Why yes, I will totally resort to flattery if that's what you would like, Mr. McAwesomesauce!
March 21, 2011 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Interviewers/HR people: what's the best cover letter you've ever read, the one that made you want to hire that person on the spot?

I have a job, I want a better job. I feel like there's only so many things you can really do to a resume, at a certain point your education/work history is what it is. So maybe the way to stand out is to have an awesome cover letter that makes the reader think you are the coolest, hardworkingest, most interested, most teachable, most pliable bootlicker in this massive stack of application packets.

What's the best route to getting away from "resume in narrative prose" to "we absolutely have to call this guy in and see if he's as awesome as he sounds in this letter"?
posted by T.D. Strange to Work & Money (24 answers total) 263 users marked this as a favorite
Having read a lot of resumes & done interviews, more than ever I generally ignore both resumes and cover letters. Holy shit people LIE LIKE CRAZY on those things.

Just say where you worked and went to school. Because that's all I care about.
posted by GuyZero at 12:12 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

This from craigslist is an old favorite I always see posted here...but lemme tell ya: A while ago I was applying for multiple jobs in my industry. I got SO TIRED of writing the same old letter, and I felt at that point I was just rehashing/moving around the same trite phrases...so I said "f--- this, I'm just gonna do exactly what this link says".

Not only did it feel a lot more refreshing to be so frank, it also landed me several interviews/tests. I say give it a shot!
posted by sprezzy at 12:15 PM on March 21, 2011 [54 favorites]

It doesn't have to be an awesome cover letter, just ahead of the pack. This takes surprisingly little effort, because most people put less-than-little effort into their cover letters. If you remember to address the e-mail with the proper subject line, avoid misspellings, and don't leave in bits and pieces of your cut-and-paste job that identify it as an obvious cut-and-paste job, your cover letter has done its work.
posted by xingcat at 12:28 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

According to the unemployment counselling service, t letter formats are the way to go these days. Here's an example -


Gets right to the chase and is pretty no hassle.
posted by Calzephyr at 12:33 PM on March 21, 2011 [11 favorites]

I once hired someone whose entire cover letter was this: I'm yer gal. 'Nuff said.

She had a good resume to back it up, and she ended up being fun to work with and very talented. This was for a creative industry; I don't think that this would fly in a more conservative setting.
posted by smich at 12:47 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was invited to interview for my current position because I was one of few applicants who wrote a coherent cover letter at all, and this is a writing position. I was the only candidate who sent a thank-you email after the interview.
posted by headnsouth at 12:50 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I work in research. I have read dozens of cover letters for assistant jobs. Maybe it's better to say that I have skimmed dozens of cover letters. Almost everyone seems to think that the point of a cover letter is to write a cover letter. The actual point of a cover letter is to make it easier to keep or reject you from consideration.

I find formulaic, overstuffed letters painful to read. Maybe others don't. An ideal cover letter is simple, honest, and straightforward:
  • Have you used the tools and software we use? Say when and how.
  • Do you have a specific interest in what we do? Explain why.
  • Are you a known quantity? Have you worked with our researchers or clients somewhere else? Mention that.
  • If you are only marginally qualified, give a detailed and convincing account of learning a relevant job-related skill from scratch.
This is perfectly sufficient. The job of a cover letter is to draw attention to what distinguishes you from other candidates. If the answer is "nothing," a cover letter will not help you. It has no inherent value. If it's full of stock phrases you took from job-search advice books, it only makes you blend in with the rest.
posted by Nomyte at 12:50 PM on March 21, 2011 [10 favorites]

When I was a hiring manager, the more the cover letter looked like it had been worked on, the less qualified the candidate was.

Qualified candidates usually didn't include one (or an objective on the resume, and certainly not a mission statement, the truly tragic resumes often included both of these empty, useless things).

Our HR department must have felt similarly since the cover letters were always moved to the back (possibly automatically, don't know).
posted by rr at 12:58 PM on March 21, 2011

I think it really depends on the job/industry.

