Recruiters Distinguish Between Good And Bad Cover Letters Within Minutes. Here's How.

You can't judge a book by its cover—but you can judge a job applicant by a cover letter, according to recruiters. One quick glance at a cover letter, and a recruiter has formed a strong impression of you as a job candidate. If your cover letter is good, you'll get another look; if it's not, well, sorry.

cover letter

Increase your chances by application success by understanding the good, the bad, and the ugly of cover letters.

What Makes A Cover Letter Good

  • Specificity. Recruiters like to see you've taken the time to personalize your cover letter to the specific opportunity. You want to make it clear that not only have you read the job posting, you’ve researched the company as well.
  • Being addressed to a real person. Take the time to search LinkedIn and figure out who the hiring manager is. Address your letter to that person. Doing so shows attention to detail and initiative. Even the wrong name (as long as it's the name of an actual employee from the relevant department) is better than "Dear Sir or Madam," "Dear Hiring Manager," or "To Whom It May Concern."
  • Relevance. Use the precious space in your cover letter to connect your unique skill set to this opportunity. Incorporate keywords from the job posting in your cover letter. Again, this shows attention to detail—and will prove beneficial if an applicant tracking system (ATS) is the first to "read" your letter.
  • A strong conclusion. Thank the recruiter or hiring manager for his or her time, and request to meet to discuss your qualifications for the opportunity.

What Makes A Cover Letter Bad

  • Too many words. This isn't the time to be verbose. Keep your writing crisp and to the point. Open with an attention-grabbing, yet professional description of your interest in the position. Then, transition to a second paragraph in which you provide a bit more information—preferably with a memorable statistic or example—to entice the reader to look at your resume. Close with your thanks and desire for further communication as described above.
  • Boilerplate language. It's tempting to blast out the same letter over and over, and you will eventually figure out a "template" for your cover letter so you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you apply for a job. But it's obvious when a job candidate is simply copying and pasting generic verbiage that isn't interesting to read.
  • The wrong tone. You want your cover letter to stand out for its professionalism and eloquence, not for being off the wall. This isn't a college creative writing course. Follow the principles of good writing (use active voice, not passive; show, don't tell), but don't go overboard with the thesaurus or an approach that's too avant-garde. Be yourself.

What Makes A Cover Letter Ugly

  • Typos. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Most positions require strong communication skills, and your cover letter is one instance in which you will definitely be judged on your writing abilities. In theory, you're putting your best foot forward when you're applying for a job. If you represent yourself with a typo-ridden letter, how will you represent the company? Ask a friend to review your cover letter. Once you've spent hours poring over something, it's pretty easy to miss obvious mistakes.
  • Copy-and-paste errors. Double-check your work before you hit send—especially if you’re batch-applying for jobs. Listing the wrong company, position title, or hiring manager name in a cover letter is the kiss of death for a job applicant.
  • No contact information. It might seem hard to believe, but sometimes applicants forget to include their contact info on their cover letters. The most well-written, intriguing cover letter isn't going anywhere if the recruiter doesn't know how to get in touch with you.

As the old saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. You certainly don't get a second chance when it comes to cover letters.

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