5 sneaky things you can learn from a cover letter

By January 14, 2014 Hiring & Recruiting
Reading cover letter

“Nobody really reads a cover letter.”

We’ve all heard this comment made by recruiters and seekers alike. And the logic is sound; an already-swamped hirer can look for their must haves (like specific skills, experience, and accomplishments) right on the resume – so why would they bother with the cover letter?

But there are a few things you can learn from a cover letter that you simply won’t get from a resume. And when it comes to finding your next star employee, the more insight you can get into a candidate, the better.

So the next time you’re looking at an application, don’t just skim the first page. Look out for these five sneaky things you can learn from a candidate’s cover letter:

1. How much they want the job

A cover letter shouldn’t just be a summary of a resume. It should take into account the specific points you’ve mentioned in the job description, and draw connections between them and the applicant’s experience or skills. Anybody who truly wants to work for your company or organization will take the extra time to show they’ve done their homework, and that they’re willing to invest time in their application.

2. How they will present themselves to clients and colleagues

How a candidate communicates in writing is a good indication of how they will present themselves to your clients and other employees. After all, how much of your daily communication is done via email these days? Look carefully at their approach: do they write formally or informally? Do they come across as friendly and professional? Do they keep sentences succinct? In short, would you be confident in their communication skills as an ambassador of your brand?

3. How many jobs they have applied for recently

It’s a crucial question: do they want this job, or do they want any job? Crafting a cover letter takes time and effort, so any kind of a generic one-size-fits-all messaging within it can indicate that the person is applying for a lot of jobs at the moment – and that they don’t care enough about this particular application to custom-tailor the content. If somebody has an impressive resume and a somewhat generic cover letter, it could be an indication of someone who is actively applying to many different positions.

4. How they approach problem solving

It’s unlikely that a candidate’s last position was an exact match to the roles and responsibilities of this one. Similar, yes, but not exact. More often, a highly qualified candidate will have acquired the skills and experience that you’re looking for over the course of a number of jobs during their career. A candidate’s cover letter is the place where they can make those connections and argue their case – and how they do so can be a good indicator of their strategic thinking ability.

5. Why they want this particular job

This is one of the few things that a resume really doesn’t cover, but it’s highly useful to hirers. Knowing what is drawing an applicant to a position (or to the company as whole) can help to get a clear picture of who a person is, and what kind of fit they would be.

Taking the time to look for this info in a cover letter can give you some useful insights into an applicant – and help to ensure your shortlist is comprised of truly qualified candidates.

 

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