You can imagine the avalanche of job applications today’s recruiters and HR managers get every day in this down economy. With hundreds of thousands of newly minted college grads eager to enter the workforce, the name of the game is, how do I separate myself from the pack? What can I say in my cover letter that will keep the reader from turning it into a paper airplane? In other words, how creative can I get?
First off, it begs to be said that your resume should be relatively standard. Recruiters and HR managers pretty much expect that. No colored paper, no tiny gifts taped to the resume. Just your standard resume (there are plenty of sites that show you how to prepare these).
What today’s young people always ask is, how can I make my cover letter stand out above the rest? Depends--on the job, the company and the person you’re sending it to.
If you’re applying to a bank or financial institution, you’ll want to keep things pretty formal. If, on the other hand, you’re applying for a position in the bank’s in-house PR or ad agency, you can get a little creative. The same holds true for most jobs in advertising, entertainment or the arts.
In this case, you’ll want to visit the company’s website and check out their ads and promotional materials. If you can, see what the HR manager or ad manager looks like. How are they dressed? Are they young or old? Younger managers tend to be more receptive to “creative” letters. You might also read about them in a company newsletter or on LinkedIn—to see how they present themselves. What are their posts like? Funny or strait-laced? These will give you clues as to how far you can go creatively with your cover letter.
When writing the creative cover letter, use the standard, single-page three- or four-paragraph format. Don’t get creative with a letter that’s too short or too long. And stay away from all caps, underlines, italics, colored type and other faux attention grabbers. They’re unbearably cliched.
Try to limit the wit and humor to your opening and closing sentences. Reserve the middle paragraphs for selling yourself in a fairly straightforward way—education, skills and accomplishments. Remember too, to avoid too much self aggrandizing in the witty parts of your letter. This is a trap many fall into when they respond to an ad that asks, “What makes you so perfect for the job?” Too much self-deprecation can be counterproductive as well. And by all means, stay away from religion, race and politics. These are the landmines that can instantly “blow up” your application.
One final suggestion: Read your cover letter out loud, then to a trusted colleague. Their reaction may surprise you.