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Through The Eyes Of A Recruiter – Improve Your Cover Letter

In a job market like today, candidates have many choices and opportunities. But let’s be honest, putting forward great application materials is still an important part of getting the job of your dreams. 

As Director of Talent, my job is to connect with great candidates about our client’s opportunities. I read hundreds of cover letters each year, and talk with dozens of people for each job opening we advertise. I often find candidates could improve how they explain their interest in a position and how their experiences align with the requirements of the role.

You would be surprised to know how little time a recruiter takes looking at a cover letter before making up their mind about a candidate. Honestly, it’s only a few seconds! If the saying is, “the eyes are the windows to the soul,” then the cover letter is the hiring team’s window into candidates’ experience. Make sure your cover letter offers something to catch the hiring team’s eye in the moment. Here are my 4 tips to strengthen cover letters. 

Be authentic

Think about your tone. Are you being overly formal? Relying on too much jargon? The letter should reflect your personality, demonstrate your genuine interest and enthusiasm, and highlight what you’ve done. A cover letter is a great way for a person to express who you are and what you can offer. 

Showcase qualifications

Tailor your letter with examples of at least three of the required qualifications. Whether you tie an example to your professional history or something more personal, be sure to demonstrate the specific values you offer to the organization. When possible, highlight your connection to the mission. It’s just as important.

Be thorough, but brief

“Brevity is a great charm of eloquence…” Sharing key details about what makes you qualified for the job is important; however, you should be succinct. My advice would be to keep things to no more than 2 pages. Your goal is to make it brief enough to read at a glance, but thorough enough to establish yourself as a qualified applicant. 

Standardize formatting

Including a photo has gained popularity over the past few years. While we admire your creativity, this style could open the door to biased hiring decisions. Recruiters will likely blackout the photos or request a revised cover letter before sharing an application packet. We also recommend using simple 12-point font and 1-inch margins, which is also the style best read by automated applicant tracking systems.

Let’s face it, a few seconds doesn’t feel like a lot of time to make a huge impact, but can you create a cover letter that highlights the right information that gets a second look? Definitely!

While we can’t guarantee that every prospective employer will ask you to interview, your cover letter is your first step to make a case that you match the qualifications for the role. Once you get an interview, you can prove that you’re more qualified than all the other applicants.

For more cover letter tips, check out this article from The Muse and next month’s article for our thoughts on improving your resume.


Kessa R. Thompson joined Good Insight in the fall of 2020. In the role of Director of Talent, she designs comprehensive recruitment strategies to attract a diverse pool of talented applicants for every executive search client.

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