something your cover letter does not need to do

I’ve seen a few people lately advising others that a cover letter needs to address every single one of the qualifications listed in the job ad.

This is not true, and it will usually make for a crowded, less effective cover letter.

You do want to be sure that the qualifications described in the job posting are all covered between your cover letter and resume combined, but your cover letter shouldn’t be a laundry list of qualifications, especially since most of those are probably already on your resume.

Let us all repeat it like a mantra: Your cover letter shouldn’t repeat what’s on your resume. It should add something new to your application, something your resume doesn’t already contain. Do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise!

(Obviously, if a particular job’s application instructions directly tell you that you need to address every qualification in your cover letter, then you need to do that. And I wonder if this advice started when people saw some ads saying that, and extrapolated it to cover letters in general.)

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. Jubilance*

    This may be just me, but realizing that my cover letter shouldn’t just regurgitate my resume was a hard thing to learn. I had to start being more thoughtful with my cover letters, which meant I had to be more thoughtful about what I was applying to, because I needed to craft a great cover letter that complemented what was in my resume.

    Luckily I’ve never tried to address every qualification listed in the job description in my resume – I imagine that could lead to a very long or disjointed cover letter.

    1. Laura*

      Yup, this was tough for me too. Looking back at cover letters I sent a few years ago, I can see that I used to just regurgitate my resume. I got better at it, but it took time (and lots of reading of AAM).

  2. Tina*

    Given how detailed some job descriptions are, you could end up writing the equivalent of a dissertation if you addressed every qualification.

  3. Felicia*

    What I try to do is address the particular qualifications that i have the most impressive experience in. Like if it says I need social media skill, I mention that with position x I doubled their social media followers in six months, or if it mentions someone who can take initiative and contribute creative ideas, I talk about the time at company x when i took initiative to contact a particular newsmaker and creatively included them in our communications plans. When i’m stuck and want to regurgitate my resume, i just think, ok “what’s a good example of when i demonstrated this skill”

  4. Harriet*

    In my current industry, job adverts are usually written with massive red text saying “If your covering statement does not address every requirement on the person specification you will not be considered for the role” or something and it does make for a cluttered, incoherent piece of writing, but that is what HR require managers do and so that is what people submit. I think it’s an academia thing: why do something simple and concise when you could do something long-winded and inefficient?!

    1. Zahra*

      In that case, bullet points are your friends. It’s a bit less cluttered and removes some incoherence, but I agree that it is ridiculous.

      1. Harriet*

        Yeah, that’s what I’ve done but I hate doing it. Let me show you I can write something concise, flowing and structured, potential employers! I promise you’ll like it!

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      Why claim to be in the education business if you refuse to educate and use effective communication? (Yup, that was meant to be snarky — you’d think that universities would be MORE interested in effective writing, not live to be an example of poor communication.)

    3. Shuvon*

      My college business writing instructor advised us to put in a table, as in:

      Dear X:
      I am applying for [position name].
      You Require I Offer
      5 years’ experience 6 years’ experience

        1. hamster*

          I had an hr manager that asked me to do a bullet pointed e-mail instead of a CV + resume. His instructions were “do a bullet point e-mail of what you know how to do” . I got a two year gig there, and it was definitely a cool place to work. Nice job, nice boss, etc . So , i say follow the instructions

      1. Jamie*

        As much as I love tables, and I really do, they aren’t a letter. There are so few places that a neat and orderly table doesn’t add value, but this is one of them.

        And the You require I offer verbiage feels like it’s trying to be cute and failing hard. I read overt sales speech like this and it makes me wonder how exhausting that person would be to deal with.

        That instructor needs to stop telling people this.

          1. Editor*

            I would never do this in normal life, but I applied for a job affiliated with an academic institution, and the job posting specifically said the cover letter needed to address each of the 22 requirements in the job description in order by number. Basically, the new head of the department thought that the faculty hiring model should be universal — but this was for ongoing freelance work (not, you know, actual employment with benefits). I’m glad I didn’t get very far in that hiring process.

