Writing a cover letter will almost always be a stressful exercise. You know they’re required, and you know that the right words could set you apart from the competition. But because there’s so much on the line, it’s easy to hone in on the most minor details. Details so minuscule that many employers don’t even notice them.
So, before you spend the next few hours debating over something that’s insignificant, here are a few things I simply did not look for as a recruiter—and what you should be more concerned about instead.
1. You’re Too Concerned About How it Looks
You’ve probably heard a lot of things about how to format this document. You might’ve even gotten tips about matching the font on all of your application materials (I know I have). And because you’re so convinced that an impressive
document will win over the reader, you spend way too much time agonizing over the perfect layout. However, a visually stunning document doesn’t make up for a poorly-written one.
Instead: Focus on Whether or Not the Recruiter Can Read It
I remember at least a handful that made me say, “Wow, this must have taken forever to design, but I can’t read the text.” And although I was jealous of their graphic design skills, I couldn’t make a decision about whether or not they were good candidates. In many cases, I moved on to other applications that were in a simple, readable font (think Arial or Times New Roman).
While you should be commended for going the extra mile to make it look nice, make sure your design isn’t getting in the way of the story you’re trying to tell. That might mean using a more functional font that you’d like, but trust me—it’ll make a huge difference to a recruiter who’s simply skimming your stuff.
(And if you’re not sure how it looks to a stranger, read it on your phone—you’d be amazed at what doesn’t translate.)
2. You’re Too Concerned About Formality
Like a lot of people I know, my dad drilled this attention to detail into me when I was wrapping up my senior year of college. He insisted that I care about things like including the company’s address in my header. But here’s the thing—when my dad was applying for jobs, he needed to care about these details because he was sending his applications through the mail. And I, many years later, was submitting mine over the internet.
Instead: Focus on Tailoring It
I’ve never met a recruiter who said, “Well, we thought you were great, but you didn’t include our address in the header.” If your cover letter makes it clear that you’re excited for the job, that means much more to employers than knowing that a candidate was able to look up their office location online.
You might be tired of hearing it, but the truth remains that tailoring your message for each company makes you stand out. So if you feel confident that you’ve done this, a formality mistake shouldn’t hold you back from clicking “submit.”
SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A JOB SEARCH
That’s great, because connecting awesome people to awesome jobs is kinda our thing.
3. You’re Too Concerned About Getting in Every Relevant Detail
I’ve met a few people who wanted to brag about how they manipulated the one-page rule of thumb. “I changed the margins and the font size,” they say. “And it gave me more space to add a paragraph about my study abroad semester, my favorite snacks, and the cities I’ve never visited.”
Those things might be good to talk about during an interview, but when I asked those people if they got responses, they looked at me and said, “Come to think of it, I should probably follow up.”
Instead: Focus on Showing the Employer What You’ll Bring to the Table
Your cover letter should be a combination of why you’re interested in the company and how you feel you’d be a valuable addition to the team. After all, you’re trying to sell the hiring manager on making time to meet with you, so do just that.
When in doubt, use career expert Lily Zhang’s cover letter template to help you focus on the skills you’ll bring to the table—and keep it as brief as possible.
Most people will never feel 100% when they send in their application. They take a good amount of effort and finesse to tell the type of story you’re hoping to convey. But while you should be focused on making it compelling, a lot of the other details just don’t matter as much as you think.
At the end of the day, the most important aspect (in addition to it literally being read-able), is that you’re making the case for why you’d
be the best hire
. And if you truly believe you are and have the facts to back it up, it should be a little less stressful.
Photo of person thinking courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author