Everyone knows you need to submit a great cover letter with your job application.* But you might not know that that great cover letter doesn’t have to be written in “business block” form. You don’t even have to use Microsoft’s “Clippy.”
A nontraditional cover letter can take the form of a list of quotes, a table or chart or an infographic. It doesn’t even have to be a letter at all, if it succeeds in getting a hiring manager’s attention.
Here are five examples of nontraditional cover letters (and some non-letters) that landed people interviews:
1. The chart
Try listing the job ad’s requirements on the left and matching them to your qualifications on the right, like in this example, which landed a recent grad a position at a major metropolitan newspaper.
You don’t have to crack jokes (here’s an example of a more formal approach), but you do have to actually make an effort to read the job ad and think about how your qualifications make you a match.
Hiring managers say they like this format because it saves them time. If you’ve done the work for them of showing how your skills make you a fit, you’ve saved them from having to puzzle it out.
2. “Getting to Know Charlie”
Charlie Drozdyk, author of Jobs That Don’t Suck, wrote a cover letter called “Getting to Know Charlie” where, instead of talking about his work experience, he quoted friends and family members saying somewhat bizarre things about his personality. (He even quoted his first girlfriend as saying “He’s cute, but I can’t imagine dating him.”)
Since Drozdyk was applying for entry-level copywriting jobs, where good writing and a sense of humor are important, he managed to get four interviews with this letter.
3. E-stalking your target
In some industries (like advertising), people Google themselves all the time. So Alec Brownstein decided to turn that to his advantage and buy ads that would display next to the names of creative directors at top New York ad agencies.
For a total outlay of $6 (ads for such unpopular keywords are cheap!), Brownstein got a job.
4. Eating the company’s dog food
In business, “eating your own dog food” refers to a company that makes its employees use its own products (you know Apple employees can’t get away with using Android phones).
In your job search, eating your dream company’s dog food can make you a killer candidate. Hanna Phan decided she wanted to work for SlideRocket, a company that makes presentation software (like Powerpoint). Instead of submitting a traditional application, she made her cover letter into a presentation using SlideRocket’s software. She tweeted it to the CEO, and she heard from him an hour later.
5. Faking the company’s dog food
Chipotle doesn’t make a product you can use in your job search (well, unless you get hungry). But Bianca Cadloni wanted to work there. She built a website called “Will Work For Guacamole” that mimicked the look of a Chipotle napkin. The spot-on visual branding, combined with an aggressive Twitter campaign, got her noticed.
While she didn’t land the job with Chipotle, she was offered a marketing internship at a different agency, which ultimately turned into a paying job. (“Thank you for not hiring me, Chipotle,” she wrote.)
Ultimately, whether you decide to use social media as your cover letter, write a nontraditional letter or try any other gimmick is a judgment call. A startup might be more receptive to getting funny objects in the mail or seeing you show up at their office in a gorilla costume; an established magazine might prefer a more traditional approach. So long as you do your research into the company, you’ll be equipped to take the right risks.
And remember: while it seems like these nontraditional cover letters are everywhere, that’s just because nobody ever writes a news story about how a simple, well-written letter scored someone a job.
What are your favorite nontraditional cover letters?
*Yes, yes, the debate still rages. It’s kind of like the global warming “debate” at this point, though. Just write one.
Rachel Kaufman is the author of Cover Letters for Creative People, an ebook about nailing the perfect cover letter in your job search. Get your own copy here.
These need to be seen to be believed.
Photo Credit: Sonny Abesamis
MOST of these are real. See if you can spot the few joke ones, and mention your picks in the comments.
1) “Attached is a copy of my CV and his death certificate”
2) “I have brave fight to wild bear”
3) “I am only 6”
4) Reason for leaving: “It sucked”
5) “kount money faster than a bank teller”
6) “i like kids and its fun to fiddle with them”
7) “I won't waste your time… feeding you a line of crap”
8) “If you have any questions, please feel free to f#$king contact me”
9) “it would be the highest choice of my smile to discuss myself being hired”
10) “Please explain your rationale for the rainbow”
11) Please tell me why you deserve to be hired: “To be paid”
12) “You need me to work you because you seem to have trouble with math”
13) “lets make it happen WOO WOO”
14) “Please realize that I'm not a braggart or conceited”
15) “calling our head of HR a ‘skank ho' does not gain you any plus points”
16) “My middle name is Promptness. True story. Ask my mom”
17) “here's a good presentation that cover's the basics”
18) “this position sparked my interested because…”
19) “I am your dog walker… I got a 1600 on my SATs”
20) “Me also can fight for boxing like Tyson”
21) “I am also very highly motivated, just show me the money”
22) “I hate this guy”
23) “I'm sick of writing these pedestrian cover letters, you're sick of reading them”
24) “I am 24 years old which is why I think this position is a great fit for me”
25) “I received some feedback from the grandfather of a friend”
26) “And like to write columns, blogs, reviews, articles and letter to the editor”
27) “since I moved here solely for career purposes, don't really have any friends yet… I'm in a perfect position to make work my life”
28) “right now studying in a Left leaning institution”
29) “the only caveat IS I have to do this during non-working hours”
30) The most generic cover letter ever?
31) “it would probably explode from Cancer of the RAM”
32) “I dont have any expereince”
33) Business Insider Sports Intern?
34) Captain America's cover letter
35) “I am writing to you in regard to the position of boyfriend”
ABC News: Worst cover letters
More funny cover letters and job applications
Question of the article
What's the dumbest thing you ever wrote on a cover letter or job application? Tell us in the comments!
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About the Author Jacob Share
Job Search Expert, Professional Blogger, Creative Thinker, Community Builder with a sense of humor. I like to help people.