Working as a consultant for recently-graduated job-seekers, I have observed there is one universal mistake they are all prone to making when it comes to writing a cover letter: their sentences are too long.
Call it an antithesis!
Job-seeking graduates write long, exhaustively explanatory sentences in their cover letters. More often than not, this tendency derives from spending the past six months reading similarly long sentences in various articles, books and other literature related to their final project: the thesis.
In a thesis the students are encouraged to be thorough – particularly if no oral defence will take place. Relevant materials are paraphrased, and with long lists of information come long sentences. And unfortunately, it is a difficult habit to snap out of.
They are used to writing in such a way so the reader will have no questions. The result is a description of their life story, experiences and choices, and reasons why they are interested in the job, which altogether barely gives their reader the chance to breathe.
Let the ad guide you
They forget the golden rule that the best kind of cover letter is one structured as a reply to the job ad. Written in this way, all the included information corresponds to the demands in the ad. Hiring managers have limited time to find the right candidates, and the first casualties will often be the ones who have written overlong cover letters overflowing with irrelevant information.
The successful candidates write cover letters that contain relevant life experiences in short and concise sentences that have been adjusted according to the demands of the job. Reusing the keywords from the job ad is strongly advised – particularly as the hiring manager is likely to make his first cut by just skimming through the cover letters without reading them all fully.
Stick to your brief
Nevertheless, the skills nurtured in academic writing can be put to good use as the cover letter is essentially a presentation of why you are the right fit. A well-constructed argument and explanation is important, but candidates are advised to keep it relevant.
Ultimately, a cover letter is a profile summary attuned to the job ad. It is a summary, as it is meant to raise enough interest to invite the candidate in for a personal introduction.