Over the course of my recruitment career I have probably read thousands of cover letters and the vast majority are terrible. They are consistently generic, boring, and full of the same tired clichés I’ve read a thousand times before. Which, if you’re trying to grab a recruiter’s attention, is a problem.
Last week, I decided to experiment on a group of candidates who should know a thing or two about good cover letters: recruiters. I wrote a nice little job ad for a trainee recruiter to join our team and, at the bottom, I attached some advice for potential applicants. I suggested that they spellcheck their CV and cover letter and that mentioning my dog, Moses, in the cover letter would demonstrate that they read the whole spec.
I mean if you are going to go to the trouble of applying for the job, reading to the end isn’t much to ask, is it? Of the 50 or so applicants so far, only two have mentioned Moses. Incidentally both were also well-written, spellchecked, and well-researched – so obviously I am looking forward to meeting them next week.
The other 48 provided some perfect examples of the common cover letter mistakes that really bug recruiters (and me more than most!).
To Whom It May Concern
It says my name three times on the page, including in the email address you used to send the cover letter. You know who it concerns so stop playing coy. It seems unnecessarily coquettish.
I believe I would be an asset to any company
To any company?? What about a circus? Or band of travelling mercenaries? Are you really telling me you would be a great fit for literally any company? Perhaps it could have been a nice idea here to do a little research into this company and tell me why you would be a good fit for us?
I have plenty of shop/dolphin training/carpentry experience
Which is cool and congrats on working hard and getting that experience but this role is for a recruiter soooo do you think you could elaborate a little on the transferrable skills you think you have? This is the same in every industry. I used to recruit for Creatives for Advertising agencies and now I cover Scientists and the message is the same. If you talk about what makes you uniquely qualified for a role you might get an interview, if you just bang off a generic letter, you’re getting deleted.
An ambitious person in search of a new job in order to build a different career in a different sector
But this is the same sector you are already in? Are you looking for a new job or a whole new career? Why are you making me guess like this?
The same goes for making us guess why you made other career decisions too. One candidate was in a sales role for eight years as a manager, super impressive CV, and then she moved to work in a sandwich store. Her cover letter includes no mention of the reasons for the change, did she burn out? Change her workload to suit her lifestyle or her family better? I don’t know but it seems weird not to mention it, doesn’t it?
I believe I meet the criteria for this position as I have computer literacy, expertise with word and excel.
Firstly, I didn’t say anything about Word or Excel because in this day and age that feels a little like asking people if they are comfortable using the internet. I’ll just assume you can use them a little and we can train you if not. So while I appreciate you letting me know, would it have killed you to even just touch off the requirements I outlined? Come on, if you’re so good with Word why don’t you prove it by using it, you could even drop some clip art in there to impress me.
My main goal is get a position in HR once I finish my degree so that would be a great opportunity for me.
Brilliant to hear this would be a great opportunity for you, although I’m not sure what I get out of it as it’s not a HR role and not only have you not graduated yet but you also have no work experience. Perhaps you could have spent some time telling me why it would be a good opportunity for me to meet you? Can you use Microsoft Word?
I am an excellent candidate for this vacancy as it closely matches my skills and experience.
Once again saying you have excellent experience that closely resembles this job really isn’t helpful to me because I am not seeing it. Do you think you could be a doll and elaborate on how your undergrad degree in English and recent work experience in Spar would be applicable? Newly graduated Cait wrote me a very nice email explaining her desired career plan, what she thinks she would bring to the company, and why she is interested in my role. She even pointed out that she had no experience but explained that made her hungry and meant she had no bad habits yet; which I thought was a cool way of playing down a weakness.
I look forward to hearing from you soon
Really? Since you didn’t include my name in the salutation, how would you know it’s me? And since you didn’t spellcheck your letter – probably need to brush up on your Microsoft Word – you won’t like what I have to say.
So, to the moral of the angry recruiters monologue. Stop shooting off blandly vague applications. Take the time to write a proper cover letter; be clear, concise, and most importantly specific about what you are looking for and how your previous experience is relevant to the job spec. Even if you’re asked to mention the recruiters’ dog.
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