            1. FD*


              I’m trying to imagine how you could possibly end up with 22 qualifications without being either insanely redundant or so specific that you’d eliminate all your candidates.

          2. KatieinCC*

            I saw one of these for the first time a week or two ago and thought that they had maybe read your cover letter advice, then just did it wrong. There was a perfectly fine opening sentence, followed by a table, with cell borders and all, with the requirement from the job description listed in the first column and the candidate’s qualification in the second column. I hadn’t seen this format before and didn’t realize it was a gimmick, but it almost got the candidate tossed because it was so weird and offputting. And not a letter.

  5. Lou*

    At my institution (large public university), if you do not specifically address every required attribute from the job posting, you will not be considered for the job. It’s horrible, but it’s true.

    1. Lou*

      I should also add that this is not state in the job application. This was told to me by a higher-up in my department who has been on many hiring committees and says this is the norm across our hiring practices.

    2. Harriet*

      I do think universities are a law unto themselves when it comes to hiring. They need their own California Exception.

      1. PurpleChucks*

        And then there are the universities in California! I worked at 4 before moving out-of-state, so I can attest that it is a beast all its own :-(

    3. ser*

      Government jobs too. There’s no surer way to tank a government application than by not addressing each individually. In fact, I was recently told that I would have improved my chances greatly if, instead of having a structured letter demonstrating my skills over a few examples, I had headings of each criterion and a paragraph under each headings.

    4. Jennifer*

      Also true. The HR system filters you out for that stuff. And people give me crap for not applying for jobs where I don’t have 100% of the qualifications…but there’s a reason for that.

    5. Anx*

      This makes me feel a little bit better about a gaffe I made a few weeks ago in people my high school diploma on my resume because I was getting no responses from a university employer and the diploma was a minimum requirement.

      It felt so wrong, but I am so completely distrustful of university applicant tracking systems.

      It was for a staff position.

  6. Lily*

    This has always confused me. My resume is supposed to be accomplishments, not job responsibilities, correct? So then should your cover letter be even more accomplishments that you didn’t list? Or expanding on the ones listed?

    1. Jake*

      I try to highlight soft skills and personality traits with a strong focus on why those would be beneficial for this company and job.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It can often be stuff that doesn’t belong on a resume at all — what you’re passionate about, how you operate, etc. For instance, I always think of an admin candidate who wrote about how she color-coded her closet and spice rack as an example of her obsessive organization skills.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree with this – the only thing I hate is when an item could fall equally in two different color categories and then it makes my brain itch because no matter where ever I put it seems wrong.

          1. AVP*

            Omigosh! I tried to arrange my bookshelves by spine color, but you would not believe how many books are split evenly between two totally disparate colors and do not fit in no matter where you put them.

            Magazines always have beautiful pictures of shelves where this is done successfully, but they must choose the books specifically for the colors and not content. Bah.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I arrange my bookshelves in part by the authors’ relationship to each other. If they got along in real life, I put them next to each other. If they disliked each other or the other’s writing, I separate them. Obviously I can’t do all the books that way (so I have to do most by genre), but it makes me happy when I can.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                This is so nerdy I can’t believe it. +100. :D

                I wanted to arrange mine alphabetically by author, but unfortunately, they’re scattered in three rooms and a hallway. Someday, I’ll have a nice house with a room that is only a library. *sigh*

                1. Kelly L.*

                  I do my books by genre and size and then by author. So I’ll have a shelving unit with all the sci-fi/fantasy, and within that I put the mass market paperbacks together, the trade paperbacks together, and the hardcovers together. This is in part because I found it annoying and aesthetically displeasing to have tiny little books smushed between gargantuan tomes, and in part to take advantage of some shelving areas that are actually smaller and will only work if I only put little books on them. And within that I go by author, with series in order. My bugaboo is that I have exactly one of the Harry Potter books in paperback, so it’s off by itself and the series looks incomplete. Obviously, the solution is that I need to buy another copy in hardback.

