Writing a Cover Letter that Stands Out

I guess the trick is to put yourself into the shoes of someone who receives hundreds of cover letters every day. Ask yourself: if I was in that position, what would inspire me? What would catch my attention? Some tips and ideas:

Creative Ideas

I once created a crossword-style cover letter when I speculatively applied for a creative job in a small organisation. Even though they did not have a job at the time, I had a reply from them within a couple of minutes. Unfortunately, they were not able to offer me a job, but I was quite surprised when two years later they got back to me and asked if I wanted to come over for an interview.

Another example: Instead of sending a CV, I took some time and built a little website (on WordPress – it’s free) to apply for a job in a creative company. In my cover letter, I simply referred the HR Manager to the website. Again, although it was a speculative application, I got a response within minutes. Have a look whether you like the idea: http://nicoleatwhatif.wordpress.com/

You could also draw a mind map on a flip chart and take a picture of it? Be creative! (CAVEAT: Think about whether a creative cover letter is appropriate for the job/ the role/ the organisation you are applying to. I once read a story about an HR manager who received a nude picture of the applicant with a box of chocolates. Her comment: “That got my attention, but needless to say, we never invited the person to an interview – they were not suitable!”)

Customize Your Cover Letter

Definitely customize your cover letter to the job you are applying for. Ensure the key words used in the job ad are repeated in your cover letter. Also, if you really want the job, it’s worth calling the company and asking who to address the letter to. Again, put yourself in their shoes: reading “Dear Mr. Wigglesworth” is probably so much nicer than reading “Dear Sir or Madam” for the 100th time.

Show That You Are Passionate

Include a very short personal statement that shows that you are passionate about the job. For example: “In my opinion, being a trainer is the best job in the world. I love sparking that “Aha!” moment in my learners!”

Show What You Can Contribute

Instead of saying what YOU would like to get out of the job, let the potential employer know what you can BRING to the job. For example:” I believe your team can benefit from my [then list three things you are good at that will be of interest to the employer]”

Some More Tips

Don’t start each and every sentence with “I“. It sounds boring. Here are some phrases that you could use to not start your sentences with I: “In my opinion…”, “Working for… has given me excellent insights into…”, “Furthermore…”, “The key question, I like to ask is…”

Add something positive and unique about yourself. And never, never, never use the words “not” and “but”. Always talk about what you CAN do. If you are struggling with what you can do, then get a copy of Richard N. Bolles’ book “What color is your parachute?”. I bet it’s available at your local library. It’s an excellent resource and contains lots of exercises that will help you identify your transferable skills.

Find more ideas for customizing your CV and cover letter in the article “Customize your CV and Cover Letter”.

And finally, here is a link that takes you to many many examples of cover letters (hmmm… they can be a basis for your cover letter and they’ll need to be edited a bit to really make you stand out!


If you are looking for a job at the moment, there is more Free Advice for Jobseekers.

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