It's okay to use your cover letter to offer personal information that doesn't fit into the rigid, standardized format of a professional resume. In fact, cover letters are designed around this purpose in some measure.
An introductory letter lets applicants place the dry facts and bullet-pointed lists of the resume into a warm, human context, and a well-written letter can reveal some intangible aspects of the candidate's personality.
But there are few topics that simply don't belong in a resume OR a cover letter, no matter how much they may reveal about a candidate's personal history and what she'd be like to work with every day. Watch out for these three common forms of cover letter oversharing.
Experience is a plus for most employers, but general working experience and relevant working experience are two very different things. The first may be important for hiring managers who are trying to staff entry-level positions. These managers often encounter younger applicants and new graduates, and they want some reassurance that a given candidate knows how to show up on time, put in a full day of work, and take professional criticism.
But for higher level and mid-career positions, there's no need to go into great detail about the jobs you've held that don't relate to this one in an obvious way. Use your cover letter to briefly summarize your most relevant positions, projects, or on-the-job challenges.
Don't discuss these three taboo topics in your cover letter or your resume: your religion, your family and marital status, and your ethic background.
There are two ways this can go wrong: first, you may encounter employers who have simple, straightforward bias against whatever data you provide. You may not want to work for these employers anyway (and besides, with such poor management skills, they probably won't be in business for long), but it's better to keep your options open and make this decision instead of having it made for you.
And second, even if your employers hold no such biases, they may fear accusations of hiring discrimination—accusations they can avoid altogether if they don't know these details about a candidate.
There are very few situations in which political opinions are relevant to a hiring decision. But if these situations don't apply, and your targeted job falls outside the political realm, keep your opinions to yourself. Don't even suggest them indirectly.
If you have something positive to say about your targeted employer, say it. If you have something positive and praiseworthy to say about your previous employer, you can share that too. You can make positive remarks about the industry, the state of the global economy, the weather, yourself, and the clients and colleagues you've worked with in the past. But the opposite simply doesn't hold true.
Negative remarks have no place in a resume or cover letter, no matter how innocuous they may seem. Even a disparaging remark about a competing company can reflect poorly on your character—especially if your reader once worked for that company in the past.
Keep Your Cover Letter Short, Positive & Relevant
Your cover letter should share a few details about who you are, where you've been, and where your career is headed in the future. But stay focused on the details that are directly relevant, and remember that a small amount of personal information can go a long way. Visit MyPerfectResume and use the resume builder on the site to help you stay within the bounds of professionalism.