            2. Editor*

              Nah, books go in alphabetical order by author, not by height or color. Closets go by length and then by color, and the orchid, lilac, and pink all go in different places depending on whether they’re pale blue-violet, pale red-violet, or pale red — and nothing goes in drawers because being able to see that stuff is essential. I hang everything except underwear. One of the few good things about being a widow is having both closets in the bedroom.

              I once worked in an office where the filing system was all numbers. The secretary (this was in the 1970s) had a card file, and wrote the file number on an index card or multiple index cards. So you had to look up the name of the person or the topic or whatever in the card file and then retrieve the numbered file. It did mean, however, that whenever a file cabinet got full, one just had to be added to the row — no rearranging.

              Now, about organizing the dishes, the quilt fabric, the music CDs, and the Christmas ornaments…

          2. Diane*

            Well first you organize by clothing item, then color. So, sleeveless and short sleeved shells are organized (brown, cream, white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, black, and grey), then long-sleeved blouses by color, then sweaters. Another rack has skirts, suits, and dresses, and another has pants and jackets. I’m torn about separating the pant suits, but they just don’t fit. If a blouse is multi-colored, it goes with the colors it shares most. Sometimes it’s a judgement call.

            That was way too much information. I should be Alison’s intern.

          3. Kelly O*

            Hand to god, this is why I mostly wear solids. Patterns mess up my closet organizational structure, and heaven only knows what would happen if THAT ever falls apart.

            (Insert Bill Murray bit about dogs and cats living together here.)

            By the way, I was the nerdy kid who organized my books using the Dewey Decimal System. I had a notebook with all my books listed, along with their number. I made my own card catalog using a shoebox and index cards. Because you’re never too young for your own personal case of OCD.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I can’t do that–but I did organize it by long sleeved/short sleeved/pants/jackets. And the t-shirts in my cubby are by light and dark. :)


        3. Anonymous*

          I think that they should be organized by activity. (Work/Skiing/Dog walking/etc) Or by season and then activity then length. Color plays no role in good organizing.

          And I think all of this (and the book organizing) does illustrate that while you might think your way is the only way, someone won’t like it. And someone will like whatever way you think is stupid.

          More and more content in the world is not in letter form, but in other kinds of forms (tables, bullets, etc) and being aware of that and willing to accept that might have value. It isn’t always about digging in your heels, sticking your fingers in your ears, and saying LALALALALALA.

          1. the gold digger*

            Color plays no role in good organizing.

            It makes it a lot easier for me to find a long-sleeved white t-shirt if all my long-sleeved white t-shirts are grouped together next to the short-sleeved white t-shirts next to the white blouses.

            1. Anonymous*

              And it’s a lot easier for me to find my blue long sleeved mid weight ski top if it isn’t next to the blue long sleeved work tops. When I’m looking for work clothes I don’t want to see 5 different pairs of running tights. Or worse biking shorts.

              Different things work for different people. That’s the point I’m getting at. Just because you start out by looking for a white long sleeved tshirt doesn’t mean I do. I think your way is bad and wrong and you think my way is bad and wrong. Neither actually are.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I don’t think anyone is actually arguing that there’s only one right way to organize a closet. I think you’re trying to extrapolate to cover letters, though, and it’s a really different thing.

              2. the gold digger*

                Ah. I see the problem here. All of my workout clothes are in the bottom drawer of my dresser, aka “the workout clothes” drawer, which is underneath the jeans drawer, which is under the sock drawer, which is under the underwear drawer.

                Food is a bit different. My husband wanted to put the patatas bravas sauce on top of the potatoes because those two foods go together. I had to tell him that you do not put a square rubbermaid container underneath a round glass container. Food is organized mostly by container shape and size, although of course we have a Chocolate Drawer.

      1. Gilby*

        When applying for customer service jobs I would talk about how I interacted with the customer, how I treated their P.O.

