You’ve researched and researched. You’ve gathered countless tips concerning how to best format a cover letter. You know you’ve collected more wisdom than you need… but you’re not sure which pointers should be prioritized.
Instead of bombarding you with even more guidance about which advice to follow first, let’s approach things from a different angle. Here’s a quick rundown of cover letter formatting choices you don’t want to make.
1. Over-the-top Graphics or Fonts
When it comes to cover letter formats, there’s a fine line between attention-grabbing and unprofessional. A distinct visual style (especially one that matches a resume), can go a long way in differentiating your cover letter from the competition’s, but including graphics, photos, or unreadably fancy fonts can keep a recruiter from reading past your name.
However, there’s nothing wrong with pairing subtle colors with a strikingly asymmetrical design if such a choice doesn’t disrupt the parts of the letter recruiters want to see.
2. Adding Photos
Like graphics and fancy fonts, adding images is a no-no. First, headshots and other images can confuse an applicant tracking system. And since some studies have found that up to 90 percent of all companies use this type of software to screen out unqualified candidates, that’s not a risk you want to take.
Not only can they confuse an ATS, but the addition of a headshot in a cover letter can inadvertently introduce bias into the hiring process. Revealing your gender, race, or ethnicity at this stage of hiring isn’t a good idea. Recruiters don’t – or shouldn’t – care what you look like. They should be focusing on your credentials.
3. Exceeding a Page
Barring special cases that demand long explanations, applicants should keep their cover letters limited to a single page regardless of their career stage. Your cover letter should illuminate, not regurgitate, elements of your resume, and it should only touch on the most relevant part of your experience. In other words, think of your cover letter as your highlights reel, not your biopic, and keep it t to a single page whenever possible.
4. Writing a Wall of Text
Even more important than keeping your cover letter limited to one page is making sure it is readable. No matter your field, type of position, or level of experience, every cover letter you write should contain short paragraphs limited to only a handful of sentences, or use bullet points for easy scanning.
For readability’s sake, keep your opening, body, and closing paragraphs closely trimmed. If the qualifications in your body paragraph are too many to list in such little space, break it into two smaller sections, or add bullets and create a list.
5. Forgetting to Proofread
There’s little more mortifying than only noticing a series of mistakes after sending off your job application. Studies show that 59% of recruiters eliminate candidates whose resumes contain typos or poor grammar. Don’t fall victim.
If you are writing your letter in Word, use the spellcheck feature or run your letter through a free online spelling and grammar checker. Or, use a cover letter builder, which will ensure that your document is perfect before your hit send.
6. Check Your Formatting
Finally, it’s important to remember that looking over your letter in the window of your word processing program can only reveal so many formatting flaws. For example, if page breaks aren’t indicated while writing your cover letter, you won’t know the true page count until you download and print the final version.
Thanks to things like differing file formats and the incompatibility of email service providers, even perfectly formatted cover letters can show up in hiring managers’ hands looking messy. Download a test version of your letter before sending it off, send your application materials in an email to yourself, and generally do whatever you can to simulate what will happen to your hard work when you apply to a job.
If you’ve done your research regarding cover letter formats, you’ve hopefully already encountered some variations on the above advice. If so, simply let this list of what to avoid highlight the most important tips you’ve might have already accrued. If not, LiveCareer has no shortage of guidance when it comes to how to format a cover letter.