Who Is Actually Reading Your Job Application Cover Letter

Technology has transformed the modern job market over the past two decades. This means that the audience you are potentially writing for when writing a cover letter is more diverse than ever. There are exceptions, but in general, there are three types of audiences you may be writing for when writing a cover letter.

Researching the company to accurately determine which of these three types of readers you will encounter is one of the smartest things you can do to customize your cover letter for the job you are applying for. Let me briefly go over these general categories of hiring managers/recruiters:

The Busy Corporate Recruiter

Their job entails wading through dozens to hundreds of applicants and working with Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to organize and manage huge databases of applicants. This reader has little time, and therefore tends to skim, often spending less than a minute on your cover letter.

The total length of this letter must, therefore, be very short, and the information you present must be where the eyes of this very busy, often distracted by multi-tasking, skimming-as-they-go recruiter are looking for it, or they might miss something important. I recommend a 3-4 paragraph cover letter for this recruiter.

Executive / Niche Recruiter

They have a little more time to spend on each cover letter than the corporate recruiter. In most cases, they examine both resume and cover letter before deciding to interview or not (unless the letter is spectacularly poorly written or generic).

Since they are looking for more information, you can and should add a bit more than for a job with 500+ applicants – they are expecting this. This means more time to talk about achievements, leadership characteristics, technical or niche expertise, or anything that might distinguish you to a greater degree from competing candidates. This letter should still be streamlined, brief, and focused only on getting you an interview. In fact, these issues are even more important at this level as the competition becomes more and more fierce. I recommend a 4-5 paragraph cover letter for these types of recruiters.

The Small Business / Start-up Recruiter

This type of recruiter is either (1) relatively inexperienced in looking at resumes or (2) someone who does it so infrequently that he or she likely does not have strong opinions on current resume and cover letter trends. In both cases, though, they may not be fully aware of current cover letter trends. They will, however, recognize and respond to a strongly drafted letter that speaks directly to their needs.

Like the second type of recruiter, this hiring manager is looking for a bit extra in your cover letter to distinguish you from similar candidates. Your goal here is as much about convincing the recruiter you understand their culture and needs. This is true no matter how young, niche, or unusual their business or industry is. The bottom line is that such hiring managers & recruiters are looking for someone who is the perfect fit. So spend a little bit of time explaining why the start-up or small-business environment is your ideal. I recommend a 4-5 paragraph cover letter for these types of recruiters.

When it’s not so cut and dry…

It’d be great if every application fell into these categories. The truth is that markets are splintered. Many recruiter or hiring managers fall into more than one of these categories. So research each job and use your judgment. Things to research include:

  • The Industry
  • Seniority Level of the Position
  • The location of the job
  • The Company’s size
  • The Company’s values

When in doubt, stick with a four paragraph letter with a very brief 3rd paragraph that details something to make you stand out from similarly qualified candidates.

Resources to help from ClarkWrites

Don’t forget that I’m always around as well and can review, edit, or compose your cover letter if you need help. So please send me an email at Clark@ClarkWrites.com. I’d love to discuss your specific needs and how I can help.

What’s More, I offer a full array of courses from Udemy.com on Cover Letters, Resumes, and CVs. Take a moment to click on the links below to check them out. Don’t forget to use the CLARKWRITES20 code to get $20 off!

Free Introductory Course to Cover Letters & Resumes

Mastering The Modern Cover Letter

Building a Compelling Resume or CV

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