Do you know how to write a cover letter that will make a recruiter say “yes”?
I wasn’t sure either. To find the answer, I reached out to half a dozen recruiters from a variety of industries ranging from a Fortune 500 company to a small business. I asked them to share their secrets about what makes them say “yes” to a cover letter.
Despite the vast differences between industries, the recruiters all shared some advice in common. In fact, their responses surprised me, and they will surprise you too.
How to Write a Cover Letter – Advice from a Fortune 500 Company
“There is DEFINITELY more that makes me say “no” to a cover letter than “yes.” I often advise job seekers to NOT use a cover letter unless it is requested and to allow that information to come out during an interview, but it depends on the job and industry you are looking to work in.
“The two most common things that make me say “no” to a cover letter, which happen more than one would think, are that the person’s career objectives do not match the job that I am recruiting for (therefore communicating that the applicant is just looking for any job) and that the applicant puts the wrong position or company name in the cover letter, which is a huge turnoff as well.
“Now to answer the question. Some of the things that will make me say “yes” to a cover letter are when the applicant does one or more of the following:
- Intrigues me: Something in the cover letter is impressive and makes me want to know the full story.
- Intelligently answers the question: What makes you stand out from the other candidates applying for this job?
- Keeps the cover letter short and to-the-point: Recruiters can scan a resume in five seconds. If the cover letter goes on for paragraphs, chances are that it won’t even be read.
“All in all, cover letters, just like resumes, are an art and not a science. Don’t be afraid to take risks, but know your audience!”
Recruiter for a Fortune 500 company
How to Write a Cover Letter – Advice from a Small Business Owner
“Honestly…I rarely read cover letters. We always ask 3-4 survey-based questions on our application page. This helps me get the applicant to actually write something and puts the answers in a uniform spreadsheet void of custom formatting or other tricks. I can tell if they rush their answers, don’t use punctuation, have bad writing skills etc. From there, I look for prior experience/education to figure out who I am going to set up initial interviews with.
“If I **was** to read a cover letter, I would look for a candidate to write something that makes it clear they understand my business and what I’m looking for.”
How to Write a Cover Letter – Advice from an Executive Recruiter
“I almost never read cover letters; I just don’t have time. I did accept and read one over the weekend. What was helpful was that it was targeted to a specific opportunity, outlined my requirements in bullet format, and followed with bullets on how his background aligned with the requirements.
“I read things that come in small chunks that I can quickly read! If I receive a resume, email, or other communication, it has to have whitespace and info that’s well organized, so I can easily pick out what I’m looking for. I don’t necessarily read a resume sequentially. So I have to be able to find what I’m looking for very quickly.”
President, Jessi Exceptional Search Services
How to Write a Cover Letter – Advice from a Technical Recruiter
“In the recruiting I do, I rarely read cover letters. A majority of the positions I work on are technical: scientists, QA, regulatory etc., and I’m looking for specifics on the resume. I always advise people to assume your cover letter is not read, make sure all your information is in your resume.
“On the other hand, I always advise anyone who asks- that if you do include a cover letter, make sure it is well written and check for spelling etc. in case it is read! I use cover letters occasionally, but generally only after I’ve already selected candidates based on their resumes. Many times candidates will have a quick summary of their experience in the letter, and if it is good and accurate, I’ll use that to summarize the candidate to the hiring manager. Again, this summary (a couple sentences) could also be at the top of their resume as well.”
Recruitment Consultant, Donovan HR Consulting
How to Write a Cover Letter – Advice from an IT Recruiter
“Many cover letters are not read, so the resume needs to work that much harder for a candidate. But a poorly written cover letter, or one with typos, is likely to eliminate a candidate from consideration. So getting the cover letter right is critical.
“A well-written cover letter needs to demonstrate that the candidate has done some research on the company prior to sending. Many cover letters (the bad ones) are very generic and come across as being “cookie cutter” in nature. The more a cover letter can convey relevant experience and specific accomplishments the better. The best cover letters integrate a basic knowledge of the company and role being applied for (business model/strategy, culture, expectations, etc.) and include specific experience and skills that highlight why the candidate meets or exceeds the job requirements.
“That may be enough to merit further consideration. But to break through the clutter and cinch the deal, the letter should clearly evidence passion for the business and a unique value proposition that gives the reader an understanding of why this candidate is likely to be better suited for the role and the company than anyone else they are likely to meet.”
General Manager, Hudson IT
How to Write a Cover Letter – Advice from a Software Talent Recruiter
“Tell the hiring manager why you are interested in the position and company. What excites you about the role? Why are you interested in working for this company? Explain how this job plays into your career advancement and next professional steps. Think about this section of the cover letter as a way to appeal to the hiring manager’s emotions and feelings. If the letter is drafted in a skillful manner, you can highlight your understanding of the position and how you fit the company’s culture and line of business–all based on research. In this way, you can subtly demonstrate that you did your ‘homework’ all while appealing to emotions. You want your passion to grab the hiring manager’s attention!”
“In this part of the cover letter, you should demonstrate that you read the job description and provide specific examples on how you meet the “hard requirements” (i.e., exactly how do you qualify for the career opportunity?). You should provide examples on how your past experience (knowledge and skills) aligns with the company’s defined job responsibilities and position requirements. My suggestion would be to pick three to five job responsibilities or job requirements based on the job description provided by the company. You want to write this in an extremely direct fashion and make it easy for the hiring manager to see how you are the best choice for the position.”
“This is the closing section of the cover letter. You want to communicate a specific ask that drives the hiring manager to act. Key and important would include the following:
- You should include a specific ask requesting a phone call, meet for coffee, or offer to stop by the office.
- You should express complete flexibility about your ability to talk or meet in person.
- You should provide your “anytime” cell phone and restate your email address.
The goal is to send the message that this career opportunity and company is so important that you will stop everything for the opportunity to talk or meet.”
Final Thoughts on How to Write a Cover Letter
I was shocked to discover that five out of the six recruiters I talked to rarely read cover letters, if at all. The biggest piece of advice you should take from this blog post is to only write a cover letter if specifically asked to do so. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of your time and can do more harm than good.
On top of that, if you do write a cover letter, keep it short and sweet, edit it to perfection, and make sure it sets you apart as the best candidate for the position.
Finally, make sure your resume stands out from the crowd. It’s clear that your resume is where hiring managers will focus their attention.