Let’s face it: A job search is, typically, anything but fun.
It’s almost as if it carries its own stages of grief. At first, there’s denial of its demoralizing nature. Then comes the anger over either radio silence or rejection from prospective employers. Of course, there’s bargaining -- “I promise to never complain about work again, if I can find a new job!” That’s often followed by depression, and the idea that one is simply just unhireable. Then, there’s acceptance: “This is awful, but I have to keep trying, anyway.”
But we have good news. It is possible to have a little fun with your job search -- and maybe even make yourself a better candidate in the process. The magic, it turns out, could be in your cover letter.
It may be true that 63% of recruiters have deemed cover letters "unimportant," but that doesn't mean yours has to contribute to that statistic. In fact, it might be that cover letters are deemed insignificant because so few of them stand out. Here's an opportunity for you to exercise your creativity at the earliest stage of the recruitment process. Personalization, after all, goes beyond replacing the title and company name in each letter you send to recruiters.
What does that look like in practice, and how can you make your cover letter stand out? We found six examples from job seekers who decided to do things a bit differently.
Note: Some of these contain NSFW language.
6 Cover Letter Examples That Nailed It
1) The Short-and-Sweet Model
In 2009, David Silverman penned an article for Harvard Business Review titled, “The Best Cover Letter I Ever Received.” That letter contained three complete sentences, as follows:
One might argue that this particular letter is less than outstanding. It’s brief, to say the least, and the author doesn’t go into a ton of detail about what makes him or her qualified for the job in question. But that’s what Silverman likes about it -- the fact that the applicant only included the pieces of information that would matter the most to the recipient.
“The writer of this letter took the time to think through what would be relevant to me,” writes Silverman. “Instead of scattering lots of facts in hopes that one was relevant, the candidate offered up an opinion as to which experiences I should focus on.”
When you apply for a job, start by determining two things:
- Who might oversee the role -- that’s often included in the description, under “reports to.” Address your letter to that individual.
- Figure out what problems this role is meant to solve for that person. Then, concisely phrase in your cover letter how and why your experience can and will resolve those problems.
The key here is research -- by looking into who you’ll be reporting to and learning more about that person’s leadership style, you’ll be better prepared to tailor your cover letter to focus on how you provide solutions for her. Not sure how to learn more about a leader’s personality? Check out any content she shares on social media, or use Growthbot’s Personality Profile feature.
2) The Brutally Honest Approach
Then, there are the occasions when your future boss might appreciate honesty -- in its purest form. Livestream CEO Jesse Hertzberg, by his own admission, is one of those people, which might be why he called this example “the best cover letter” (which he received while he was with Squarespace):
As Hertzberg says in the blog post elaborating on this excerpt -- it’s not appropriate for every job or company. But if you happen to be sure that the corporate culture of this prospective employer gets a kick out of a complete lack of filter, then there’s a chance that the hiring manager might appreciate your candor.
“Remember that I'm reading these all day long,” Hertzberg writes. “You need to quickly convince me I should keep reading. You need to stand out.”
3) The One That Says "Why," Not Just "How"
We’ve already covered the importance of addressing how you’ll best execute a certain role in your cover letter. But there’s another question you might want to answer: Why the heck do you want to work here?
The Muse, a career guidance site, says that it’s often best to lead with the why -- especially if it makes a good story. We advise against blathering on and on, but a brief tale that illuminates your desire to work for that particular employer can really make you stand out.
Here’s another instance of the power of personalization. The author of this cover letter clearly has a passion for this prospective employer -- the Chicago Cubs -- and if she’s lying about it, well, that probably would eventually be revealed in an interview. Make sure your story is nonfiction, and relatable according to each job. While we love a good tale of childhood baseball games, an introduction like this one probably wouldn’t be fitting in a cover letter for, say, a software company. But a story of how the hours you spent playing with DOS games as a kid led to your passion for coding? Sure, we’d find that fitting.
If you’re really passionate about a particular job opening, think about where that deep interest is rooted. Then, tell your hiring manager about it in a few sentences.
4) The Straw (Wo)man
When I was in the throes of my own job search and reached one of the later stages, a friend said to me, “For the next job you apply for, you should just submit a picture of yourself a stick figure that somehow represents you working there.”
I never did end up working for the recipient of this particular piece of art, but it did result in an interview. Again, be careful where you send a cover letter like this one -- if it doesn’t match the company’s culture, it might be interpreted as you not taking the opportunity seriously. Be sure to pair it with a little bit of explanatory text, too. For example, when I submitted this picture-as-a-cover letter, I also wrote, “Perhaps I took the ‘sense of humor’ alluded to in your job description a bit too seriously.”
5) The Exercise in Overconfidence
I’ll admit that I considered leaving out this example. It’s rife with profanity, vanity, and arrogance. But maybe, in some settings, that’s the right way to do a cover letter.
A few years ago, Huffington Post published this note as an example of how to “get noticed” and “get hired for your dream job”:
Here’s the thing -- if the Aviary cited in this letter is the same Aviary I researched upon discovering it, then, well, I’m not sure this tone was the best approach. I read the company’s blog and looked at the careers site, and neither one indicates that the culture encourages ... this.
