Your cover letter is good. It’s okay. It’s not bad. There’s nothing technically wrong with it. It can certainly hold its own among those of the other applicants for the jobs you’re pursuing. Which is to say, hiring managers won’t laugh while reading it, and they won’t roll their eyes before tossing it immediately into the recycle bin. But is that really what you want?
Probably not. Because you aren’t looking for a way to fit in with all of the other candidates in the pool. What you’re looking for is a way to stand out. Here are a few simple moves that can shine the spotlight on your letter and help managers remember your name.
1. Identify your most unusual traits and credentials. Go through your resume and circle them. They don’t have to be the most impressive credentials to your credit, just the most unusual. Circle or highlight every detail on your resume that other candidates are unlikely to claim.
2. Find a way to bring these traits and credentials to the center of your profile. If you lived in a foreign country for a few years, or if you held a position with an unusual company, or if your undergraduate course of study has nothing to do with your current career path, all of these can be used to your advantage.
3. Tell a story. Use your cover letter to create a narrative—in other words, turn your career history into a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Weave your story around the unusual traits and credentials you’ve already identified. Make sure the protagonist of your story (you!) has the qualities of every compelling hero: These include challenges overcome, personality quirks (perfect protagonists are not boring), and inspiring long-term goals.
4. Go ahead and be funny. Most of the time, a formal cover letter and resume are no place for jokes or humor of any kind. But since this is a rule, it’s made to be broken. If you have the confidence to pull this off, don’t back down. The worst that can happen if your wit falls flat: Your readers sigh and move on. But the best that can happen: You’re called in for an interview and you land the job. Those are pretty promising odds.
5. Share something negative. Again, most of the time, cover letters and resumes should be relentlessly positive in every single way. Every statement and word choice should have entirely positive implications, and everything about you should be presented as perfect, and also perfect for this job. But if you break this rule and describe a challenge you faced in the past—a firing, a layoff, a weakness, a professional setback, a personal conflict, etc.—you might just win some attention and respect for your courage.
A little boldness and creativity can do wonders for your cover letter and can dramatically increase your chances of landing the job. But it also never hurts to back your cover letter up with a clear, effective, and beautifully formatted resume. Visit LiveCareer for templates and layout tools that can help you use both documents to highlight your strongest credentials.