        ” I succeeded well in making my customers happy by understanding their needs as well as trying to counter any issues before they arose. If I saw a purchase order from a regular customer that didn’t look quite right I would call them immediately to make sure of what they wanted.”

        That is the type of cover I would send.

    3. jesicka309*

      I extrapolate on my work experience too.

      I worked at McD’s for 5.5 years. My only achievements listed are that I won a couple of awards, as everyone knows what McDonalds is, and I left in 2010.
      But in my cover letter, I could highlight that I was promoted to Crew Chief and was in charge of training crew and crew trainers, giving me experience in training and mentoring more inexperienced staff. I could talk about how I delegated tasks, and supervised shifts, and was generally autonomous and accountable for all staff, which was a huge responsibility. I could even talk about how proud I was to work for such a large company and know that I was contributing to it’s success (which I could turn into a line about my general attitude towards working and how I tend to champion every company I work for).

      All that out of “worked at McDonalds”. You can’t put that on a resume, yet it definitely could be relevant to jobs that I apply for. :)

      1. the gold digger*

        But you can put the promotion and what you accomplished in training, etc., on your resume.

        “Promoted to crew chief after only six months on the job, when the normal time required was a year.”
        “Trained X new crew members in two years. My store had an employee retention rate/some productivity measure that was y% higher than the store average.”

        1. jesicka309*

          I did when I first graduated from university, but now it sits very near to the bottom and literally only reads:

          Crew Chief 2004-2010
          -Awarded Crew Trainer of the year 2009
          -Responsible for training of new crew and supervision of crew trainers

          Considering I now work in marketing, it’s not a relevant job either, but if I want to use my experience as a trainer and supervising employees in my cover letter, I need it in there to refer to. But I wouldn’t waste space that I’d prefer to dedicate to my achievements in my three other relevant jobs. It only gets a pass from dropping off the bottom because at this stage it’s the closest I have to a managerial role, should I ever decide to move in that direction, and the only experiences I have to draw on in that regard. :)

  7. Pseudo Annie Nym*

    One of my former supervisors is extremely well connected in my industry and loves me, so has been wanting to recommend me for everything. The problem is, she insists on viewing my cover letters before I send my application and before she’ll recommend me–and she hates that I do exactly what AAM says! (I follow the guidelines, but don’t copy the cover letter.) She insists that every single qualification has to be addressed in the cover letter (even if it’s in the resume, it doesn’t hurt to reiterate it). She also insists that AAM’s example of an effective cover letter is very weak and that I should use this as a template instead:


    1. Gjest*

      Wow, that’s a very micromanaging reference. I hope those connections are worth it!

      Although I agree with AAM on her cover letter advice (tailoring it for the job, not just regurgitating your CV, etc.) I’m not really a fan of the examples. They just wouldn’t work in my field (science, I am not technically in academia, but we mostly operate like academia, so maybe that’s the issue). Honestly, I’ve been on a few hiring committees, and I would not have been impressed with those cover letters. They are too informal and salesy-feeling to me (and too upbeat…maybe my field is depressing?).

      Like most things, it’s important to take into account your field- and how people in your field will view your cover letters. My point is that you might want to take your former supervisor’s views about cover letters into consideration if you are applying for jobs in that field (which I assume you are).

    2. Cheryl*

      I actually really enjoy Penelope Trunk’s blog, although for entirely different reasons than I like AAM. Regardless – that cover letter seems to fit what I can glean of her personality and work style based on her blog. Fast, to the point, highlighting strengths, invite me to sit in front of you if you want to continue the conversation, etc. Keep in mind that she’s in the fast paced world of venture capitalism, and if that’s your venue, maybe her advice is something to be considered.

        1. Jake*

          Back when she wore entry level rebel on bnet she had a blog on holiday parties that amounts to my summary. She goes after Christmas, but she makes it clear that any holiday party is inherently racist because no holiday is 100% inclusive.

          1. Jamie*

            What?? Please tell me that’s not true.

