A few months ago, I wrote about my three cover letter pet peeves after a particularly annoying stretch of letter editing. Since then, I’ve seen more letters and more odd trends that gave me pause. They’re not egregious and obvious things, like the wrong company names or grammatical issues. Rather, things that may seem like a good idea to a writer but do nothing to get the writer hired… Just like my previous 3! So I decided to come back with three more peeves, plus one little trick to make cover letter writing much easier.
referring to your resume
Phrases like “As stated on my resume” or “More details are on my resume” should not be in your cover letter. Anywhere. Ever. Why? You should never assume what the reader has read or remembered. It’s pretty pretentious to think that they read your resume so closely that they’ve memorized all of the details from a particular experience to the point where you don’t need to expand upon them further in the cover letter. It’s much more likely that the individual skimmed your resume and is now skimming your cover letter. As such, referring back to your resume for pertinent, relevant details adds a step to the process that the reader is unlikely to make.
Another reason why referencing your resume is a bad idea is that it makes you look lazy. If you don’t have the time to detail your relevant experiences in order to convince someone that you should be hired, then it’s very likely that you won’t even get an interview. Like, it’s 5-6 sentences, max. If you can’t put forth the effort to do that, then it doesn’t bode well for you doing other (probably harder) work in the future.
Whenever I see someone telling a reader to look at their resume, it tells me that they don’t understand the purpose of the cover letter. This is the place where you can really dig deep into your most relevant experiences – the ones that the hiring manager most wants to read about – and providing details that you don’t have space for on your resume. If this seems redundant, that’s because it is… but that’s totally the point! You need to beat them over the head with how qualified you are by presenting it in different documents with different words. If your resume is the SparkNotes version of your work history, the cover letter is the original text. Don’t pass up the chance to connect yourself to the position.
bullet points instead of body paragraphs
Speaking of lazy applicant practices, nothing is worse than having bullet points in/as the body paragraphs your cover letter. Like, this is beyond lazy. At least in the previous peeve, the writer wrote something. Having bullet points in your body paragraphs looks like a straight up copy/paste job, which is just… no. You MUST translate your resume into a usable narrative for your cover letter. This is point is nonnegotiable.
Whenever I see this, I ask the writer why their instinct is to put their experience in bullets rather than write it out. Sometimes it’s out of laziness, but usually it’s because they want to get as much information in the space as possible. As one client put it, they didn’t want to “clutter the page” with “unnecessary words.” Sounds nice, but its still wrong. Aesthetically speaking, your cover letter must look like a letter. It is a letter, so having actual sentences and paragraphs is the expectation. Bullet points gives the reader the impression that 1) you don’t write well and/or 2) your experiences aren’t deep enough to warrant further explanation. Both of these are red flags in the hiring process.
Like I said before, you must Must MUST use the cover letter for its purpose. The only extraneous stuff you need to worry about it information, not words.
your wrote an autobiographical human interest story
Speaking of extraneous information… your cover letter shouldn’t read like a script to one of those bio videos for the Olympics or The Voice. You know what I mean- those promo packages that are meant to make the viewer care about someone they’ve never heard of and give them a reason to root for that person in whatever they’re trying to accomplish. They’re usually sob stories – the Olympian who was born without a foot but now runs track. The singer who lost their voice for seven years in a freak water skiing accident… Look what they’ve overcome! Don’t you want them to reach their dreams??
Pity should not be the aim of your cover letter. Yes, you want someone to hire you, but this won’t do it. You know what will? Showing that you’re qualified. Your backstory can be added as a supplement to your credentials, but not as a replacement. Most of my cover letters say something about why I pursued a career in education, but I make sure to say that I have the academic knowledge and strong experiences to back up the ideals that brought me to the field. Your goal shouldn’t be to make a hiring manager feel for you. If that’s all you’ve got, then you’re probably applying to the wrong position.
tip: focus on your skills
I realize that cover letters aren’t the easiest things to write… especially the body paragraphs… especially if you don’t have a lot of work experience. So here’s a good strategy for knocking out these paragraphs: Focus on your skills! Look at the job description, and pull out 2-3 hard skills and 2-3 soft skills. Then, write about your experiences honing those in each of the two body paragraphs. Hard skills in one, soft skills in another. The great thing about this strategy is that it both fills out your cover letter and allows you to highlight the parts of your past that most closely align with the position you’re applying to. Even if you don’t have direct industry experience, you can show that you posses the skill set necessary to do the job well. (And you can also talk about how your different background is an asset because it gives you an diversity of experiences from which to draw… Another win!)
For example… You want to transition from teaching to recruiting. Even though you’ve never done recruiting before, your teaching experience has given you skills like scheduling, communication, interpersonal management, and presentation that transfer beautifully to the career that you’re looking to enter. Make sense? Next time you’re stuck writing a cover letter, try it!