The Traditional Cover Letter is Dead: Do These Things Instead to Stand Out

We all have the same thought when we sit down to start writing a cover letter. That thought goes a little something like this: “Does anybody actually even read these things anymore?”

It’s a valid and understandable point. Cover letters can easily seem like an archaic job search tradition of the past. And, we know that there’s a significant chunk of hiring managers that don’t even bother taking a polite glance through the ones that fall across their desks. But, does that discouraging fact mean that you should skip the cover letter formality altogether?

Absolutely not. Take a second to think about it this way: Sure, many hiring managers don’t read that document you pour all of your blood, sweat, and tears into. But, plenty of others still do. So, you’re better off having one at the ready than looking like you failed to complete a critical element of the job search process, right?

Yes, you need a cover letter. But, let’s get something clear here. Just because you need one of these formal letters doesn’t mean you need to stick with the boring, generic “To Whom It May Concern: I’m writing to express my sincere interested in blah blah blah” lines of the past.

Nope. There are a few unique, creative things you can do to not only spice up that seemingly pointless document, but also get you noticed by the hiring manager. And, as you already know, making a positive, memorable impression is crucial for landing an interview—and eventually scoring the job. So, let’s get to it!

1. Address It to Someone Specific

Alright, this first tip doesn’t necessarily pack a fireworks-worthy punch. But, it’s still important for you to do in order to keep your cover letter out of the hiring manager’s wastebasket.

Do some digging to find a specific person you should be addressing your letter to—whether that’s the name of the hiring manager or even the head of the department you’re hoping to work in.

It seems like a completely insignificant detail. But, it can really make a world of difference. You don’t want “Dear Sir or Madam” to be the first thing someone sees when skimming through your letter. At this point, that’s a surefire way to get tossed into the trash.

2. Start With a Story

We’ve already touched on the fact that you’ll want to stay far away from those cliché, “I’m writing to express my interest in the position of…” opening lines. But, uhhh, what on earth should you start your cover letter with, then?

Getting started can be the toughest part. After all, your introduction really needs to hook the hiring manager and encourage him or her to keep reading to find out more about you. As I’m sure you can guess, that generic opener that’s been read two million times before isn’t necessarily going to do the trick.

Using a personal anecdote or captivating story is a great way to start your cover letter in an attention-grabbing way. Perhaps your childhood lemonade stand ignited your passion for sales and quality customer service. Or, maybe a recent life-altering moment inspired you to change your life—and your career.

Whatever it is, find something interesting and craft a narrative around it. Your compelling story will not only ensure your cover letter gets read, but will also make you that much more memorable.

3. Try a Different Medium

When you think of a cover letter, you likely think of 12-point Times New Roman font on a white sheet of paper. We all do. But, if you truly want to stand out and make an impression, why not try something different?

From video messages and catchy songs to flipbooks and interactive games, resumes and cover letters have definitely begun to reach outside the limits of the traditional and expected. You’re no longer restricted to just ink on paper—you can expand your horizons and find a method that’s original, fresh, and impressive.

Of course, this tactic works best if you’re aiming to work in a more creative capacity (remember, successful applications are all about knowing your audience!). But, if you think an organization would appreciate and admire your unique approach, go for it! If nothing else, you’ll definitely be talked about.

4. Mirror the Company’s Culture

By now you know that it’s a good idea to tailor your resume and cover letter in order to incorporate elements of the company’s culture. However, this tactic can go beyond just injecting a few relevant keywords and important tidbits.

Tying into the above point, this is another opportunity for you to get creative and show that you truly understand (and appreciate!) the culture of this specific company. For example, a prospective Buzzfeed employee turned her cover letter into a full-blown Buzzfeed style article.

Not only was her cover letter extremely catchy and attention grabbing, it demonstrated that she just “gets it”. Remember, hiring managers are not necessarily looking for the most accomplished candidate, but instead the one that would be the best fit. If you can use your cover letter to show that you’d be a seamless addition to the team and their existing culture? Well, you officially have your foot in the door.

Those stiff, traditional cover letters we’ve all grown tired of seeing are officially a thing of the past. If you truly want to make your mark in your job hunt, you’re going to need to think outside the box in order to craft a letter that’s attention-grabbing, impressive, and effectively captures all of those things that make you a totally kickass employee.

Give these four tips a try, and you’re well on your way. Good luck!

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Kat Boogaard

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Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer covering topics related to careers, self-development, and entrepreneurship. Her byline has appeared in numerous outlets and publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, QuickBooks, Business Insider, and more. Find out more about her on her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

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