The Secret Canary In The Mine: The Cover Letter

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Have you ever thought of a cover letter as the precursor to a candidate acing or dying on the interview? I call this the Canary In The Coal Mine Syndrome. This is where in the old way of mining, the air quality in the mine was determined by whether the very sensitive canaries kept in the mine would die from lung poisoning or not.

A canary dying signal a much bigger disaster for the miners such as cave in or air poisoning so it was a very big deal.

Similarly, in your world of hiring for your small business, the cover letter can be a big deal for pointing to the wrong candidate.

First off, a carefully written cover letter accompany a resume EVERY time you receive one. If it’s brief, relevant and to the point, it warrants an interview. Remember, the cover letter is definitely written by the candidate (unlike the resume potentially done by an HR professional). Treat the cover letter like the first impression of the applicant. It should be sufficient on its own to convince you of the qualifications of the candidate for the position.

However, here are a few cues to look for to determine if the candidate is a good fit to interview:

Cue #1 –Data about your business

Every good cover letter starts with thorough research about your business. Check for making sure the candidate has done research about your product or service, your culture, the qualifications you are looking for.

Cue #2 – Added-value of the candidate

Look for the skills and qualifications over and above the requirements. Look for the distinct brand of the candidate. What makes him/her different and unique? What makes him/her the solution to your problems?

Cue#3 – Personal style

Is the candidate expressing him/herself in a compelling manner? Did he/she express interest and enthusiasm for the position?

Cue #4 – Format and grammar

Check for grammatical and spelling mistakes. There shouldn’t be any! How is the letter formatted? Is the same font used across the letter?  A clear letter with no errors is a sign of thoroughness and desire to get the job well done. If it’s unclear and cluttered, chances are it is the reflection of the applicant.

Cue #5 – Closure

Is the candidate taking ownership of his/her career by indicating the desire to meet with you? Does he/she commit to a specific follow-up date?

Once you understand that by-passing the cover letter can actually lead to a disaster, you’ll be a lot more attuned to the cues provided by it. Don’t make the mistake to place your sole attention on the resume. Remember to thoroughly scrutinize the cover letter. It shouldn’t be treated as a fluffy filter. It should be considered carefully, shared with your team of interviewers and be an integral part of your hiring process.


If you are a small business and would like to stop losing time and money on future hiring mistakes,  join me on LINKED IN, tweet me on TWITTER, like me on find more juicy tips and advice. Check our Human Resources Consulting services . We are Human Resources Specialists.

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