I really struggle with traditional cover letters.
Attempting to condense everything I want to say into three or four paragraphs always feels extremely tedious and slightly painful. It could be because I need more practice, or maybe because I still haven’t learned my “elevator pitch.” It also could be because, sometimes, the opportunity I’m applying for is one I don’t really want; thus, I’m writing a page full of lies. Whatever the reason, this process just doesn’t come easily to me.
I dislike putting these together so much that I’ve completely abandoned applications in the past simply because the description says, “Please submit a resume and a cover letter.” Woof. No. Not for me. Moving on.
But when I came across this internship opportunity with The Muse this past October, something else happened. After reading through the job explanation and duties, it said, “Send us a cover letter that makes us smile.”
In those last three words, I saw my window of opportunity. A chance to break the mold and do something different. I saw a challenge—a fun one—and I accepted it, without hesitation. And here was the weird thing—I was actually excited to write it. Say what? Yep.
So, for the next 30 minutes, from a large wooden table in one of my favorite coffee shops, equipped with a coffee cup the size of my head (I’m not joking), I wrote the fastest plea for a job I’ve ever written.
But here’s how I did it differently.
I Started Off With an Interesting (and Slightly Corny) Introduction
It just so happened to be Back to the Future Day. While I’ve never been a huge fan of the movies (calm down, super fans—I like them, just not as much as Harry Potter), I understood the importance of October 21, 2015.
In Back to The Future Part II, Marty McFly travels to this date. And at the time this movie premiered (1989, in case you were wondering), 2015 was over a quarter of a century away. And you better bet that, 26 years later, I used this coincidence to make my cover letter more captivating. After all, I was on a mission to make some hiring managers smile, folks!
In retrospect, I’m quite thankful these two events coincided. If it had just been another October 21st, I would have ended up with the generic and obvious opening line of “I am writing to express my interest in…” It also forced me to put my head down and send this cover letter in ASAP—because sending it on October 22nd would have been weird.
(Oh, and, I’m guessing that having a creative intro helped the hiring manager overlook my common “To Whom it May Concern” faux pas—oops.)
I Used Bullet Points Instead of Paragraphs
I had a lot I wanted to say, and I really didn’t think forcing it to fit into the usual format would flow well. At all. It just wasn’t going to work. So, I wrote it in a way that felt more comfortable to me.
I started with a few bullet points explaining why I wanted the position:
And followed with a few for why I would be a good fit:
Here’s the thing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a job application that says, “Please send in your resume and a cover letter in which you explain your entire background and why we should choose you in exactly four paragraphs with your signature at the end.” Have you?
Therefore, why can’t you write “outside of the box” instead? Try doing this in the way that comes most naturally to you—the way in which you write best. If it’s the standard format, great! If not, don’t be afraid to do something different. Whatever you decide, just make sure you do it well.
I Ended With a GIF
After I was done making my case, I added this:
GIF courtesy of Mylifeinverse.
One of the tasks The Muse listed for the Editorial Internship was “Trolling the interwebs for the best videos, infographics, stories, and memes to share with our audience.” Um, hello, that’s me, that’s me! Ask any one of my friends and they’ll tell you I have a special talent for finding the perfect memes and GIFs for any occasion. It’s a gift.
This specific responsibility, plus the request for a cover letter that made them smile, made me feel comfortable enough to add in a perfect send-off from Jennifer Garner. Because she summed it up better than I was going to—I’d had a dream of being a writer, and I turned my back on that dream because I didn’t believe in myself.
Do I think you should copy this exact format for every cover letter you write from this point forward? Absolutely not. Do I think you should absolutely, hands down, add a GIF into your cover letter? Only if it’s fitting.
The point is, we get stuck thinking there’s a certain way to do things, but at the end of the day, there really are no hard and fast rules to writing one of these. The only goal of this document is to prove why you’re a fit—no one ever specified that’s there’s only one way to do that. So I don’t want you to be afraid of taking a risk during your job search. If the company doesn’t appreciate it, well, maybe it’s not a good fit for you after all.
With that said, if you’re having zero success with your creative attempts, perhaps you are thinking too far outside the box. It’s important to be able to get a good feel for the company before breaking that mold. (And you can do that by following these steps.)
Just remember this: You’re unique—so don’t let the confines of the conventional cover letter cause you to blend into the crowd. This is your time to stand out. Make it happen.
Come Join Us at The Muse (Just Don’t Forget to Make Us Smile)
TopicsCareer Stories , Job Search , Writing , Syndication , Resumes & Cover Letters , Cover Letters
Abby is a writer, career coach, and health educator living in Portland, Maine. When she’s not trying to make the world a happier and healthier place, you can find her cuddling with her cats, hunting down the city's best coffee and grilled cheese, or dipping her toes in the Atlantic. Say hi on Twitter .More from this Author