Nine Things to Look for When Reviewing Cover Letters

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To help share what recruiters should look for in cover letters, we asked top executives and hiring managers to share their insights. From assessing motivations and passion to highlighting soft skills and personality, discover nine key factors these professionals consider when determining if a candidate is fit for the role.

1. Assess Motivations and Passion Level

While resumes tell you almost everything you need to know about a candidate’s work experience, educational background, and relevant skills, the cover letter is the part of the application that allows you to dig deeper into the person’s motivations. I look for the candidate’s reasons for applying as well as the reasoning behind being the right fit for that specific role. It is generally better to hire someone with less experience but a strong passion for the position or company and an eagerness to learn, rather than a seasoned professional with no particular interest in that specific role. The best candidates know what the company’s values and mission are and share the same vision and goals.

Maja Kowalska, Community Manager, Zety

2. Focus on Transferable Skills

When reviewing cover letters, one aspect to consider is the quality of the experience mentioned by the applicant. A common attribute to look for is if they demonstrate any transferable skills from previous experiences which could be utilized in their new role. For example, a professional who has worked in retail for many years and is applying for a management position: Looking through their cover letter, you can see how their customer service skills may have developed into leadership abilities during this time. This type of analysis helps hiring managers understand how an applicant grew professionally and can contribute to the organization going forward.

Michael Alexis, CEO,

3. Look for a Well-Researched Response

We recruiters read a lot of cover letters. I can often tell right away if it’s a form letter or template that the candidate has probably sent with every application, or if it’s been written specifically for the job they’re applying for. The cover letter is an applicant’s chance to show they understand the role and have researched the company, at least enough to know what specific skills and attributes will make someone a great fit on both the skill and culture levels. If the skills or achievements highlighted in the cover letter don’t match what the employer is looking for, this indicates the candidate either doesn’t understand the position or hasn’t bothered to personalize their cover letter to show this understanding. Conversely, if I can tell from reading the cover letter exactly why the applicant is suited to the specific role they’re applying for, this tells me they’re a strong candidate who I want to learn more about in an interview.

Jon Hill, Chairman & CEO, The Energists

4. Prioritize Alignment with Company Values and Writing Quality

When I read cover letters, I see if the person’s values match our company’s. This is important to see if they’d fit well in our team. A good cover letter shows that they understand and share our values. Also, I look at how well the letter is written. If it’s neat and error-free, it tells me they’re serious about the job and have good attention to detail. But if it looks rushed or has mistakes, it might mean they’re not really committed. These are key things I look for to check if someone is right for the job.

Martin Potocki, CEO, Jobera

5. Verify Skills with Examples

When reviewing a candidate’s cover letter, look for provable assertions that showcase the applicant’s skills, qualifications, and achievements. They should focus on specific examples and measurable outcomes mentioned in the cover letter, which can be verified through references or supporting documentation. For instance, if a candidate claims to have increased sales by 30 percent in their previous role, the HR employee should look for supporting evidence such as sales reports or testimonials from colleagues or supervisors.

Trevor Ewen, COO, QBench

6. Quantify Achievements and Results

When reviewing cover letters, one crucial element to look for is the inclusion of specific numbers and examples that highlight the applicant’s previous achievements. This not only showcases their accomplishments but also indicates a result-oriented mindset. It’s a clear sign that the person understands the impact of their work and can quantify their contributions, which is an incredibly valuable trait for any prospective employee.

Juliet Dreamhunter, Founder, Juliety

7. Skip Over Repetitious Information

As a recruiter, my biggest cover letter pet peeve is when candidates simply regurgitate the same information that’s available on their resume. Even experienced applicants succumb to this habit, but there is no faster way to make me shelve an application. A cover letter is an applicant’s chance to show off their passion for the industry and offer genuine reasons why the role or company appeals to them. In a tight hiring climate, adding a little personality to a cover letter is key to standing out amongst a group of equally qualified candidates, and can even give an applicant a leg up when they’re less experienced than competing applicants.

Linn Atiyeh, CEO, Bemana

8. Focus on Relevant Experience

I believe that a well-tailored cover letter is a powerful indicator of an applicant’s commitment and suitability for the role. When reviewing cover letters, I pay close attention to whether the candidate has taken the time to customize their letter specifically for the position they are applying for. This customization involves more than just replacing the company name and job title. I look for candidates who go beyond surface-level changes and delve into the details of the job description. It’s important to see how the applicant addresses the specific requirements and qualifications mentioned in the posting. I appreciate it when candidates explicitly highlight their relevant skills, experiences, and achievements that directly align with what we are seeking. This level of personalization demonstrates that the applicant has invested effort in understanding the role and how their unique capabilities can contribute to our organization.

Kimberley Tyler-Smith, VP of Strategy & Growth, Resume Worded

9. Highlight Soft Skills and Personality

Resumes in the modern era tend to be packed to the gills with education and experience requirements, so I look for soft skills for a cover letter. This is the applicant’s chance to highlight their personality and let me know who they are. Things like leadership abilities, communication style, and even after-work hobbies are perfectly fine to mention in a cover letter, so long as it’s kept concise. But one page is the limit unless they’re applying for a job in the C‑suite. In today’s tight hiring climate, a cover letter is a way for applicants to stand out amongst peers, so look for examples of what makes each one unique.

Rob Reeves, CEO & President, Redfish Technology

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