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Advice / Job Search / Cover Letters

The Right (and Wrong) Way to Include Personality in Your Cover Letter

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Writing a cover letter that shows off your personality might feel like a high-risk-high-reward strategy. That’s because, if you stick with outdated advice and lean on classic go-to lines, you won’t have to worry about saying anything that’ll make you look bad.

But, if we’re being honest, playing it safe isn’t going to help you reach your goals, either. You want the hiring manager to call you in for an interview. And if your application’s forgettable, that’s probably not going to happen.

So, when you think about it that way, it’s actually a lot riskier to take the exact same approach as everyone else.

With that in mind, you’ve got to add some personality. And you know that, to you, it’s going to read a little strange to you no matter what (just because it’s different). So, if you’re feeling uncertain whether or not it’s working, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Am I Being Rude?

Clearly, you’d never talk down to the hiring manager on purpose. But sometimes, in an effort to lighten the tone, applicants end up doing that by accident.

One of the reasons, “I hate writing cover letters and you hate reading them…” doesn’t land is that you’re making an assumption.

Maybe the hiring manager does like reviewing materials. Maybe he’s in HR because he’s passionate about connecting the right people with a company he believes in. I’ve personally read hundreds of cover letters and I’ve enjoyed those with powerful stories, with an anecdote that made me feel like I knew the candidate better, and with accomplishments that made me think: This person could be exactly who we’re looking for!

You don’t want to kick things off by minimizing what the other person does. So, skip any lines that combine “you and I both know…” and then putting down the whole process.

2. Am I Sharing the Right Stuff?

Another reason those kinds of lines don’t work is that they’re not actually injecting any personality. If you were meeting someone new and describing yourself, I doubt you’d fold in, “Also, you should know I hate writing cover letters.”

Whatever you share should say something about who you are—something you actually would share with a new contact.

The good news is: This means you can cut anything that makes it sound more personable, but that you’d never actually say.

As far as what to add in its place, ask...

3. Am I Still Highlighting My Skills?

There’s no reason that sections with personality should distract from the rest (where you actually sell your abilities). These lines should add to the story you tell—and make it even stronger. Realizing this can be a game-changer.

So, let’s say you have two activities that jump to mind: cooking and binge-watching Netflix.

Consider including the one that speaks to whatever skills are most relevant for the job. In other words: What’s your approach to cooking? Do you meticulously measure every single ingredient, which underscores your obsession with organization and strict processes? Or do you just wing it, which speaks to your creativity? Either way, a line that says I’m so obsessive about organization [or, experimentation] that it carries over to my #1 hobby…makes a compelling, memorable point.

Or, it could be your Netflix obsession is worth mentioning (seriously!). Say, if you’re applying for a social media role, and you participate in tons of hashtag chats, mentioning how it grew your follower base could be a great way to show that you “get” Twitter.

The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make with this approach is taking it too far. It’s one thing to add personality to your cover letter, and another to skip spell check or not even mention how you’d be a fit for the open role.

So, even if your examples get a little unconventional, follow all of the other cover letter rules—like tailoring it to the position and using proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. (Here’s a great guide to proofreading it yourself.) Close attention to these details will show you that you still care enough to submit something polished, and that’s the very best way to stand out.

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