to-speech feature to listen to the cover letter. Hearing what you’ve written can help you catch small mistakes in the cover letter’s flow that you may have otherwise overlooked.
Properly format and save your cover letter before sending
When you’re confident the written content of your cover letter is the best it can be, it’s time to look at the format and style of the document. Unless design is an important element in your cover letter, stick to a traditional black font on a white background and keep your cover letter to one page for your reader’s convenience. Save the cover letter as a PDF file in order to ensure the formatting remains the same across different computers. When saving the document, also make sure the file has a clear and formal title such as your first and last name, the company you are applying to, and “cover letter.” (Ex: Jane Doe XYZ Cover Letter). This will help the hiring manager easily locate your cover letter once it is downloaded and help you keep track of different cover letters for future reference.
The “Don’ts” of Cover Letters
Don’t re-use the same cover letter for multiple jobs
If you’re able to use the same cover letter for each job by just switching out the job title or company’s name, your cover letter is most likely too generic. While it’s true that your skills and accomplishments will remain the same, you should be reworking your cover letters to match the job listing and company you are applying for. This includes using keywords from the job listing, past experiences relevant to the job, and your unique interest in the company.
Don’t use cover letter templates
Although there are hundreds of cover letter templates on the internet, the truth is, they’re mostly the same. Avoiding these premade templates will help you stay away from using an outdated format or adding cliché phrases and irrelevant information. Having a unique cover letter will show employers you stand out from other applicants and have put the time and effort into their application process.
Don’t just repeat your resume
A cover letter should never be just a detailed explanation of your resume. Instead, include information that you might not find on a resume including your interest in the position and company, your passions, and your goals. Your cover letter can also be an opportunity to showcase your skills that may not be evident from your resume. In fact, when surveyed, 83% of Human Resources professionals stated cover letters can help a potential candidate get an interview when their resume alone isn’t good enough. If you’re confident that you have the skills but lack the experience, use your cover letter to prove your worth.
Don’t list your salary expectations unless stated in the job description
Lastly, do not include your salary expectations, requirements, or payment history in your cover letter. Including a salary range that is too high can turn hiring managers or recruiters away from your application, while including a salary that is too low may lead you to earning less than you deserve. The exception to this is if the job description explicitly asks for your salary expectations or requirements. In which case, include a reasonable range depending on your experience and certifications. Otherwise, it is best to negotiate your salary once you are offered the job or if directly asked in an interview further along in the hiring process.
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