However, Aviary was acquired by Adobe in 2014, and this letter was written in 2011. So while it’s possible that the brand was a bit more relaxed at that time, we wouldn’t suggest submitting a letter with that tone to the company today. That’s not to say it would go unappreciated elsewhere -- Doug Kessler frequently discusses the marketers and brands that value colorful language, for example.
The point is, this example further illustrates the importance of research. Make sure you understand the culture of the company to which you’re applying before you send a completely unfiltered cover letter -- if you don’t, there’s a good chance it’ll completely miss the mark.
6) The Interactive Cover Letter
When designer Rachel McBee applied for a job with the Denver Broncos, she didn’t just write a personalized cover letter -- she designed an entire digital, interactive microsite:
This cover letter -- if you can even call it that -- checks off all of the boxes we’ve discussed here, in a remarkably unique way. It concisely addresses and organizes what many hiring managers hope to see in any cover letter: how her skills lend themselves to the role, why she wants the job, and how to contact her. She even includes a “traditional” body of text at the bottom, with a form that allows the reader to easily get in touch with her.
We’d like to add a sixth stage to the job search: Experimentation.
In today’s competitive landscape, it’s so easy to feel defeated, less-than-good-enough, or like giving up your job search. But don’t let the process become so monotonous. Have fun discovering the qualitative data we’ve discussed here -- then, have even more by getting creative with your cover letter composition.
We certainly can’t guarantee that every prospective employer will respond positively -- or at all -- to even the most unique, compelling cover letter. But the one that’s right for you will. That’s why it’s important not to copy these examples. That defeats the purpose of personalization.
So get creative. And, by the way -- we’re hiring.
What are some of the best cover letters you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments.
I can write a solid resume, interview well, and make sure that my online presence is on point.
The one thing that’s always been a struggle? The dreaded cover letter.
Cover letters can be absolute torture, and it feels like there are a million ways to screw them up. Is yours too formal or informal? Too long or short? Too much information or too vague?
There’s an upside, though: Making your cover letter awesome doesn’t have to be a long, difficult process. In fact, as I’ve written more and more cover letters over time (and started helping dozens of other people write theirs), they’ve actually become (gasp!) fun.
Below, I’ve listed the 16 most important tips I’ve learned to make crafting a cover letter into an easy and pain-free process. Half of the tips are related to what you write, and the other half are tiny things that’ll make sure your cover letter is better than the rest. By the end of the list, there’s no way a hiring manager will be able to shuffle you to the bottom of the pile. Or you know…delete your email…
8 Tips for Cover Letters That Grab Hiring Managers’ Attention
1. Describe a pain point
Here’s the most important question any cover letter should answer: What problem would hiring you solve?
Notice that this question is about the company’s problem, not your desire to land the job! Tricky, I know.
But think about it: If a company has put up a job description, it means they have a pain point and need a solution. For example, if a company is hiring a web designer, it means they don’t think their current layout is up to snuff and they’re looking for someone who can get them there. That’s the problem they need solved, and that’s what your cover letter should make clear in first few sentences.
2. Don’t regurgitate your resume
This is a tip that you’ve probably heard before, but it happens all the time: Don’t use your cover letter to simply restate your resume!
Your cover letter is the perfect place to expand on things that your resume doesn’t detail, illustrate the more intangible reasons why you’re perfect for the job, and explain any particular circumstances that warrant discussion (for example, if you’re making a sudden or drastic career change).
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3. The tone should match the company
Cover letters are great for companies not only because they can see if you can solve the problem at hand, but also because they give hiring managers a sense of whether or not you understand the company culture.
How do they figure this out? Tone.
Take a look at a company’s website, how its social media is phrased, and how its employees talk about it online. Is this company a little more informal and fun? Is it buttoned-up and corporate? Your cover letter should be written in a tone similar to that of the company’s copy. Obviously put a professional spin on it, but keep the company’s culture in mind.
4. Keep the focus on the company
Hiring managers assume that if you’re applying to a particular job, that must mean you really want that job. Thus, you don’t need to spend your entire cover letter reiterating how badly you want the job and how great the experience would be for you.
It’s okay to spend one or two sentences tops explaining your love for the company, but then it’s time to turn the tables.
The majority of your cover letter should be illustrating to a potential employer what hiring you would do for their company. Again, focus on the pain point: What talents and skills do you have that would help this organization tremendously?
5. Use your numbers
A big problem I’ve seen in lots of cover letters is that they tend to be very vague in describing any notable accomplishments or achievements.
For example, instead of saying that you have had “a great deal of success as an email marketer,” use your numbers: “I spearheaded an entire newsletter redesign that resulted in a 500% increase in our open rate, which proves…”
Numbers also add intrigue and leave hiring managers wanting to hear more!
Psst! This tip holds true for resumes! (More here.) Adding numbers and statistics is a solid way to stand out!
6. Make your anecdotes short
While examples can make your cover letter super effective, many people make the mistake of including unnecessary or irrelevant information when using anecdotes that make them drag on and lose theirumph.
