what do recruiters really look for in a cover letter?

Reports of the demise of the cover letter are premature. While some organizations are indeed phasing out a mandatory cover letter with every application, others are adapting the request to suit their needs. Whatever the case, many organizations still ask for the original cover letter we all know and love.

Recently, we talked about whether or not cover letters are obsolete. Spoiler alert: they’re not. Whether you’re asked for one or not as part of a hiring process, you benefit from writing one. As long as you’re going to produce a cover letter, why not write what recruiters and hiring managers want to read? Here are some suggestions designed to catch a recruiter’s attention.

what recruiters look for in a cover letter

1. clear and easy-to-read language

Recruiters want a document that’s clear, easy to read and follow, and above all professional. Customize each cover letter so it’s specific to the opportunity you’re currently responding to. Study the job posting to see what language the organization uses to describe itself. If playing detective isn’t your thing, you can never go wrong with simple, active (verbs are your friend!) and professional language.

2. a professional attitude

Nothing turns a hiring manager off faster than expletives and inappropriate language (you’d think we wouldn’t have to say it, but here we are), made-up (or uncommonly used) acronyms, and poor spelling and grammar. Complex, convoluted, run-on sentences don’t demonstrate your communication skills favourably. In fact, the opposite is true. If you’re unsure about your writing skills or if English (or French, depending on where in the country you live) isn’t your first language, find a friend or colleague who can edit it for you or find a professional editor. It’s worth the cost when you consider your cover letter is your one opportunity to make a good first impression.

3. why you’re right for the job

Hiring managers want a reason to include you in the hiring process. Give it to them. Your cover letter tells the hiring manager why he or she should interview you, especially when you highlight your skills, achievements and experience that relate specifically to the opportunity and what you’ll bring to the role, department and organization. Explain why you’re the perfect fit.

4. proof you put in a little effort

Recruiters want to know you’ve taken the time to gather information about the company; it shows you go the extra mile and really understand what’s required of you. Don’t forget to use the web to your advantage! You’ll win friends and influence people if you can include some relevant industry news or, better still, newsworthy information about the organization you’re applying to.

5. brevity

Time is valuable; recruiters want to know you value theirs. Keep the War and Peace version of your cover letter for after you’ve been hired. Instead, create a cover letter that’s short and to the point. Recruiters don’t have time to sort through dense, multi-page material to find key points. Help the recruiter see what a great fit you’d be; match your skills and experience to the qualities and experience listed in the posting. Give them the information they need clearly and concisely so they can do their job, which is to hire you.

6. the ‘write’ attitude

If yours is a tale of woe, share it with a bartender, not a recruiter. Keep the tone of your cover letter positive, personable and professional. You should indeed express confidence but careful you don’t come off boastful or arrogant. Avoid clichés and jokes, unless the company culture clearly shows that they’re welcome. If you’re unsure, err on the side of business professional. Let them find out how hilarious you are after they’ve hired you.

7. a solid close.

For sales professionals, success comes down to a pitch followed by a strong close. That’s where the sale is made, where a successful outcome is achieved.  In the world of marketing, the sign-off is usually a call to action. In terms of your cover letter, your close is your expression of how keen you are to take on this role. One recruiter told us: “You’d be surprised how many interviewees don’t ask for the job.” Say you want the job! Let your enthusiasm, passion and energy shine through. Close by saying you look forward to next steps. And thank the recruiter for taking the time to review your application.

Rather than an afterthought, think of your cover letter as a doorway to your resume and all the good things you bring to the table. It’s what tells a recruiter to consider you as a potential employee. Make it count.

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