I'm in a research-related field, and have recently been tasked with reviewing 200+ resumes for an assistant position. My initial review criteria: 1) did they properly name the organization, and 2) is it clear that they read the job description.

You'd be surprised how many people didn't do these two things.

My tip is to make sure that your cover letter can be easily skimmed and that you clearly highlight how your skills match the job description.
posted by statsgirl at 1:01 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, I'm in corporate communications and I wouldn't consider a resume without a cover letter. I'm looking for a glimmer of the person, a confidence level, a facility with format and grammar and punctuation, and some sense that they actually get what the company's about and what they are applying for. Distinguish yourself by showing yourself, in a professional manner. And don't add a photo!
posted by thinkpiece at 1:40 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I receive hundreds of resumes and cover letters every day. I never read cover letters. I just don't have the time. (I used to feel really guilty about it, but 6 years later? Meh...)

Just be sure that your resume is formatted well and isn't annoying. Feel free to me-mail me if you'd like me to send you the template we use.
posted by ohyouknow at 2:21 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

This varies widely depending on your field. All the HR people on here who say they don't read cover letters: it would be very helpful to let the OP know what field you're hiring in.

OP, many fields truly do not care, but I don't know what field you're in so there's no way to know what you need. In my hiring experience, we've looked through cover letters to weed out people who can't convey themselves well in writing, and then after eliminating those (easily 75% of cover letters), go back and check out the resumes that are left. Good cover letters do go to the top of the pile.

There's a recent cover letter question on here that might help you.

My own advice, coming from the nonprofit sector, is that cover letters aren't about you. They're about the employer, and how you fulfill their needs. Conveying that you are the "coolest, hardworkingest, most interested, most teachable, most pliable bootlicker" is only appropriate and useful in a cover letter if:

a) They actually ask for those things, and,
b) You can cite an example or measurable case of how you are those things.
posted by juniperesque at 2:32 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I write software, and routinely have to read resumes and interview candidates. It's worth noting that no matter what an HR person thinks of your cover letter, it won't get you the job. HR isn't going to decide to hire you or not unless you're going to work in HR. It might get your resume to my inbox if the resume is very strong *or* the HR person doesn't have a good understanding of the candidates being searched for, but that's all. Obviously only the former will actually help you get the job.
posted by atbash at 2:37 PM on March 21, 2011

No one really cares about your cover letter except in rare circumstances (your last job had you the CEO of a corporation and now your applying for a PT receptionist position, you need to tell me why) BUT the best one I ever read was basically a simple table. It had a generic opening and closing paragraph that mentioned the position and the company by name and the middle was a two column table. Column One: Word for Word requirements from our job description. Column Two: Very simple (read: less than one sentence) about how he met those requirements. This met exactly my needs in a cover letter. I know he read the description thoroughly and I know he met my requirements.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:02 PM on March 21, 2011 [9 favorites]

Sometime pro hiring guy here chiming in with a message much like those above. That is: no, I don't care about your cover letter. Not even one tiny bit.

Your resume, the cover letter, the envelope it comes in... that's all just to get you considered for an interview.

I can't imagine hiring someone based solely the world's best resume, let alone a cover letter. That'd be like judging them by the stamp on the envelope.
posted by rokusan at 5:56 PM on March 21, 2011

Oh, and if you really want to improve things, forget the cover letter.

Improve your references.
posted by rokusan at 5:57 PM on March 21, 2011

I'm copying my comment from this thread:

What I often notice is that candidates often generically assert how awesome they are--which is nice, but in some ways actually irrelevant to a hiring manager. What I want to know are: 1) Are you going to provide value for me (e.g., this is company-centric, not you-centric) and 2) Is your specific brand of awesome-ness relevant to the position for which I'm hiring. (For example, I "hired" the rather unusual position of urbanist-littérateur blogger and turned down professors, doctors, and laywers because they were worse fits than, say, recent undergraduates.) I, like most people, ignore cover letters and focus on resumes, because resumes give me actual data on your value and most people write bland cover letters. A good cover letter shouldn't just re-package the CV verbally. It should articulate your value to me in a convincing enough way that I see you as not just another qualified candidate, but as someone who will be enough of an asset that I'll turn down other similarly qualified people and throw a big expense line on my budget your way. They'll get a lot of resumes from people with perfect GPAs from Ivy League schools, so your cover letter needs to explain what unique fit and enthusiasm you offer for this position.

