Your cover letter is supposed to catch a prospective employer's eye, but that's easier said than done when it's buried under a pile of applications. As a result, nearly every professional has his or her own advice when it comes to writing one of these formal introductions and bids for employment.
There's a typical formula many follow, but some job hopefuls have tried more inventive techniques to get their applications noticed. While success isn't guaranteed, these individuals chose more creative paths on the road to employment.
See also: No Resume, No Cover Letter — Instagram Scored the Job
Whether you're looking for ideas to improve your job search, or you just want to see what people are willing to do to get an interview, here are six impressive cover letters that can inspire you to up your application game.
1. The Direct Approach
Lindsay Blackwell wanted to be social media director of the University of Michigan. Instead of typing up a typical cover letter, the tried and (sometimes) true method, she created a website with a video directed at Lisa Rudgers, the university's vice president for global communications and strategic Initiatives.
While Blackwell didn't ultimately get the job, she did land an interview for the position — an impressive feat on its own.
2. Using the Changing Communication Landscape
Video: YouTube, Graeme Anthony
Graeme Anthony, a PR practitioner looking for a job, uploaded his professional information to YouTube rather than creating a traditional cover letter and resume. Anthony's interactive video application included a breakdown of his skills and timeline for potential employers. It showed his video-producing and editing knowledge as well as his ability to use online resources.
In the end, it helped him land a job at Manc Frank. If a simple series of videos is enough to get you noticed, the sky's the limit.
3. The Power of Being Honest
Sometimes employers appreciate sheer honesty above well-written prose and assertions of dedication and passion. An unnamed applicant applied for a summer internship on Wall Street with a short but honest letter.
Whether the lack of embellishment helped secure the position for the student is unknown, but it made quite a splash online and proved that honesty really can be the best policy.
4. A Little Design Goes a Long Way
Image: Alice Lee
With a company as geared to the visual as Instagram, it can take more than a well-worded letter to catch the team's attention.
Twenty-year-old Alice Lee used her design skills to create an interactive website, complete with an Instagram stream with the social network's API. Instagram didn't end up hiring Lee, but she did get to speak to CEO Kevin Systrom, and Lee's site eventually led to an internship with another company.
5. Using the Product Itself
Video: SlideRocket, Hanna Phan
If the company you're interested in makes a specific product, integrating it into your cover letter will show that you're not only familiar with the company, but also that you're resourceful.
For Hanna Phan, the product she needed to use was a slideshow creator. Her imaginative cover letter for SlideRocket incorporated their technology and her style to create an engaging cover letter. If anything, Phan proves that all it takes is a little extra effort and knowledge of a product to make a lasting impression on potential bosses.
6. Using Ads to Your Advantage
Video: YouTube, Alec Brownstein
Most of us have Googled ourselves at least once or twice, if only to make sure that nothing strange turns up with our names. With that in mind, Alec Brownstein decided to buy ads that would appear when specific people searched for creative directors' names, or more importantly, when said directors Googled themselves.
The ads led to Brownstein's site with a message that simply read, "Googling yourself is a lot of fun. Hiring me is fun, too." Brownstein now works at Y&R New York, and the ads only cost him $6. It isn't exactly a cover letter, but it isn't a bad strategy.
Image: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images
You know that next job of yours? Yes, that’s right, the really amazing one with the brilliant co-workers, cool boss, and fresh, free snacks in the office vending machine? That one.
You know how you’re going to land it? By quickly showing your future employer that:
a) You’re going to perform incredibly well in this job.
b) You’re insanely likable.
c) You’re really going to fit in around there.
These are the three primary factors that influence the selection process. The person who wins that great job will be the one who shows the decision makers, quickly, that he or she is all three of those things. And you have an amazing opportunity to begin planting these seeds right from the introduction, à la your cover letter.
Most people squander the opportunity. Instead of using their cover letter real estate to their massive advantage, they toss over bland, cliche-filled, or completely-redundant-to-the-resume clunkers. Or worse, they showcase all the things that they want out of the deal, without pausing for a moment to recognize that the company cares a heck of a lot more about what it’s going to get from you.
As a recruiter, it pains me to read most cover letters, because the vast (and I mean vast) majority of them stink. Knowing this should inspire you even further to create a brilliant one. Because, let me tell you, on those rare occasions an amazing cover letter crosses my desk? Mamma mia. It makes my day, and it most certainly influences my interest in its author.
So, how do you pull off a killer cover letter, one that conveys passion and talent and that makes the recruiter or hiring manager’s day? Make sure you do all of these things.
1. Tell Them Why, Specifically, You’re Interested in the Company
Decision makers never want to feel like you’re wallpapering the universe with the same pathetic cover letter. They want to feel special. And so, you need to make it clear that you’re approaching this organization for very specific reasons. And ideally, not the same very specific reasons that everyone else is giving.
Try a high-personality lead in like this: “Having grown up with the Cincinnati Zoo (literally) in my backyard, I understand firsthand how you’ve earned your reputation as one of the most family-friendly venues in the State of Ohio. For 20 years, I’ve been impressed as your customer; now I want to impress visitors in the same way your team has so graciously done for me.”
2. Outline What You Can Walk Through the Doors and Deliver
This isn’t you making a general proclamation of, “Hey, I’m great. I swear!” You need to scrutinize the job description and use whatever other information you’ve gathered about the opening, determine the key requirements and priorities for this job, and make it instantly clear to the reviewer that you can deliver the goods on these key things.
Consider crafting a section within the letter that begins with, “Here’s what, specifically, I can deliver in this role.” And then expound upon your strengths in a few of the priority requirements for that role (they’re typically listed first on the job description or mentioned more than once).
3. Tell a Story, One That’s Not on Your Resume
As humans, we love stories far more than we love data sheets. (OK, I speak for most humans). So, what’s your story? What brings you to this company? Did you used to sing along to all of its commercials as a kid? Did the product make some incredible difference in your life? Do you sometimes pull into the parking lot and daydream about what it would feel like to work there? Tell your story. Just make sure you have a great segue. Random trivia can come across as weird.
Say you’re applying for a marketing job with a baked goods company known for its exquisite tarts and pies. You may want to weave a sentence or two into your cover letter about how you took the blue ribbon in the National Cherry Festival pie eating contest when you were 10, and that you’ve been a pie fanatic ever since. (Yes, this was me, but I actually came in second place. Sigh.)
4. Address the Letter to an Actual Person Within the Company
Not one employee at your future new company is named “To Whom it May Concern,” so knock that off. You’ve got to find a real person to whom you can direct this thing.
This seems so hard or overwhelming, but it’s often easier than you may think. Just mosey over to LinkedIn and do a People search using the company’s name as your search term. Scroll through the people working at that company until you find someone who appears to be the hiring manager. If you can’t find a logical manager, try locating an internal recruiter, the head of staffing or, in smaller companies, the head of HR. Address your masterpiece to that person. Your effort will be noted and appreciated.
And a last, critical factor when it comes to delivering a great cover letter: Be you. Honest, genuine writing always goes much, much further than sticking to every dumb rule you’ve ever read in stale, outdated career guides and college textbooks.
Rules can be bent. In fact, if you truly want that amazing job with the brilliant co-workers, cool boss, and fresh, free snacks? They should be.
That's awesome to hear, because connecting great people to great jobs is kinda our thing.
Check Out Tons of Openings Now