            Years ago when I started temping I had a lot of downtime at millions of front desks and I would read work related articles online. I read her back then because I liked her writing style. I don’t know if she’s changed, or if I have, but I haven’t found her likeable in years. Back when I’d stumble across an article of hers on the old BNet I found them angry and quite frankly if I put any stock into her advice it would completely bum me out.

            Everything seemed to be about politics and how to create an image and use attitude to get ahead…and what felt like a total dismissal of hard work and logic based decisions.

            It’s been a few years since I’ve read her, but she seemed so angry and unhappy and almost like she was trying to convince herself of her pov instead of her readers.

            And then I found AAM where logic from an actual expert rules the day.

            Seriously though, people should read everything with an eye to how it would play in the real world. Granted I’m not in a glamorous creative field, but some of the advice I’ve read from some other employment “experts” would get me fired.

            Notice I didn’t use quotes when referring to Alison as an expert.

            1. Anonymous*

              Penelope Trunk did live-blog her miscarriage. And about how she was getting abused by her SO but refused to leave him–that’s when I stopped reading her altogether. Unfortunately, she really seems to uh…be losing her shit as far as I can tell.

              Reading this website is a lot better, thank goodness.

            2. Kelly O*

              Yes, she did.

              I despise her. I mean, honestly she is making her “name” from being as controversial as possible about things, and half the time she doesn’t even make sense.

              She also blogged (or tweeted or something) a picture of her bruised rear end. I just cannot with that one. I don’t click links (even if Alison posts them.)

              The advent of blogs and the whole idea of aggregate sites makes it easy for anyone who can type to present as an “expert” and it makes it harder to find actual good information. Add in people without experience in an area and you have a recipe for disaster. (Or maybe just more posts for AAM, which is not a disaster unless it’s happening to me, right?)

  8. Pseudo Annie Nym*

    I work in travel writing and adventure journalism–it’s one of those “dream jobs” that’s really difficult to break into, especially with my company (which is very well-known). I beat out over 400 candidates for a 1-year barely-paid apprenticeship to get my foot in the door!

    It’s one of those things where you do have to write a very engaging, salesy cover letter–and there had better not be a typo!–and then back it up with several other portfolio pieces. It’s a difficult field that is very incestuous and relies heavily on personal connections. I hate the idea of writing a boring, stilted cover letter that rehashes everything in my resume when I have so many more interesting things to say!

    1. Gjest*

      Then AAM’s examples might be right on for your field. On the flip side of the “dream job”, my branch of science is one of those “dream jobs” that sounds glamorous and exciting, but in reality is very boring day to day (unless you are a nerd, which I am). So, I always cringe at the cover letters (mostly interns or entry level) with “I am soooo excited about this job! I just know I would be perfect for it because I just love love love fuzzy animals and am so passionate about nature!” (obviously exaggerating the wording here). What I want to see is that the candidate actually understands that the job is not glamorous, mostly will be mind-numbingly boring, and your eyes will go dead from staring at rows of data. I love my job :)

      1. Pseudo Annie Nym*

        Hahaha! I know EXACTLY what you mean! I keep sticking with this search and this company, knowing the warts and all of this business. I’m still passionate about it, even though it can be mind-numbingly boring at times. It’s incredibly challenging and fast-paced (sometimes WAY too fast-paced) others!

        We also get hilarious cover letters and fan mail from people trying to get in the door. The realities of the industry are…well, not great. BUT, those few victories are all worth it! And, of course, I was one of those starry-eyed people too. It definitely just takes a certain type to tough it out through the 99% unglamorous parts to get to the 1% awesome part.

  9. Emily*

    Pseudo Annie Nym, Penelope Trunk has come up in this blog before. I would pop “Penelope” in the search bar on the upper right corner of this page and read through some of the critiques that have surfaced around her advice. They’re not all positive nor all negative, but might help you articulate your concerns to your former supervisor.

