Just so you don’t have to spend months, or even years of your life painstakingly reading through horrendous cover letters by people hoping to receive an interview out of that, I’ve summarized what I think to be the top 5 reasons why your cover letter might suck.
1. It’s Generic.
Maybe I’m just into analogies too much but think of using the exact same cover letter as handing in the EXACT same essay to two different Professors. Are they necessarily going to know you’ve submitted it twice? Likely not. Are they going to be received well and award you an “A+”? Again, likely not. If you’re not tailoring your cover letter to a specific role, it’s going to come off as generic and you miss out on your opportunity to precisely speak to why you’re a great candidate.
Solution: take a few moments and think about why you’re applying for that job. What makes you an exceptional candidate to “crush it”. And summarize those thoughts into a cohesive 2-3 paragraphs that create a consistent narrative that shows both your connection to the role and/or organization and the top 2-3 strengths that you would bring immediately to the role.
2. You Didn’t Bother Investigating Who To Address It To.
Okay, I’ll admit there are a (VERY) small amount of exceptions to this rule – i.e Government or Post-Secondary roles come to mind – but there are an even smaller amount of excuses for ignoring this rule. If you can’t find a viable team member (HR, Recruiter, Staffing Clerk, Talent Operations, People Operations, etc. — geez, so many names these days for hiring) through LinkedIn, and if there wasn’t a specific person to address it to listed in the posting, give the company a call and politely ask either for Human Resources, or ask the Admin team who you can address the application to. It shows that you’re committed enough to the role to investigate, and it also can give you an unofficial chance to speak with a potential Hiring Manager and bring some familiarity to your application when they review it, by remembering your call fondly. PLUS, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is ;).
Solution: Read this article I wrote on how to figure out who to address your cover letter to
3. Your Cover Letter Is Just A Reiteration Of Your Resume.
Look, cover letters are an awesome chance to differentiate yourself from the competition while ADDING new information that’s either not listed on your resume, or not highlighted. If you’re going to make a recruiter read a cover letter AND THEN your resume, do your best to offer value in both.
Solution: When you’re writing your cover letter, think of it more as your opportunity to write about your connection to the role and/or organization, and the top 2-3 strengths that you would bring to the role. The resume should support this narrative, NOT reiterate it.
4. You’re Straight-Up Asking For An Interview.
While this piece of advice may be contrary to what you’ve read in other places, but I advise my clients NOT to be presumptuous and leave out any lines that imply you are expecting an interview. I’ve read documents that strongly suggest on ending your cover letter with a call-to-action requesting an interview, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that it rarely yields what you’re hoping. You can bet that any recruiter/hiring manager knows what to do next, so presuming that you’ll be given an interview will likely do more damage than help.
What it normally does, is make you come off sounding overconfident, presumptuous, or demanding. It’s not going to make the difference between a Recruiter wanting to call you back or not. Furthermore, asking for an interview at the end of your cover letter can take what normally would be a really effective introduction and
Solution: Don’t think so much about leaving a call-to-action at the end and utilize that space with something valuable, such as a quick reiteration of your connection, strengths mentioned, and why that would make you a great fit for the role.
5. Your Cover Letters Seem Disjointed.
Finally, so many people hack together their cover letters without any forethought about the person reading them. Yes, recruiters are people, too, and they have human-like emotions, just like the rest of us. When you hack together a cover letter that reads as disjointed, the recruiter is going to suffer the same.
Solution: Read through your cover letter and ask yourself if it flows through a logical narrative. It’s okay to take content from other cover letters that you’ve sent out, so long as you’ve spent time finessing it into the flow, style, and narrative of your current letter.
All-in-all, I’m a huge convert on the value of writing an awesome cover letter. As I mentioned, I didn’t always grow up that way and learned early in my career that, when done correctly, can be a huge advantage to you when you’re seeking a new employment opportunity, or transitioning careers.