Do Employers Review Your Resume or Cover Letter First?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Your resume and cover letter can consecutively emphasise your candidacy for a position. Your chosen career path can determine what information an employer might expect to read in these documents. Understanding which one a hiring manager is likely to read first might help you establish which valuable abilities you wish to highlight in each. In this article, we discuss if a recruiting manager is likely to look at your resume or cover letter first, describe what to include in your resume and cover letter and explain how you can improve them.

Do employers review your resume or cover letter first?

Determining whether an employer is likely to review your resume or cover letter first depends on the industry you're applying to and how the company manages its recruiting process. A recruiter hiring for the creative sector might consider reviewing a cover letter first. Your cover letter allows you to showcase your personality and creativity and personalise the document considerably. This can be especially true if the position calls for writing abilities, as the recruiting manager can evaluate your written skills throughout your cover letter.

The recruiting manager might read your resume first if you're applying for a specific technical position. This is to allow them to establish if you're an appropriate candidate quickly before reading your documents. Also, when contemplating if the employer is more likely to read your resume or cover letter first, consider the company's recruiting process. The recruiter's preference might solely determine if it uses an applicant tracking system (ATS). The ATS determines if your skills and qualifications are appropriate before the recruiter receives your application.

Related: How to Format a Cover Letter (With Tips and Examples)

What to include in your cover letter

Your cover letter focuses on your skills and qualifications, promoting your candidacy for the position in question. You can start the introduction paragraph of your cover letter by showing your interest in the position and tailoring each application to reflect the specific job and company. It might be helpful to emphasise how your passion aligns with the company and why you want the position. Next, you can focus on explaining your relevant skills and qualifications. Ensure the skills you list correlate directly with the position you're applying for.

Then, you can describe two to three achievements. You can elaborate on what the achievements were, which skills you practised and how this can benefit the recruiter's company. In the cover letter's conclusion, you can include a clear call to action. A call to action is the next step you want the recruiter to take. For example, you might encourage them to review your resume next, contact you or set up an interview.

Related: Free Cover Letter Templates

What to include on your resume

Your resume is a document to list your professional summary, skills, experience, education and any additional details related to the position you're applying for. Employers often initially look for your contact information, skills and work history. If you're a recent graduate and have little professional experience, they might look for specific qualifications, volunteer work experience and transferable skills. An employer might look for continuous work and roles related to the position within your work history section. When describing your prior work experience, include only the responsibilities that apply to the role.

An effective resume may highlight your most relevant and recent qualifications for employers to scan through and assess your abilities for the job. These highlights are concise and relate directly to the job description. When choosing skills or accomplishments to list on your resume, measurable or certified achievements are preferable for employers to understand your performance metrics.

How to improve your cover letter

Your cover letter provides you with the ability to showcase your personality and creative skills. Here are some key elements that might help you improve your cover letter:

1. Show individuality

A recruiter might look for signs of individuality to help you set apart your cover letter from other candidates. You might achieve this by addressing your cover letter to a specific name rather than a generic term such as to whom it may concern. If the job description doesn't specify who the hiring manager is, you could contact the company to request this information. Another step to ensure an individualised document is avoiding copying and pasting the template. Structuring your own cover letter can make it unique to your application, meaning it's easier to identify.

2. Use concise and clear language

Given that a recruiting manager is likely to review many applications, using clear and concise language can make it easier for them to evaluate. Try to use simple language, avoiding complicated and technical words. Another aspect of creating a straightforward document is ensuring you use accurate grammar and correct spelling. A recruiter might look for this in your cover letter because it can help to showcase your attention to detail and make a positive first impression.

Related: Tips for Writing a Captivating Cover Letter

3. Address specific questions

Often, a job advertisement includes specific questions. Addressing these directly on your cover letter helps you focus on the information a recruiting manager wants to know. The job advertisement might give you precise instructions regarding the information to include and how to set, format and send your cover letter. Following these steps accurately might be an important aspect of creating a cover letter that impresses a recruiting manager.

4. Expand on your resume

Using your cover letter to expand on your resume helps add value to your candidacy. Try to avoid simply repeating the information included on your resume. While you might mention the same skills and qualifications because a recruiting manager is looking for that specific information, you can use your cover letter to expand on how you've used those skills or how the qualifications have previously helped you. Using real, practical experiences can help emphasise your candidacy.

How to improve your resume

Your cover letter provides an employer with the information they need for determining your candidacy. Here are some tips to help you improve your resume:

1. Ensure an organised document

A neat and organised resume can be essential when submitting your application. You can use a template to ensure you're formatting your resume appropriately. You might also research resume formatting to help you understand which template suits your ability and experience. Having a sound knowledge of the type of resume you're creating can help you write a properly organised document. Another component of establishing an organised and professional resume is using simple and clear font and sizing, creating larger or bold headings to help separate each section.

Related: ATS Resume Format Guide (With Template and Example)

2. Use keywords

Using keywords on your resume is essential to consider. Keywords can help to target your resume toward particular positions. To find the keywords, you can review the job advertisement. They're the words used to describe skills and abilities. These words might differ with each advertisement, but it can be beneficial to ensure you tailor each application to include specific keywords. You can repeat them throughout the resume where appropriate, including them naturally in the content.

3. Include action verbs

If you intend to create a resume that employers may notice, using strong action verbs can create an impact. Action verbs describe your strengths, abilities and achievements. Some action verbs you might use on your resume include:

  • enabled

  • coordinated

  • coached

  • clarified

  • consulted

  • facilitated

  • briefed

  • corresponded

  • conveyed

  • interpreted

  • investigated

  • customised

Related: 175 Good Words for a Resume and When to Include Them

4. Proofread

Proofreading your resume is essential to creating a professional document. You can use a spell check tool to identify grammatical and spelling errors. You might also scan your resume for unnecessary wording or complicated words, reducing these to improve the readability. It might be beneficial to ask a friend, family member or colleague to review your resume and provide feedback. Producing a well-written, error-free resume can significantly impact its effectiveness.

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