Ready for Some Bad Advice? 3 Common Cover Letter Tips to Ignore

By Robert Half on March 30, 2015 at 1:00pm

The challenge of writing a powerful cover letter can lead job candidates to search endlessly for advice. But be careful. While you’ll likely find some nuggets of wisdom, you may stumble upon a few cover letter tips that could lead you astray.

Here are three often-repeated cover letter tips that you should definitely not take:

1. “You need a lengthy cover letter.”

This is probably one of the most frequent offenders on the list of “bad cover letter tips.” But think about it: Hiring managers have stacks of resumes and cover letters to review. If yours is longer than the rest or excessively wordy, it might not get read at all. Aim to get all of your points across in three brief paragraphs:

  • A clear introduction that lets employers know which job you’re applying for and why you’re interested in the position.
  • A paragraph that includes a few specific examples of how you’ve excelled in past roles that are relevant to the open position.
  • A concluding paragraph that tells employers how you’ll benefit their company and requests a future meeting.

2. “Your cover letter is less important than your resume.”

First, an ugly truth: Some hiring managers shove cover letters to the side. But most don’t. Because you never know what type of hiring manager you're dealing with, it’s best to err on the side of caution and submit a stellar cover letter. While some employers place less emphasis on cover letters, others decide who to interview based on them. Remember that the point of your cover letter is to tell employers something that makes them want to meet you, not to merely rehash your resume.

3. “You need to cram in as many keywords as possible.”

It’s true that you should include keyword phrases used in the job posting in your cover letter, but don’t overdo it. Hiring managers are clued in to this trick. Including too many keywords — also known as “keyword stuffing” — can give employers the impression that you’re trying to take advantage of the system, especially if they use software that sorts applications based on keywords. Also, keyword stuffing makes your cover letter sound forced and unnatural.

In addition to avoiding these faulty cover letter tips, diligently proofread your cover letter. You also need to re-read the job posting to make sure you’ve included all the requested information, such as salary requirements or your available starting date. Failing to follow directions is a major red flag for employers.

How to Write a Cover Letter They Can’t Ignore

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