Given the modern recruitment technology that's available, many job seekers might think their applications are simply automatically scanned, rather than being reviewed directly by a hiring manager--and for a small business, that's likely you. However, a new survey shows this is not the case. 

According to a study from ResumeLabs, a resume software company, 83 percent of hiring managers think cover letters have a significant impact during the decision-making process. For the study, ResumeLab surveyed 200 recruiters, HR specialists and hiring managers from across the U.S.  

Despite hiring managers placing high value on compelling cover letters, most candidates--about six in 10--don't submit cover letters with their applications, regardless of whether or not the job ad says a cover letter is required. 

While you shouldn't automatically count out applicants who skip this important step, it's important to know what to look for in a strong cover letter. Here are a few tips to make the application and cover letter review easier for you and your team.

1. Start using prescreen surveys.

Not every candidate who applies for a job with you--including those who take the time to write a cover letter--is necessarily qualified for your team. Avoid wasting time manually reviewing every application and cover lette by tapping into automated prescreen surveys. These questionnaires typically consist of a few true/false questions, including some "knock out" questions, enabling you to automatically eliminate applicants who aren't a fit. 

If you need to hire an employee who has a specific certification, for example, you can include this as a "knock out question," so only applicants who meet your requirements move forward for your team to review.

2. Look for what is motivating them to join your team. 

The ResumeLabs study found that the top factor hiring managers look for when reading through cover letters is an explanation of candidates' motivations for joining the company.

If a cover letter comes across as very generic, without any specific details related to your company, chances are he or she simply sent the same cover letter to several employers. Ultimately, this might mean they're simply looking for a new job, rather than being motivated to specifically join your team. 

When reviewing cover letters, keep an eye out for content that makes it clear that candidates want to work for your organization. For example, an applicant might highlight that they're motivated by your company's mission, align with your specific core values or have some sort of connection to the customer base you serve.

Sharing this type of information in the cover letter means candidates have done their research and are engaged with your company. As a result, they'll likely be driven to succeed on your team, if hired. 

3. Compare a candidate's experience and goals with your needs. 

Similar to going into detail about why they're interested in joining your team, the most engaged candidates will find ways to align their past experience and career objectives with the information outlined in your job descriptions. 

According to the ResumeLabs study, 50 percent of hiring managers tap into cover letters to learn more about candidates' career objectives and explain why they're looking for a new role. If the job applicant's cover letter is simply a regurgitation of his or her resume, they likely haven't taken the time to review your job description in detail to determine whether or not they're a fit. 

In cover letters, look for information related to tying candidates' backgrounds to what's required of your open roles. 

If you're hiring for a sales role, and looking for great negotiation skills, for example, a candidate might share an anecdote about how they negotiated a particularly tough deal in the past. Or if you're hiring an office manager, you might come across a strong candidate who has served as an administrative assistant for a few years and is motivated to make a step up in his or her career. 

Despite the low unemployment rate and highly competitive hiring market, it's critical for your team to avoid rushing through the hiring process--or you might risk hiring employees who won't drive the results you need.