Would you show up to a job interview without wearing any shoes?
Probably not. Even though it’s unlikely your interviewer will notice your shoes, it’s very likely they would notice if you’d skipped putting them on altogether, or thrown on a dirty pair of sneakers.
Your cover letter isn’t must different. Between referrals, the wealth of information available about candidates online, and all the automated resume scanning, does anyone really care about cover letters anymore?
You should, and your hiring manger will as well. Why? Because your cover letter, even if it is often labeled as optional on an application, is a priceless way to make a first impression. Consider this: even if a hiring manager or recruiter doesn’t read it, they will notice it (or the lack of one) and any immediate glaring errors (like a dirty pair of sneakers). Your cover letter offers a chance to show prospective employers what your resume and online presence only allude to: your personality and your connection to the role.
But, here’s the good news: your cover letter doesn’t have to feel like an academic diatribe – unless you’re a PhD looking to join academia. For the rest of us, check out these 7 memorable cover letters that garnered the right attention – and didn’t fit the traditional mold. And remember: cover letters aren’t a thing of the past – but stilted, formulaic ones might be.
- Call it Like You See it: Have you ever wanted to be really honest with your employers? This Squarespace applicant went for it – even going so far as to drop an F-Bomb in his CV. He also highlights his personal interests and a few things he just can’t stand. Former Squarespace CEO Jesse Hertzberg lauds it the “best cover letter” he’s received.
Here’s a look at part of this CV, which pulls no punches:
- I will hook you up with the best Ashtanga instructor in Portland
- I’m certified as an instructor in the discipline of Rational Process and Problem Resolution and will teach it to the customer support staff and leadership
- I love MCM design, furniture and architecture and can consult on the PDX site-search (at least I can tell you if you are picking a dog and could do better)
- I have worked for two of the leading Contact Center infrastructure suppliers and have analyzed the others as competitors
- I don’t suffer fools, slackers or whiners lightly
- John Doe is now SVP of Customer Care at BigCo
- I am one funny mother-f****
- Get personal. In Ask a Manager, Alison Green revamped a cover letter from run-of-the-mill to one-of-a-kind, highlighting the candidate’s very real appreciation for the company. Where the original version focuses on the applicant’s official accomplishments and goals, the revised version highlights what the candidate loves about the company – in her own voice:
Last but certainly not least, I want you to know that I’m a passionate Westeros fan and a longtime supporter of the new castle. I’ve been following the new castle movement since the earliest days of the original “Save the Tombs” campaign, and I am so excited to see this vision becoming a reality. I’ve already checked out the new castle website, and the renderings of the new throne and great hall are stunning, to say the least – I particularly love the vintage murals and art featured throughout the building. Nice touch!
- Show and tell. Rachel McBee designed an interactive website as a cover letter when she applied for a position as a graphic designer with the Denver Broncos. Not only does the site cover all the traditional areas a cover letter should (contact information, applicable skills, and interests), it also showcases her design skills and sets her apart as creative and passionate.
- Keep it simple. Former executive and Harvard Business Review contributor David Silverman awards a short and sweet cover letter “best cover letter.” Why? Because it’s succinct, highlights the applicant’s relevant skills, and asks for the job. Sometimes, it’s just that simple:
I am writing in response to the opening for xxxx, which I believe may report to you.
I can offer you seven years of experience managing communications for top-tier xxxx firms, excellent project-management skills, and a great eye for detail, all of which should make me an ideal candidate for this opening.
I have attached my résumé for your review and would welcome the chance to speak with you sometime.
- Don’t overpromise. If you’re applying for a position that feels a little out of your league, or are trying to make a career switch, it might be tempting to inflate some of your experiences. One hopeful intern took a different approach: he acknowledged just how little experience he had, but was sure to highlight what he did: the ability to work hard.
Here is a highlight:
I won’t waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of cr** about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking internship. The truth is I have no unbelievably special skills or genius eccentricities, but I do have a near perfect GPA and will work hard for you. I’ve interned for Merrill Lynch in the Wealth Management Division and taken an investment banking class at xxxx, for whatever that is worth.
- Highlight your unconventional experience. While this applicant didn’t have any actual coaching experience, he highlighted the experience he does have in his application for the University of North Dakota head coaching position. He also shows how passionate he is about the sport:
Currently, I work in IT at a college in West Virginia, but I have many years of experience with football, starting with attending my first Marshall University football game when I was 3 years old. In the past 30 years I’ve only missed a handful of Marshall’s home games, attended many road games, and all of their bowl games.
All the while I played various football games including Madden on Sega Genesis where I completely dominated with the Bills and Thurman Thomas. Seriously, was he a beast on the game or was he a beast because I was a football genius controlling him?
- Chalk it up to destiny. One HubSpot applicant already had a relationship with the company, and she made sure to highlight it, noting that not only had she earned a certification through HubSpot, but that her existing company also is also a HubSpot client. Then, she closes by highlighting that not only do they already have a relationship, but their relationship can be mutually beneficial:
I want to help great content perform better, and you want to help great brands rethink search for content they created years ago. Let’s do both, with me as your SEO & Content Optimization Manager.
Now, it’s time to get to polishing your own cover letter. Crafting your own noteworthy cover letter should reflect who you are as a candidate, and be appropriate for the position and company you’re applying for. But it certainly doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s.