It is easy to overlook the importance of a cover letter.

If you are getting exhausted by the job search process, you may fall into the trap of writing a cover letter quickly, without thought, prior to sending off your carefully crafted resume. This is a mistake. Your cover letter is the first impression in your application package and gives you the opportunity to say what it is about your experience that makes you the ideal candidate. Unfortunately, a poorly written cover letter can actually work against you and cause a hiring manager to dismiss your application before even getting to your resume.

Here are the top five common mistakes we see in candidates’ cover letters:

  1. No cover letter: If you are investing time in searching and applying to jobs every week and firing off 20 applications in a row, it can be tempting to just attach your resume and press send. If this sounds familiar, you are missing out on a great opportunity to explain to the hiring manager what it is about your experience that makes you the ideal candidate for a particular job. Do yourself the favour of putting the same care and thought into your cover letter as you do your resume; it will set the tone for the hiring manager’s review of your application.
  2. Lengthy cover letter: If a cover letter is too long or holds too much detail, the hiring authority is less likely to read it. If your resume is the cake, the cover letter should be the icing, meant to embellish and bring out the best of the cake. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) regurgitate your resume. You know what the highlights are; hit them.
  3. Cover letter attached separately: Email volume is only increasing and as you can imagine, a hiring manager will be inundated with email traffic when a job posting is active. Your cover letter should be the email that attaches your resume and not attached to the email as an additional document. This gives the hiring manager a quick and easy way to look back and remind themselves of your qualifications.
  4. Failure to customize: Each job you apply for is unique and a good cover letter is customized to reflect that fact. This includes updating the contact name of the hiring manager for your particular position and spelling that name correctly. You do not want to be the candidate who spells the hiring manager’s name incorrectly or starts out by addressing “Dear Sir/Madam.”
  5. Failure to explain employment gaps/under qualifications: Use your cover letter as an opportunity to explain any gaps in your work history and to address any ways in which you may not quite have the qualifications as described in the job posting. If a candidate qualifies his or her application in a cover letter by stating that they appreciate they are not exactly what the ad is looking for, I’m impressed by the fact that the candidate took the time and showed some thought. If there is no such qualifier, I’m inclined to think the candidate is taking the shot gun approach to their applications and their application may not be given the same weight. If you don’t offer some explanations, people will fill in those blanks themselves based on their own assumptions which may not be favourable to your application.


Stay tuned for our key tips on the application and interview process in the coming weeks and click here for our tips on what makes for a well-crafted cover letter.

Louise Woollcombe is a Senior Consultant with The Heller Group. Louise is actively involved in recruiting and placing lawyers, of all levels, into law firms and corporations. She is also the primary consultant for compliance and risk management related positions. Outside of the office, Louise enjoys skiing, cycling, yoga and baking. She has three children and volunteers with their schools and sports organizations.

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