What to Leave Out of a Cover Letter

Ahhh the cover letter.  The make or break (mostly break) document for most candidate’s job-seeking prospects.  A well-crafted, effective cover letter can provide an efficient snapshot of experience, skills and other characteristics to would-be employers.  A bad cover letter, on the other hand, can facilitate your entire application’s quick journey into the circular filing bin.

While we often spend a great deal of time on “how-to’s”, tutorials and the like, it’s a far rarer find for a blog to spell out the “must not” “should not” and “never in a million years” type of advice.  With that in mind, and with the goal of helping you craft a resume that lands you the job of your dreams, here are a few pieces of advice when it comes to what to leave out of a cover letter.

Anything and Everything Generic

Look, we get it.  You had a late night, maybe indulged in one too many slices of cake or glasses of Uncle Jerry’s fabulous homemade brew.  The next morning, while still wearing your “cats are the best” fuzzy pajamas and safely snuggled under your covers, you open up your daily email update from Simply Hired, only to find just the right job, staring you straight in the face.  While your first inclination may be to download some run of the mill cover letter, change a few names, dates and places and hit the send button, this is actually the worst action you could possibly take.

If a job application calls for a cover letter, you better bet your PJ matching fuzzy slippers that your prospective employer will be giving these critical documents a once over when it comes time to make selections regarding callbacks and interviews.  A personalized cover letter will quickly identify why your name should be on the top of that list.  

TL:DR (Or Too Long: Didn’t Read, for the Less Hip Among Us)

Cover letters are one of those formulaic documents that have a set, expected, brevity by those who are used to reviewing them in mass quantities.  When you consider that most companies receive an average of 250 applications for any given open position, you can see why an overly verbose cover letter could be a bit of putting.  Keep your introduction short, sweet and to the point.  Convey critical information that makes your candidacy shine in 300 words or less.  You won’t be earning any bonus points for extra word count here.

Summarizing the Resume

While your cover letter is certainly an introduction to the hiring manager or other job filling decision maker, this doesn’t mean that it should be a simple summary of information they’ll be seeing later on in your professional resume.  Cover letters should address specific requirements from the company’s job listing.  In a few sentences, candidates should pick out choice information, but also add in dynamic descriptions, for an explanation on how they make the grade and should be in consideration.  Simply recapping information that appears in the resume is a waste of a perfectly good opportunity to set yourself apart from the applicant crowd.

About those College Years

While there may be some entry-level positions that want to know more about potential job candidates, your cover letter isn’t the place to give a dissertation on that advanced algebra course or your degree in ancient European animal migration.  If you’re light on relevant job experience, instead highlight relevant soft or personality skills that are applicable to the given job.  Your resume will provide a fine enough snapshot of your university successes and failures in the form of your GPA.

Not Following Instructions

Perhaps the biggest mistake would-be applicants can make when it comes to their cover letter is not following the specific instructions of their prospective employer.  While many positions ask for simply a relevant cover letter, others may provide prompts for candidates to expound on.  Failing to read the fine print could get your application kicked out of consideration.  

Similarly, pay attention to any word counts, deadlines or other specific guidelines the company may supply.  Many job application instructions ask you to exclude identifying information in certain personal areas or have hard deadlines for applying.  Follow the rules, exclude extraneous, unnecessary or generic info and your cover letter will be more helpful and less hurtful towards your prospects for scoring that lucrative job offer or interview.

Article Updated from the Original on November 15, 2017