The age old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, is usually sound advice; however, when you are hiring you can (and should) judge a candidate by their cover letter. The following areas will help you focus on the aspects of the cover letter that you should be critical of so that you can confidently move forward in the hiring process.

Professionalism: When you first look at an applicant’s cover letter, there should be some clear signs that it was written with an appropriate level of professionalism.  For example, the cover letter should be free of any grammatical and spelling errors.  You can judge an applicant’s level of interest in the job based on if it has been carefully reviewed and proofread before it reached your desk.  Also, the font should be easy to read and the format should lack any extra embellishments.  If you receive a cover letter that does not follow these professional guidelines, chances are that the candidate is either not truly interested in the position or they do not have the level of professionalism needed to fulfill the job requirements.

Due Diligence: As you read through an applicant’s cover letter, there should be evidence that they followed due diligence and researched your company.  What you should see is that they are aware of your company’s values and have explained how their values align appropriately.  There should also be evidence that they have researched the specific position that they are applying for and are able to explain why they would be a good fit for that position.

Tailored: Any applicant who wants to be considered a serious candidate for a position will tailor their cover letter for the job and company that they are applying for.  A serious candidate takes the time to research and thoughtfully construct a cover letter rather than copying and pasting a form letter, and they incorporate details about themselves that would make them successful in your company and the specific position you are hiring for.

Personality: A good cover letter should do all of the above and still give you an idea of the applicant’s personality.  Their cover letter is an opportunity to read between the lines and see if the personality that comes through would match the culture of your company.

The next time you are tempted to quickly glance over an applicant’s cover letter before moving on to their resume, remember that the cover letter is an excellent tool to judge a candidate by before moving forward in the selection process.