Top 5 Things People Think They Need to Explain in a Cover Letter, But Don’t

by Kimberly Sarmiento

Don't Explain in Cover Letter

A cover letter is a wonderful tool to introduce yourself to a potential employer and distinguish yourself from your competition. While a resume should remain formal, a cover letter is a good place to get more personal – both about yourself and the company for which you wish to work. However, there are some things people believe they need to go over in a cover letter that could hurt more than help. Read on:

Personal Tragedy

There might be times when a career gap can be explained by a personal tragedy. However, talking about an ill parent or a divorce could leave a potential employer with the impression that you will need to take a lot of time off work or be distracted when working. While it might be easy to address this type of issue in person, writing about it in your cover letter could cause an employer to bypass you for an interview.

Instead, keep details to a minimum. You can mention that you relocated for family reasons to explain why you are looking for work in a new market. You could also mention taking time off for personal reasons, but that you are now ready to start working again full-time if that is the case. Just leave out anything that could be perceived as a “sob story.”

Salary Information

When you fill out a job application, you might have to disclose salary information. However, if that is not the case, you should avoid talking about salary requirements. Even if the job ad says that you should submit your anticipated salary with a cover letter, try to avoid pinning yourself down. At the very least, only provide a range, such as “$50K to $60K depending on benefits options.”

Providing salary information on a cover letter can only help the interviewer and not you. If the hiring manager has a figure in mind that they want to pay, they can use the information applicants provide on cover letters to eliminate them from consideration. On the flip side, they can use the figures you provide to pin your down on salary negotiations later. This is an aspect of the hiring process you want to address after you have had a chance to impress the hiring manager at the interview.

Personal Hobbies or Interests

While the cover letter is a good place to let the reader get to know your personality, you should be hesitant to provide too much information about hobbies or personal interests. I’ve read cover letters that talk about family, sporting interests, rock climbing, etc…

The only way you should bring up hobbies or interests in a cover letter is if they specifically connect to the job and/or company you are applying to. For example, if you are applying to a wine corporation and have made wine tasting a hobby, but have no professional experience in this area, that might be a good time to bring up a hobby. Otherwise, focus on professional accomplishments in your letter.

Reasons for Leaving Your Last Position

Plenty of people believe they need to include information about why they left their last jobs in their resume or cover letter. However, there is no real reason to address this in either document. More importantly, don’t bring up anything negative about why you left your last employer.

Something negative doesn’t necessarily mean writing comments about being wrongly dismissed or downsized. It could be as simple as disclosing that your former employer went bankrupt or out of business. That might be the case and it may have nothing to do with you, but it could leave a bad impression with a hiring manager. Managers generally want to hire people who are highly successful and accomplished great things for their employers. A company that went out of business for bad financial reasons doesn’t necessarily imply that you achieved great things for your last employer.

What You Are Looking for Out of the Job

The old objective statement is considered a great big “don’t” in resume writing. For much the same reason, you need to leave out information about why you want the job in the cover letter as well. This change of strategy is based on the idea that you need to focus on what you can offer the hiring manager rather than what you want from them.

Focusing on what you offer the employer includes talking about your ability to positively impact the top or bottom line or help the company achieve growth goals. You can showcase your achievements for past employers or highlight credentials that you’ve earned. Just don’t talk about what you want from the company, including a path to advancement, benefits, work from home, etc… You will have an opportunity to address those things at the interview. Leave them out of the cover letter.

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