5 Key Things to Look for in a Cover Letter

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As a recruiter, you will sort through hundreds of job applications to choose candidates for the personal interview. It can be a tedious job, so finding more efficient methods is always helpful. Before even glancing at the resume, you can learn a lot about a candidate from the cover letter. This part of the application may seem like a relic from the past, but the majority of jobseekers still submit letters, so use them to learn key information about the candidate.

Spending a few minutes on the letter can help you determine which resumes are worth your time and which are not. You may even be able to learn some things about the candidate that you won’t glean from the resume. Here are some specific things you can learn about a candidate’s qualifications, personality, and general value as a potential employee.

1. Attention to Detail

One of the first things to look for is a generic letter. This is a strong indicator of a candidate you may not want to pursue. Using a generic form letter can indicate laziness or a lack of understanding regarding what items should be in the letter. Either way, you can quickly sort through applications by looking for catchy, concise, and customized letters.

2. Understanding of the Company and Position

A well-written letter is customized to the job description and shows that the jobseeker has strong understanding of the requirements of the position. You can determine whether or not the candidate understands what skills and qualifications you are looking for and also get a sample of his or her communication skills. You should look for a letter geared toward your company’s values and workplace culture. Such information shows that the candidate took the time to research and learn about the company and apply the knowledge to the writing process.

3. Language Skills

As with a resume, you can quickly rule out candidates with grammatical or spelling errors in the letter. This may indicate subpar language skills or simple laziness in proofreading. Neither quality is acceptable in the workplace, so you can let these applications go.




4. Mission Focus

Most letters should include highlights of the candidate’s achievements and career successes. According to the experts over at MightyRecruiter, these can be excellent indicators of future performance in your organization. However, it’s even better when candidates go a step further and talk about what they feel they can bring to your organization and how they plan to use their unique skills to further the company’s mission. This information can indicate an excellent candidate who understands and prioritizes the company’s goals and is dedicated to pursuing them. One of the quickest ways to evaluate this aspect is simply to count the times the letter mentions your company.

5. Personality

One of the reasons so many recruiters still use both a cover letter and resume for candidate evaluation is the fundamental differences between the two. The letter gives far more opportunities for the candidate to write freely, which yields important insights into his or her personality. You can learn much about a jobseeker’s personality and character from both the tone and formality of the writing. Look for a letter that sounds like it could be from one of your current employees; it indicates a strong possibility that the candidate would fit in well with the company’s culture.

Additional Items to Note:

There are many things, including some intangible ones, that you can learn about a candidate from the cover letter. Here is a simple checklist for quickly evaluating which letters and applications deserve a second glance.

  • Personalized: It should be addressed to the hiring manager instead of using a generic “To Whom It May Concern” greeting.

  • Error-free: There shouldn’t be any typos, spelling, or grammatical errors.

  • Concise: The letter should be no longer than two or three short paragraphs.

  • Correctly formatted: If your job opening listed certain formatting requirements for the application, be sure the letter follows them.

  • Company-focused: The candidate highlights a dedication to the company and its values.

Using this checklist, as well as a longer look at letters with promise, can give you excellent insight into each candidate and help you know which ones are worth interviewing.

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