What has been covered – how to conduct a cover letter review

By Robert Half 7th January 2019

A candidate cover letter can be used as part of the CV screening process. When you know how to review one properly, you can uncover a wealth of valuable information about your candidates’ suitability for the role.

Discover how to conduct a cover letter review and what a good cover letter should include.

Why ask for a cover letter?

A short cover letter acts as a candidate’s formal introduction to you, the employer. Where CV’s are great for exploring the history, qualifications, skills and achievements of a candidate, the cover letter is an insight into them as an individual.

Why is a cover letter important for exploring role fit?

An excellent cover letter gives the candidate an opportunity to distinguish themselves from other job applicants. It provides a professional forum for them to express exactly why they think they’re a good fit for the role and to give any relevant experience or specific career highlights which verify this.

Cover letters can also provide insight into the candidate’s written communication skills and give a flavour of their personality before a face-to-face meeting. The tone and approach they’ve used while writing can indicate how well they’ll fit with company culture and should make you feel interested enough to call them in for a meeting. 

What should be in a cover letter?

The best cover letter would ideally start like a formal letter; addressing the hiring manager in person and expressing an interest in the specific position they’d like to be considered for. 

A good letter is tailored for the role and should highlight specifics from the job ad, so an employer can spot relevant details quickly. This shows an employer that the candidate has read the job description carefully and considered how appropriate they are for it.

The candidate should also use the cover letter to communicate why they’d like the job. This information gives you an opportunity to make sure that their career goals and motivations align with your plans as a business. 

The standard cover letter format is an A4 page with three or four short paragraphs on it. It should be laid out like a traditional letter, with the date and applicant’s details in the left-hand corner, and the employer’s details in the right-hand corner.

How to conduct a cover letter review

When analysing a cover letter, it’s good practice to read it through once to gain a first impression. You can then begin to analyse it on second reading. Here’s a checklist of points to consider when making your second pass:

Are there any grammar and spelling errors?
When a candidate sends a cover letter filled with errors, they demonstrate poor attention to detail and poor written communication. Try proofreading the document to test its accuracy.

Have they tailored the letter for the job?
Taking the time to tailor the cover letter to the job description shows that the candidate has researched the role and the company, and made an effort to pitch themselves as the ideal fit.

Have they highlighted any compelling experience, qualifications or career highlights which make them a good fit?
Has the candidate included good examples of why they are qualified for the role? Qualifications, experience, and performance should all help to build a compelling picture.

Are all points well articulated?
Much like spelling and grammar, the quality of the candidate’s written skills can also serve as a demonstration of role fit. If the job requires excellent communication skills, this point is particularly important.

Have they expressed personality?
One of the great things about a cover letter is its ability to convey the candidate’s personality. The right cover letter should give you a brief idea of whether or not the candidate will fit within the team and the company.

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