Why Hiring Managers Are Not Reading Your Cover Letter

Nancy Anderson
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Hiring managers and human resources department heads wade through hundreds, if not thousands, of job candidates every year to vet the best person for a job. Make your cover letter stand out from the crowd by giving HR a reason to read it more thoroughly.

Three main reasons exist when hiring managers don't read your cover letter. These common mistakes make a reader lose interest in your story. Like any good novel, make your letter a compelling read that makes the reader want to learn more. If your presentation sounds too much like all of the other candidates', your job opportunity sinks before you leave the shore.

If your cover letter is too generic, no one wants to read it. The same letter does not fit for more than one company because each firm is different. Create a customized letter for the position in front of you. When your correspondence sounds overly generic, it begins to blend with other candidates' applications, and the potential boss loses interest.

Hiring personnel at the company may ignore your cover letter if it shows no strong ties to the company. Research the firm to which you apply. Mention why you would love working for the firm. Bring it together with a personal story that fuels your passion for the position. All of these things make for compelling reading, as the reader starts to appreciate you as a person.

Underselling or overselling yourself produces the same basic feeling of awkwardness. If you lack enthusiasm, the HR manager questions your loyalty to the job. Overzealousness, on the other hand, makes you sound too desperate, as if you would do anything to get hired. Strike a balance between experience, qualifications and passion to create the right tone throughout your cover letter.

Do not forget to sprinkle relevant keywords into your text as you build your story. Research the job posting's qualifications and mimic some of the same verbiage. If the posting states, for example, that "the qualified applicant must show resilience under adversity," then tell a story in which you overcome adversity thanks to resilience.

Use dynamic verbs in your story, especially words such as "accomplished", "won", "improved", "developed", "increased" and "created". These words connect you to your job performance. In addition, large companies often use tracking software to find relevant keywords in letters posted to LinkedIn or downloaded to the company's database. These programs make keywords even more important to the overall impression you try to make.

Another important detail about your letter is that you don't need to rehash your entire resume in the correspondence. Enhance one or two important aspects of your resume in the cover letter to draw someone's attention to your specific qualifications. The tone of the letter creates an overall impression of your personality so that your future employer takes another look and calls you for an interview.


Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks at Flickr.com



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  • Frank N.
    Frank N.

    It's unfortunate that HR departments do it but the automated systems miss the mining of gold.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Mark, I hear you. It is trying enough to get through an interview without having the interviewer be clueless. Maybe you could try a few things such as remove the acronyms from your resume and use plain-speak on it. When you are called for an interview, ask if the person on the other end is the hiring manager and/or if they will be making the hiring decision. That way you can decide if you want to continue with the interview or request an interview with the hiring manager. I hear your same story from many of our job seekers. It's just a sign of the times for now. Things will turn around - gradually. All we can do for now is to keep applying and keep interviewing. I wish you all the best.

  • MARK H.
    MARK H.

    I find today's hiring processes to be more and more "automated" and parsed by folks with much less experience and knowledge then the hiring manager. I cannot tell you how many times I've done those first interview calls with someone that sounds right out of college and has no idea what the acronyms and words on my resume' mean. We have "dumbed" down the interview process and now I question just how much time should be spent on cover letters. I've been frustrated in the past with interviewing with what sounds like college interns who have no idea what I do, what my resume' says, and I know it's not translating properly back to the hiring manager.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Glenn it is true that formatting on some sites has gone completely out the window. Resumes are getting shorter as well as cover letters. Hiring managers don't take the time that they used to when it comes to reviewing resumes/cover letters. Everyone wants things in 140 characters or less! While it is true that many companies use ATS when it comes to resumes, not all of them do. As for cover letters, pay attention to the job posting. Many job postings will say "please send resume and cover letter to...", then you know you need to send one. Many times you only need to fill out their formatted resume instead of sending your own. Some companies don't want a cover letter and will tell you such or will not give you anywhere to send it. Just heed the job posting. I wish you all the best.

  • Rhonda P.
    Rhonda P.

    Hahahahaha that was a good one!


    Nope Judith, no typo - one "vets" candidates for a job. Look it up before you start criticizing the professional writers.

  • JUAN M.
    JUAN M.

    *hint resumes are sorted by machines first

  • Judith S.
    Judith S.

    Your article has a typo in the first sentence (vet - get)

  • Rick Park
    Rick Park

    Not sure why anyone would spend any time on a cover letter. Recruiters tell me they don't read them regardless of how "good" they are.

  • Angela S.
    Angela S.

    This is good information and since I have found cover letters difficult to write may try these suggestions. However I don't see any reference to how long a cover letter should be on average. I have heard only two paragraphs while some have said three. Any suggestions on this?

  • Glenn Shorkey
    Glenn Shorkey

    Case in point right there. I tried to put a line in to seperate two thoughts, bam! done without touching 'Comment' button. That means everything will be crammed together. Resumes not 100% 'vanilla' come out badly skewed in most views, applicant has to choose between trying to spend excessive time editing without knowing exactly how it will eventually come out, or EXPLAINING resume, which is obviously NOT point of a cover letter. I'm a damn fine writer, but read any analysis by 'experts' and you will get a conflicting opinion of just what is the best thing to do.

  • Glenn Shorkey
    Glenn Shorkey

    You can say its a 'too generic' or uninteresting narrative that doesn't grab a recruiter is the undesirable element in not being selected, but I'd still point at the strait-jacket FORMS and how resumes are butchered by being parsed in.

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