My personal rule is to make any example or story no longer than three sentences so that you can avoid going overboard and wasting valuable space. Here’s how to break it down:
- Sentence 1: Introduce the skill you’re highlighting.
- Sentences 2: Explain the situation where you showed off this skill.
- Sentence 3: What was the end result? Explain what it did for the company and what it proves about your character.
7. Make your opening line memorable
If the big opener to your cover letter is “I’m applying for Position X at Company Y” or “My name is…” it’s time to press the backspace button. There are two things wrong with both of these phrases:
- They’re redundant, so you’re taking up precious space! A hiring manager is already going to know your name from your application as well as which position you’re applying for. No need to repeat it.
- They’re generic and unmemorable. Give your hiring manager something to get excited about or be intrigued by.
So, how can you start a cover letter with something that has a little more pizzazz? Try opening with a favorite short anecdote, a quote that best describes you as a professional, or your personal tagline.
8. Everything should relate to the job description
As you write (and then read through) every line of your cover letter, ask yourself: How does this sentence relate to the job description? If you find yourself going on tangents or including facts that don’t prove your ability to excel at the job or understand the company culture, take it out.
And if you need some help making sense of exactly what will prove you are qualified for the job at hand, check out these 10 Tips for Deciphering Tech Job Listings.
8 Tips for Putting the Finishing Touches on Your Cover Letter
1. Research whom to address your letter to
Scrap the “To Whom It May Concern” greeting and do some research to find out who will be reading your cover letter.
In some cases, employers will be super helpful and straight up tell you whom to address that cover letter to. If you aren’t so lucky, a quick Google search can help, or if you have a connection to a potential employer, have a professional contact ask around to see if they can get a name.
If all else fails and you really want to avoid the dreaded “To Whom It May Concern” line, feel free to shoot the company an email. I did this before when I was applying to a company that had a plethora of people on its editorial and HR teams and I had no idea who’d be hiring me.
Here’s the quick template I used:
I’m applying to [name of company]’s [name of job title] position, and I was having some trouble figuring out whom specifically to address the cover letter to. Is there a particular person or department I should direct it to?
Thanks so much for your time!
2. Be smart with hyperlinks
If you’re going to use hyperlinks in your cover letter, there are two important things to keep in mind. First, try not to include more than two or three links tops in a cover letter (like an online portfolio or personal website). All links should be relevant, and your cover letter shouldn’t be used as a dumping ground for everything you’ve ever created!
Second, make sure you add context to a hyperlink to both draw attention to it and to make the hiring manager understand that it’s worth his or her time to click on. For example, if you’re referencing a recent design project you did, add that said project can be found “in my online portfolio” and add a hyperlink.
3. Delete extra images, clipart, emoticons and emojis
This is a no-brainer: Regardless of how “chill” the company says it is, keep clipart, emoticons, emojis, cute pictures of your puppy, and any other images OUT of your cover letter!
Squeeze an emoji into a cover email if you’re SUPER confident it’s appropriate. Otherwise, steer clear.
4. Keep it short (like, really short)
I’ve seen dozens of cover letters in the past month, and the biggest issue across the board is that people make their cover letters way too long.
Here’s the general rule of thumb to follow: Your cover letter should be a single page (no more!) and around 300-350 words. If you’re writing a cover email, three to five sentences works (since you usually have attachments or links for a hiring manager to click on).
5. Keep your font professional (and normal)
True story: I once received a cover letter from a friend where he’d had kept his writing to one page—but it was in eight-point font. Yikes.
Your cover letter font size should be normal (aim for between 10-point and 12-point), and your font should be straightforward and professional. Favorites include Arial, Times New Roman, and Georgia. Just say no to Curly Q or Comic Sans.
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6. Break up your paragraphs
Nothing provokes fear in people faster than a wall of text. Hiring managers get a visual of your physical cover letter before they ever read it, and if their first reaction is, “Oh god, it’s all one paragraph!” that’s not a good sign.
Instead, break up your cover letter into smaller paragraphs of three or four sentences each. It’s so much more aesthetically pleasing, and the person reading your cover letter will thank you.
7. Cut the vague professional jargon
As with in a resume, using phrases like “team player,” “self-motivated,” or “results driven” only makes your cover letter generic and unmemorable. Use more lively language, or better yet, use specific examples to prove your point.
8. Re-read your cover letter over (and over and over)
Editing is the most tedious but also the most necessary part of any cover letter writing you do. Start by printing your cover letter out and reading it aloud. I also recommend reading the cover letter starting with the last sentence and working your way up.
Another pro tip: Definitely get someone else to read your cover letter. In many cases, you might think your writing is pristine, but a friend will find at least a couple typos and point out some places where your wording is a little clunky.
Getting that perfect cover letter doesn’t have to be a time-consuming process. Use these tips and you’ll be snagging the job (and impressing potential employers with your savvy) in no time!
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Lily is a writer, editor, and social media manager, as well as co-founder of The Prospect, the world’s largest student-run college access organization. She also serves in editorial capacities at The Muse, HelloFlo, and Her Campus. Recently, she was named one of Glamour’s Top 10 College Women for her work helping underserved youth get into college. You can follow Lily on Twitter at @lkherman