So you’ve found a great job, prepared a great, ATS optimised 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. There is logic in this approach given that many recruiters don’t actually read them when screening applications.
But here’s the thing you need to know.
If your application gets through the screening process of ATS and humans, that’s when a cover letter can really make a difference.
The key here is getting through the screening process. A great cover letter is not going to make any difference if you don’t have a great, ATS optimised resume to accompany it.
But 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. Here are the 6 top mistakes to avoid to make sure it will work for you and not against you when you apply for your next job.
1 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.
You will come across as not being detail orientated, not being able to follow simple instructions, and worst of all, not being bothered about the role itself.
2 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.
3 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.
4 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, or headers and footers for the same reason you shouldn’t with your resume – ATS
5 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.
6 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 so that they are spelt correctly but don’t actually make sense. For example, ‘personnel’ changing to ‘personal’
Other things to check are company names, project names, and contact information.
- Follow Application Instructions
Check what is required and then make sure you cover everything that is asked for. This is a tactical move because you want to get ahead of your competition who may not have been so vigilant.
- Use Same Design Format as Your Resume
If you are applying online, your cover letter needs the same plain ATS optimised style. If it is a direct approach, ensure the style matches. You want both documents to work seamlessly together for a professional approach.
- Research the Company Thoroughly
Use the company website and any of its social media platforms to gain valuable insight into the culture of the company and its projects and achievements.
You can use this information in your cover letter to prove your interest and knowledge of the company.
For example, “I feel that this project would be a perfect fit because of x, y and z, which is similar to the project I have just completed on time and on budget for Company X”
- Scan the JD for Position Requirements and Match Them
Pick out the key 3-5 requirements for the role and then produce bullet point information on how you meet these specific criteria.
Be selective – don’t do this for the whole job description because otherwise, it will be too long. You also want to show that you have the ability to identify and understand the most important aspects of the role.
- Check Everything Before Submitting
Check it your self and run it by others before hitting send.
First impressions count so you don’t want to look sloppy and unprofessional.