Hiring managers read dozens, if not hundreds of applications for every job they post. If you want to get the job, you have to stand out. It’s important to show the hiring manager not only that you are qualified, but also that you are the best candidate for the position.
One way to get your application noticed is to write a unique, engaging cover letter that shows not only your qualifications but also your personality. Go beyond some of the clichéd, formulaic language found in many letters.
Write a Unique Cover Letter
The best way to show who you are to the company is to avoid writing one generic cover letter for every job listing. Instead, tailor your letter to the specific job and company.
You can write a targeted cover letter in a number of ways:
- Include keywords from the job listing in your letter.
- You can also reference the company itself–for example, mention a particular success the company has had, or explain why you are interested in working for the company.
- Perhaps most importantly, send your letter to a specific person, if possible.
One of the best ways to avoid sounding like everyone else in your cover letter is to leave out some of the most overused phrases in cover letters. For example, don’t say you are a “hard worker” or that you “go above and beyond.” Try to find unique ways to explain who you are. One way to do this is to focus on particular examples —show them who you are, rather than tell them.
Try a Creative First Sentence
So many cover letters start with the sentence, “I am applying for X position.” While this is a fine way to start, the hiring manager has likely seen this sentence hundreds of times. Try starting with a more engaging first sentence (or first sentences) that shows who you are.
You might express why you are passionate about the job or the company. For example, you could start, “I have always been a storyteller. As a child, I would write countless stories about princes and princesses. Now, I have turned my passion for storytelling into a career in marketing.” Or, “When I first researched your company for a project in a business class over five years ago, I became inspired by your mission to provide low-cost tech solutions.”
Make a Connection
If you know anyone at the company, or if someone at the company referred you to the job, mention this early on in your cover letter (ideally in the first couple of sentences).
This humanizes you and makes you seem more like you are already a part of the company culture. It also shows that someone in the company already thinks you are qualified for the job.
Think of Unique Examples
Remember that a cover letter should not simply restate your resume. While your resume lists your qualifications, your cover letter goes deeper, providing examples of times you demonstrated particular skills and abilities necessary for the job.
One way to show your personality is to include some unique, even surprising, examples that demonstrate your skills. For example, if you are applying for a job that requires organizational skills, you might mention how you accurately manage and process dozens of monthly shipments from your Etsy account. These kinds of examples are particularly useful if you do not have much relevant work experience.
Of course, only include examples that are relevant—they need to connect back to a skill or trait necessary for the job.
Show You’ll Fit in With the Company Culture
Hiring managers want to know not only that you are qualified, but also that you will fit in with the company culture. Before writing your letter, research the organization. Check out the company’s website, and talk to anyone you know who works there. Then you can mention ways that you might fit into the culture.
For example, if you know they do a lot of after-work team sports, you might briefly mention at the end of the letter that you would love to put your pitching skills to good use.
Some job listings also give you a peek into the company culture. For example, if the listing itself is very silly or funny, feel free to add a little humor to your letter, if that feels natural.
Tailor Your Tone to Fit the Industry
Similarly, you can tailor your letter to fit the personality of the industry. If you are applying for a corporate job, for example, you might want to write a more traditional cover letter. You can still include some personal examples, and maybe a catchy first sentence, but you should avoid too much humor or zaniness.
If you are applying for a job in an industry that is a bit more informal—say, a tech startup company—you can get a little bit more creative. Your tone can be more lighthearted, and you can include some creative examples.
If you’re applying for a job in a visual, creative field, consider showing your personality through the form of your letter. You might include bullet points, or even a visual (such as an infographic). You can include some of these nontraditional elements in your resume too.
Keep It Professional
No matter how much of your personality you decide to put into your cover letter, keep the letter professional. It needs to be well written and error-free. It also needs to stay focused on the main topic: why you are a terrific fit for the job.
Don’t Go Negative
Some people try to add personality by using phrases like “I know you hate reading cover letters, but…” or “I know I am one of many candidates, but…” Avoid any phrases that sound negative.
Also, avoid phrases that imply you know how the hiring manager feels. You don’t actually know whether he or she hates reading cover letters, and you don’t know how many candidates applied for the job. Focus on the positive, and don’t make assumptions about the hiring manager, the job, or the company.