Do Hiring Managers Read Your Resume or Cover Letter First?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 11, 2022

Published November 15, 2021

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.

Resumes and cover letters are application materials that help determine whether a hiring manager chooses you for a position, which is why you may want to know whether hiring managers read a resume or cover letter first. These application materials provide hiring managers with knowledge of your background and qualifications. By knowing this information, you can increase your chances of being hired. In this article, we discuss which application materials hiring managers read first, mention whether cover letters are important, and provide you with a guide to help you write both resumes and cover letters.

Do hiring managers read your resume or cover letter first?

Employers and hiring managers typically read your resume before your cover letter. This is because your resume provides hiring managers with an overview of your recent experience along with your skills. If the employer wants more information about your previous experience and your career goals, they may follow up by reading your cover letter.

Related: The Best Fonts for Your Resume

Are cover letters important?

Your cover letter is important because it shows hiring managers that you have the initiative to write one. They also show your experience and provide employers and hiring managers with essential information about your skills. While not all hiring managers read cover letters, they may still expect to see one attached to your resume. Your cover letter shows employers that you take finding a job seriously. Here are some situations that may require you to write a cover letter:

  • when the job application mentions one

  • if the hiring manager asks for a cover letter

  • when you have an existing relationship with the hiring manager

  • if you were referred to the job by someone else

Related: Is a Cover Letter Necessary? Reasons to Include One

How to write a cover letter

Here is a guide to help you write a cover letter:

1. Provide contact information

The first step toward writing your cover letter is ensuring you have accurate contact information for both you and the hiring manager. If you lack contact information for the hiring manager, review the job posting to find the company's contact information. When missing the individual's name, you can include their job title or department in the cover letter. Your contact information typically includes your full name, email address, and phone number. Depending on the location of the company or if they require employees to relocate, you may also want to include your address.

Related: When Should You Include a Cover Letter? (With Tips)

2. Include the job title

When writing your cover letter, include the job position you are applying for to show that you have personalized your cover letter for this position and to let the hiring manager knows which position to contact you about later. If you send your application materials by email, you may find it beneficial to write the desired job position in the subject line of the email. For example, you can write, "Re: Social media manager position".

Related: How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?

3. Establish tone

Your cover letter typically demonstrates your overall tone and personality. While you want your cover letter to be professional, you also want to provide the hiring manager with an idea of whether you can work successfully with their team. Research the company's website and social media to determine which tone to use.

Related: How To Address a Cover Letter (With Examples)

4. Consider the purpose

Consider what you can offer the company and how your services impact the company. Your cover letter allows you to show your qualifications and how your skills correspond to the needs of the organization. When writing your cover letter, look for keywords in the job posting or job position. Include these keywords in the cover letter to increase your chances of being hired.

How to write a resume

Here's a guide to help you write a resume:

1. Consider the format

When writing a resume, consider whether a chronological or functional resume is appropriate. Chronological resumes are best if you have extensive experience in your field. These resumes provide an overview of your recent experience and your impact on previous companies and employers.

Functional resumes differ from chronological resumes because they focus primarily on your skills and accomplishments. These resumes are best for those who lack experience or have a significant gap between jobs. It is also a good idea to only include experience that relates to the position you are applying for or that can showcase the skills required of a successful candidate or good worker.

2. Provide contact information

Your resume requires your contact information so that the hiring manager can get in touch with you for an interview. This is the first section of your resume, and provides your employer with the information necessary to contact you for more information. Consider the best way to make your name visible while keeping your font smaller than 14 points. Some people include the contact information in the document's header for easy reference and to separate it from the text of the resume itself.

3. Include an objective

Following your contact information, you can include a resume summary or objective to establish your intentions and goals when applying for this job position. Your objective statement provides the hiring manager with an overview of your career goals and how your previous experience transfers to the new job position. A resume summary is a short list or paragraph that uses active language to describe your work experience and skills.

4. List relevant skills

Consider which hard and soft skills impact your desired job position, along with how you can use these skills to improve the organization or company. If you aren't sure of which skills to discuss, review the job posting to identify which skills the employer is looking for in ideal candidates. When you identify several key skills or proficiencies to discuss, you can create the skills section of your resume. You may also want to list any certifications or licences in this section if your resume doesn't include sections targeted for these accomplishments.

5. Provide relevant professional experience

When listing your professional experience, you typically write these positions in reverse-chronological order. To do this, begin your list with your most recent relevant experience, and provide a subsection that lists your accomplishments and responsibilities in that role. When writing a functional resume, you may want to shorten these responsibilities to elaborate upon your skills section.

6. Establish relevant educational background

In both functional and chronological resumes, your educational background typically includes a brief description of your program, the program name, institution name and location, graduation date, and GPA or letter grade. If you have multiple postsecondary degrees, you usually list these degrees in reverse-chronological order. If you require more room for professional experience, you can remove all educational information except the institution name and graduation dates.

When you lack professional experience, you can elaborate upon your educational background by including the following information:

  • relevant coursework

  • extracurricular activities

  • leadership positions

  • awards and achievements

7. Consider additional sections

Your resume can include additional sections to provide the hiring manager with all the information relevant to the position. For example, you can include information about your previous achievements, research, or published papers. This is especially useful when applying for job positions in upper management, positions in the government, and educational institutions.

8. Proofread your resume

When you complete your resume, review it carefully to ensure there are no errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation. If you have difficulty finding errors in your work, trying reading your resume backward. Asking someone close to you to check it over can also identify any errors you previously missed. You typically want your resume to be a maximum of one or two pages in length, as employers often skip reading resumes longer that are three or more pages. Consider shortening your resume by removing repetitive information or keywords and unnecessary sections.

Resume template

Here are two examples of resumes depending on your needs:

Chronological resume

Chronological resumes are best for those with strong work experience. Here's an example of a chronological resume:

[First name, last name]
[City, province]
[Phone number]
[Email address]
[Link to website or portfolio]

Resume summary

[Describe your experience, skills, academic background, and achievements.]

Professional experience

[Current or previous job position]
[Previous employer], [City, province], [Employment dates]

  • [Responsibility]

  • [Responsibility]

  • [Responsibility]

[Previous job position]
[Previous employer], [City, province], [Employment dates]

  • [Responsibility]

  • [Responsibility]

  • [Responsibility]

Education

[Program name or qualification]
[Institution name], [Graduation date]

Skills

  • [Relevant skill]

  • [Relevant skill]

  • [Relevant skill]

Functional resume

Functional resumes are best for those who have limited work experience and for those who want to describe their extensive skill set. Here's an example of a functional resume:

[First name, last name]
[City, province]
[Phone number]
[Email address]
[Link to website or portfolio]

Resume summary

[Discuss your skills and professional experience, along with the number of years you worked in this field.]

Relevant skills

[First skill]

  • [Accomplishment]

  • [Accomplishment]

  • [Accomplishment]

[Second skill]

  • [Accomplishment]

  • [Accomplishment]

  • [Accomplishment]

[Third skill]

  • [Accomplishment]

  • [Accomplishment]

  • [Accomplishment]

Work history

  • [Recent job title], [Employer name], [Location], [Date range]

  • [Recent job title], [Employer name], [Location], [Date range]

  • [Recent job title], [Employer name], [Location], [Date range]

Additional sections

[Include additional sections that leverage your importance to this job title]

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