If you’re applying to jobs online or are about to, what I’m about to share might shed some light on why you aren’t getting the kind of response you want even though you are sending what you feel is a strong, keyword-rich cover letter along with your résumé.

I was recently asked by a subscriber about the cover letter and how it factors into the whole ATS situation.

Hey Diana,

Here’s a question for you that I hope you will answer.

Does these ATS systems read and assess cover letters or do they only read and assess résumés? 


Rick V.

Of course, I will try to answer the question, but I have to be honest – it’s not that easy to answer which I will explain in this article.

The online job application process can be complicated and confusing not to mention the fact that there is a lot of conflicting information about it.

You might want to read an article I wrote about whether (or not) you should send a cover letter with your résumé.

Before I tackle the cover letter question, let’s do a quick recap of what the ATS system is because it’s a key part of the application process and can affect everything.

I’ve talked about the ATS systems in a previous article that you can read by clicking on this link.

You can download the ATS checklistTop 40 Ways To Help Your Résumé Beat the Computer ATS and Attract Interviews

The fact is, most companies use some form of ATS to organize the application/hiring process.

What makes it complicated (and why it’s hard to answer the cover letter question) is that there are literally HUNDREDS of ATS systems out there and they all operate slightly differently.

They range from archaic systems that search solely for keywords to highly sophisticated systems that use robust AI technology and understand things like synonyms and syntax.

Many systems fall somewhere in the middle which isn’t horrible, but it isn’t ideal.

Here’s a universal hiring truth

The vast majority of résumés do NOT – I repeat, DO NOT – make it past the ATS which means the human reader (HR, Recruiter, Hiring Manager) never see it and you don’t get the interview. Period.

If you’ve applied to dozens, if not hundreds, and possibly THOUSANDS of jobs and got little to no response, it’s a high probability that the ATS blocked your résumé.

You can download the ATS checklistTop 40 Ways To Help Your Résumé Beat the Computer ATS and Attract Interviews

If your résumé was one of the lucky few that actually made it past the ATS, then the next possibility is that the human reader just wasn’t impressed for a number of reasons. ☹

At the end of the day, there are many reasons why you don’t get the interview which might have to do with your résumé, but it might not.

Or it could be a combination of reasons. Who the fuck knows. Sorry for swearing, but it’s frustrating, even for me!

Click on this link to read the previous article “16 Reasons Why Qualified Candidates Don’t Get The Interview”

Now back to the cover letter question!

Sorry – I get sidetracked easily! 😊

I’ve been a career professional since 2005. I also belong to career professional networks, regularly upgrade my skills and knowledge through courses and workshops and offer free content on various social media platforms.

Despite all of my experience, I can honestly say that there is not one answer when it comes to the ATS.

If you ask 10 different career professionals about whether or not the cover letter is assessed by the ATS, you will probably get 10 different answers. Seriously.

The reason for that is because there are hundreds of different ATS systems, and the technology is constantly changing.

Also, unless you are literally sitting beside the person using the ATS system and can see how it works from their perspective, you have no way of knowing how your cover letter fits into the equation.

The general consensus is this…

Most astute career pros will agree that there is NO GUARANTEE that the cover letter is being scanned and assessed for keywords by the ATS.

While it’s possible that some systems might scan and score the cover letter, it’s also likely that many (or most) of them DO NOT.

Therefore, you should NEVER rely on the cover letter to help your résumé get through the ATS.

An online job search requires a KILLER résumé!

You must design your résumé to get through the ATS by tailoring it to EACH job posting and ensure that the document is ATS friendly which goes beyond just including keywords.

Click on the link to download the ATS checklistTop 40 Ways To Help Your Résumé Beat the Computer ATS and Attract Interviews

The human reader is another hurdle you need to get over

But you can’t stop there – you need to ensure that your document is also designed to grab the human reader’s attention (in a positive way!) in the first few seconds.

HR, recruiters, and hiring managers are overwhelmed with hundreds of mind-numbing résumés, so they’re looking for any excuse to hit the delete button so they can quickly drill down to a handful of résumés that are actually worth their time reading.

How you generate interest from the human reader in as little as a few seconds involves a bunch of things that I have discussed in previous articles and will address in future articles which, again, goes way beyond just including keywords.

I recommend you visit my blog page and look for topics by typing in the keywords in the search bar.

The short answer is this…

If you are relying on applying to jobs ONLINE, you need to ditch your lacklustre, task-oriented, reverse chronological résumé. That’s considered a “Career Obituary” and only going to kill your job search faster than a fart in a windstorm.

What you need is an accomplishment-focused and keyword-rich career marketing document that is known as a modern, combination, or hybrid format.

This new and improved résumé format is essentially a blend of the reverse chronological and functional format and then adds some other elements that elevate it to a whole new level.

The modern résumé is strategically designed to kill two birds with one stone (sorry for the analogy, but that’s all I could come up with right now).

#1:  To get past the ATS


#2:  Impress the human reader

You can’t get results (especially if you’re relying on applying online) if you design your document for just the ATS or just the human.

Both the ATS and the human reader have unique selection and elimination criteria that you need to address if you want to increase your résumé’s conversion rate – that is, how well it converts into an INTERVIEW which is a key objective of the résumé.

Now back to the cover letter….

After you create a stand-out, modern résumé, you should create a stand-out, modern cover letter that also follows the same principles:

  1. It’s keyword rich
  2. It focuses on key expertise
  3. It highlights key accomplishments
  4. It’s finely targeted to the job posting
  5. It gets to the point quickly

Click on this link to read the article about cover letters

Click on this link to download the cover letter sample template

Need some help????

I highly recommend you retain the services of a career professional to help you position and sell yourself for a job search. One wrong move can get you disqualified from the running. Feel free to contact me here.

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Hi!  I’m Diana.

I leverage over 14 years recruitment and sales/marketing experience to create attention-grabbing résumés, cover letters, and Linkedin profiles that help job seekers stand out, get noticed, and get hired. You can learn more about my story here and about how I can help you here.

Need help? That’s what I’m here for!

Are you in the midst of a job search and not getting the results you want? Or are you’re thinking of making a change and want to make sure you get started off on the right foot? Then I recommend you reach out for some help. You can contact me directly here!

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