  10. NonProfiter*

    Here’s something I find helpful to think about with cover letters/writing in general. How would you compose a letter to a dear friend who likes you already, already knows every job you’ve worked at (so you don’t rehash that resume!) and how would it sound if you were just being your honest, spunky self? Assume you’re really a good fit for the position or it’s a small stretch for you, you are excited about the opportunity. Pretend you’re writing a friend to tell her how you found out about this job and all the reasons you’d be great at it. It’s like the way actors and models can make love to the camera by envisioning they’re looking into the eyes of a loved one; do that on paper.

    1. Anonymous*

      But I have a significantly different voice in my personal and professional life so this seems like very strange advice to me.

  11. Should Know Better*

    I’m reviewing applications right now and one of the cover letters in my pile is five pages long. Somehow, I find this more offensive than those that are half a page. And, these are applicants for a director level position.

  12. An Academic Librarian*

    I’m an academic librarian, and it is absolutely our practice to address every single qualification in the cover letter. Generally you address any preferred qualifications you meet as well. Position descriptions typically are crafted with this in mind and search committees are not allowed to consider any application who doesn’t hold the required qualifications (which include things like an Masters of Library Science, X number of years work in a library, etc).

    We may use this approach because our resumes are actually more like long academic CVs. Applicants who address the qualifications up front ensure we know that they do, in fact, have these qualifications. Otherwise, the search committee has to dig through pages and pages to determine if we can even consider you.

    For my current position, my cover letter was one page (though one and a half is fine in this field) and my resume was five pages. This is not long and is typical of the applicants I’ve seen at several academic libraries. I’ve been a librarian for several years, have served on search committees, written for a librarian career publication, etc. So I’m not some crazy rogue about this.

    In fact, there’s a whole tumblr with librarian cover letters that got people jobs! You can see that we do tend to have a pretty standard approach.

  13. An Academic Librarian*

    One more comment about this: job candidates who don’t approach their cover letters this way come across, at worst, as being unprofessional, and, at best, as early career librarians who aren’t familiar with the conventions. But this convention is absolutely discussed in library schools. If a candidate didn’t approach their letter this way, it can reflect poorly on their graduate program.

    1. another academic librarian*

      Thanks for the link; I’ve never heard of this practice! My library school didn’t mention it and I didn’t do my cover letter this way, at least not intentionally. I have been on hiring committees, and nobody brought up this convention; we read the letters for an initial impression and dug through the CVs for more detail.

      I do believe there is some variety between libraries though. Our personal statements for promotion and tenure dossiers are 2-3 pages long (and accompany a lengthy CV + work samples), but when I served as an external reviewer for a librarian at another university, the personal statement I got was 20 pages long!

  14. Matt*

    The cover letter is the first impression. It is also a measure of how well you communicate in writing in a business format. If you provide a cover letter that is not professional and does not clearly show how you can contribute, a potential employer will not waste their time.

  15. Greg*

    The Five O’Clock Club recommends breaking down your cover letter into two columns of bullet points: the left side has quotes from the job description regarding what the employer is looking for, the right addresses how your experience meets those qualifications. They claim to have empirical proof that this method is successful.

    My take is that it’s certainly a good exercise to go through in putting together your cover letter to ensure that you’re addressing the employer’s needs, but I don’t think you need to address every single qualification listed, just the top 3-5. Also, in many online applications, you may not have the ability to format in columns.

  16. Kelly M.*

    I’m an admin but my degree is in communication. I’ve been out of college for three years and have had a hard time getting a new position. My job isn’t horrible to be at, but I’ve learned all that I can at this job. I feel that I’m a very good admin and my boss feels that way too. However, when I do cover letters I’m not sure how to stand out. I want to move on to another job that is more mentally challenging for me, but I feel as though I’m one out of millions of good administrative assistants.I made decent grades, went to a descent school but I’m not a superstar. I really enjoy being good at my job and knowing I’m entrusted with a lot of responsibilities but I’m not sure how to get my cover letter to where it needs to be to move on. Does anyone have any advice for me? Thank you.

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