Cover letter dos and don’ts

cover letters dos and don'ts

What is the ideal length and font for a cover letter? A recent survey looks at these and more cover letter dos and don’ts.

There’s supposedly controversy and conflicting information about whether or not you should send a cover letter with your job application. But is there really?

The short answer is no.

While some people like to say you don’t need to include a cover letter with your application, it’s hard to find much evidence to support this argument, and super easy to find evidence supporting the opposite side. Hiring managers still read cover letters, and they’re not a waste of time. Anyone who says otherwise is giving you bad advice.

A recent survey from ResumeLab confirms this — yet again.

The survey of more than 200 HR professionals surveyed found that 87% prefer candidates to send a cover letter with their job application, and 70% would reject a candidate for not including one. Interestingly, there was some discrepancy in responses between men and women. More men were seriously pro-cover letters than women. But a majority of all people still wanted to see them.

So, what should a cover letter look like?

The survey also asked about the best length and font for a cover letter and about the most common cover letter mistakes. Here are some highlights from the findings:

First off, keep it short. Eighty-two percent of respondents said a cover letter should be less than one page long, and half of those prefer a cover letter to be less than half a page.

Only 18% thought a cover letter should be more than a page long.

Looking at the best fonts for a cover letter, the top five were:

  • Times New Roman – 70%
  • Calibri – 50%
  • Arial – 44%
  • Cambri – 31%
  • Garamond – 28%

So, there are two sans serifs (Calibri and Arial) and three serif fonts (Times New Roman, Cambria, and Garamond) in the top five.

When asked about some of the more common cover letter mistakes, 76% of respondents said they would automatically reject a cover letter if it had typos or spelling mistakes. This isn’t exactly shocking, as we all know these types of errors consistently rank as big deals for hiring managers.

And then there’s lying. We’re always surprised that hiring managers tend to see lying as less of a problem than we expect them to. The survey found that:

  • 38% saw lying on a cover letter as a “serious problem”
  • 30%  as a “moderate problem”
  • 19% as a “minor problem”
  • 9% as “not a problem at all”

In other words, nearly a third of HR professionals don’t think lying on your resume is that big a deal. This supports similar findings we’ve seen in the past. That doesn’t mean you should lie. Please don’t. It’s still not a good idea.

And respondents were almost as offended by the use of clichés as they were by lying.

  • 42% saw that using cliché expressions was a “moderate problem.”
  • 20% as a “serious problem”
  • 25% as a “minor problem”
  • 11% as “not at all a problem”

Other cover letters faux pas included:

  • Boasting — rated a moderate or severe problem by 61%
  • Failing to provide requested information — rated a moderate or severe problem by 62%
  • Failing to include the right keywords —  rated a moderate or severe problem by 62%

In conclusion, talk about your accomplishments but don’t let your ego get out of hand. Do provide the information requested in the job posting and include relevant keywords. Don’t say you’re a “results-oriented team player.”

Avoid those clichés like the…oh, never mind.

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