11 Things You Should Assess in Every Cover Letter You Read

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Today's Question: We've written before about what employees should include in their cover letters, but today, we want to approach it from a new angle: How should hiring managers assess cover letters? What signs should they look for that a candidate is worth an interview?

1. Make Sure It's Not Too Dense

My No. 1 pet peeve on cover letters is vertically dense pages with information dating back to the candidate's first award in elementary school. It takes 40 minutes to read through. I don't really have that much time to read through this, and I don't really want to.

— Pierre Tremblay, Dupray

2. Look for Personality, Promise, and Proof

Look for personality, promise, and proof. Any candidate that can break free of the "I am writing to apply for" mold, clearly articulate how they'd solve your problem, and provide evidence from their past that proves their abilities is well worth your time.

Why? Because the message reflects genuine interest. This candidate is not just shooting from the hip. They're invested in the opportunity; they've done their research. Most importantly, they've already visualized how they can create success for your team.

— Erica Breuer, Cake Resumes

3. Is It Addressed to a Specific Person?

One of the biggest signs a candidate is worth interviewing is if they addressed their cover letter. This should be addressed to a specific contact name.

— Dana Case, MyCorporation.com

4. How Proactive Is the Candidate?

Most applicants simply summarize their resumes in their cover letters. However, proactive individuals look for opportunities to provide value to a business before they have even been offered a job. One sign a candidate is worth interviewing is if they offer specific advice in their cover letter for how the business could improve and ways they could help. This not only shows they have researched the company, but also demonstrates their ability to take initiative and generate new ideas.

— Bill Battey, Mindyra

5. Check for Core Values

I recommend hiring managers look for signs of a potential employee's core values when assessing a cover letter. Employees can acquire new skills, grow in knowledge, and experience shifts in life circumstances, but core values never change – which is why the most toxic and irreconcilable form of misalignment between a company and an employee occurs when the values of the organization and the individual are opposed.

— Chanel Dokun, LifePlan NYC

6. Do They Have Communication Skills?

A cover letter establishes an applicant's most fundamental formal writing skills. Writing a basic, single-page letter shouldn't be that difficult, and if an employee has a hard time communicating here, they'll certainly have trouble communicating in high pressure conditions, regardless of the position.

— Adam Hatch, ResumeGenius.com

7. Does the Candidate Have a Track Record of Achievements?

Great achievements don't necessarily need to be work-related to indicate success. Case in point: Athletic achievements show the candidate is competitive and can work on a team; leadership achievements show an ability to support and motivate others; being part of a college Greek organization or social club demonstrates interpersonal skills; volunteering shows the candidate can work with others toward common goals.

A consistent track record of achievements is one of the best indicators of success in a new job.

— Jordan Wan, CloserIQ

8. Customization Is Key

Is the letter generic (sent to all potential employers) – with no specifics about the job, company, or how the candidate would be an asset? If it appears to be generic, the candidate has questionable investment in your company. They are just looking to get a job and sending out mass applications.

- Laura MacLeod, From the Inside Out Project (Photo credit: Joe Henson)

9. Does the Candidate Get Your Culture?

Before you assess your applicant's cover letter, think about your company culture. Is it happy and light-hearted? Formal and businesslike? Identify the voice of your company, and then read the cover letter with that in mind. Ideally, it should read like it was written by someone who gets the company culture, because that means either the writer is a natural fit for the position, or they did their homework by assessing your company's website and other brand touchstones and then bothered to fit the letter not just to the position, but to your brand as well.

— Rebecca West, Rebecca West Interiors

10. Grammar Indicates Attentiveness

Hiring managers should look closely for any grammatical errors because they speak volumes about a candidate's attention to detail. I once received a cover letter from an applicant who claimed to have gone to a "prestigious collage". I was not impressed!

— Timothy Wiedman, Retired Associate Professor of Management and Human Resources

9. Does the Candidate Show Passion?

The most important sign to look for in a cover letter is passion for the industry and for the role. Passion is the No. 1 indicator of strong work ethic and career longevity.

Passion can be identified in two ways.

First, look for signs of conscious, smart choices in the applicant's career story. Second, look for signs of community involvement that tie to the candidate's career.

— Kelvin Jiang, Buyside Focus

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