Posted by Brian McCullough
Last week, I told you what should be in a cover letter. That post was prompted by the realization that I had never really written much about cover letters on this blog. But it was also born out of some professional frustration I’ve been having lately. The long and short of it is, I’ve seen some terrible cover letters from clients lately.
The weird thing is, they’ve all been making the same fundamental cover letter error. So, I wanted to address the one mistake that everyone makes, leading to a plague of bad cover letters.
Don’t Try To Run The Interview In Your Cover Letter
The number one mistake people make when writing a cover letter is to make it way too long. Again, a cover letter should only be 3 paragraphs… 4 paragraphs tops. And it absolutely should be no more than one page.
A terrible cover letter is one that runs on and on and competes with the resume for attention.
I think people forget this because they try to use the cover letter to preemptively address issues that should really be left for the interview. I can understand the impulse. You feel like you can use the cover letter to better explain or buttress things that are in your resume. I mean, sure, you might use the cover letter to briefly address why there’s a gap in employment or why you’re switching careers. But do so briefly!
Don’t give in to the impulse to explain away everything in the cover letter. The resume should stand on it’s own. Any questions the employer might have should be left for the interview.
Don’t try to run the interview in your cover letter. It’s fine to use the cover letter to address a point or two in your resume for greater clarity. But if you go too far down this slippery slope, before you know it, you’re repeating things that are already in your resume to begin with. Soon you’ll find yourself just rehashing your resume in sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph and the hiring manager is left wondering which is the more important document to read, your resume or your cover letter.
Again, let the resume stand on it’s own. The cover letter supports and supplements your resume, but it’s just a formality, an introduction for your resume. It should never compete with your resume for attention.