5 sneaky things you can learn from a cover letter
“Nobody really reads cover letters,” commented a friend of mine as we discussed her search for a new hire. I was surprised—it seemed to me that a cover letter was the ideal place to stand out to an employer.
I understood her point of view. A busy business owner might not want to weed through piles of letters, and prefer to get right to the specific skills, experience, and accomplishments outlined succinctly on a resume.
But there are a few things you can learn from a cover letter that you just won’t get from a resume. And the more insight you can get into a candidate, the better.
So, here are a few sneaky things you can learn from a cover letter:
1. How much somebody wants the job
A cover letter shouldn’t just be a summary of a resume. A good cover letter takes into account the specific points you’ve mentioned in the job description, and draws connections between them and the person’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.
2. How a candidate will present themselves to your clients and colleagues
How somebody communicates in writing is a pretty good indication of how they will present themselves to your clients and other employees. (Don’t we all work via email these days?) Look carefully at whether they write formally or informally, come across as friendly and professional, and if they keep sentences succinct.
3. How many jobs has a candidate applied for recently
Do they want this job, or any job? (And there is a difference!) Crafting a cover letter takes time and effort, so any kind of a generic ‘one-fits-all’ message says that the person is either a) lazy, or b) applying for a lot of jobs at the moment. If somebody has an impressive resume and a somewhat generic cover letter, it could be an indication of someone who is actively looking for a new job and applying for many different positions.
4. How does a candidate approach problem solving
It’s probably unlikely that a candidate’s last job 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 you specially need over the course of a number of jobs in their career. How well someone can make those connections and argue their case is a pretty good indicator of their strategic thinking ability.
5. Why someone wants this particular job
It’s the one thing that a resume really doesn’t cover, but it’s something we all wonder. Sometimes a cover letter is the only place to logically fit that kind of information.
Reading a bad cover letter is pointless (and painful), and it’s probably the reason hiring managers skip over them so frequently. But taking the time can give you a couple of useful insights into candidates before you even start interviewing.
Category: Hiring Advice, Recruitment Challenges