This specifically means you should focus on why you're a good match--which is a little tricky since an editorial assistant isn't a very specialized job. I would add a few sentences at the beginning and end of the letter indicating some knowledge about the company and how working there fits in with your long term plans. More generally with cover letters, I would reframe the letter so it's obviously responsive to the job advertisement--you can list your job experience in response to the qualities they want.
posted by johnasdf at 6:48 PM on March 21, 2011

I tended to hire people who wrote cover letters that made them sound like people. I didn't like cover letters written by automatons.
posted by oreofuchi at 8:19 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to recruit regularly, I now do it occasionally. I have seen plenty of applicants who were perfect on paper, but terrible in person and I thus never allow myself to become excited about a candidate until after the interview.

For me, the written application is a means to reject and the interview is a means to accept. I use applications to weed out those who lack the the minimum skills and experience and interviews to select the best of those remaining. When there is a surplus of applications, I'm pretty ruthless and don't give borderline cases the benefit of the doubt. Interviewing is very time-consuming and so my goal when shortlisting is to ensure the best candidates get through, while not wasting my time interviewing anyone else.

So don't expect to get a job with your cover letter. I skim through them and focus on the concrete facts. Even then, when it comes to interview, I try to forget my preconceptions and draw the best out of the candidate. Most candidates spend too much time on the written part and under-prepare the interview, so stop polishing your cover letter and spend a couple of days working on interview skills.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:09 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll admit I used the formula on Sprezzy's link which has resulted in job interviews and so far I have gotten all of them.
posted by like_neon at 5:41 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I went for unemployment counselling today and worked on a cover letter with the counsellor. The job I have in mind doesn't fit the straight t letter format they suggest, so I decided to open and close with some conversational text and use six bullet points for the body. The bullet points are a good udea becauae people are lazy readers.

It really depends on the industry, and I have to work on it more. The counsellor said I had to find a way to let my personality shine through. Having said all that, good luck!! There are better jobs out there :)
posted by Calzephyr at 4:14 PM on March 22, 2011

Academia here:

Does it answer the needs of the position? No? Bin entire application.
Is it full of typos or bizarre sentence constructions? Yes? Bin entire application.
Is it generic,clearly pasted from dozens of other applications to other jobs? Yes? Bin entire application.

Is it focused, concise, describes the persons experience BRIEFLY, and addresses the skills we are looking for? Yes? Put in pile for further examination.

That simple. Doesn't need to be fancy. Must refer to your actual skills and qualifications using real examples of what YOU'VE *DONE* not buzzword bingo laden crap generated from airport novels like "who stole my cheese 7 - management skills of ninja assasins".

If you lie and say you have experience you don't, you'd better be damn good at lying, because if I catch you in a demonstrable lie before hiring, I will do everything in my power to make sure my organization doesn't hire you. Ever.
- Also, people talk; good luck getting past final round of job interviews with my friends and their friends at nearby institutions.
posted by lalochezia at 5:24 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

the best one I ever read was basically a simple table. It had a generic opening and closing paragraph that mentioned the position and the company by name and the middle was a two column table. Column One: Word for Word requirements from our job description. Column Two: Very simple (read: less than one sentence) about how he met those requirements.

I did once see a resume with a "keywords required by your recruiters" section.
posted by atbash at 6:14 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

The cover letter and resume need to be *short*; the easier it is for HR to read, the more likely they are to do so. Unless you have 10+ years of experience, pushing the resume past a page is silly. Unless you have a PhD, pushing the resume past two pages is silly.

On the cover letter, do not have more than a sentence or two of cheesy boilerplate.

State their name, your name, the job you're applying for. Point out the most relevant experience you have to the job you're applying for. If you've used the tools they're asking about, mention it. If you know someone who works for them and would recommend you, mention them.
posted by talldean at 8:11 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

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