The cover letter can be more important than the résumé, especially when applying for a job that involves writing, such as PR, marketing, or journalism.
A résumé lists a person’s accomplishments; it gives the facts. The cover letter shapes those accomplishments into a narrative; it tells a story.
Yet cover letters are so often dull. As Max Fisher put it in The Atlantic Wire
: “Most people try to be as polite and flattering as possible when writing a prospective employer to ask for a job. It's really the only medium where being obsequious is seen as a virtue.”
The authors of the following cover letters were anything but obsequious. They were emotive, compelling, offensive, and innovative. Not all of them are imitable, but they do offer inspiration—or a cautionary tale.
1. Good grammar be damned—this guy is stronger than a bear.
A South Korean job candidate’s cover letter—which went viral after appearing on Reddit last month—was hailed for its passion and bravado. The language was terrible. “Please feel me,” the non-native English speaker writes at one point.
The language didn’t matter, because this dude is stronger than a bear, faster than a train, and has experience working in a factory, a hotel, a farm, and a restaurant. Here’s an excerpt from his cover letter:
“I have brave fight to wild bear.
“I have strong arm to lift wild bear.
“I am so fast more than train.”
All that and he’s willing to work for free. “I can work without pay right now!” he insists. Look out, bears.
Read the whole letter at BuzzFeed
2. Cut the “crapp”—on second thought, keep it.
Another recent viral star is a kid “from [an] average university” in search of a summer internship in the investment banking world. His blunt cover letter had “tons of people” trying to hire him, according to Business Insider
Here’s a taste
“I won’t waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of crapp [sic] about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking internship. The truth is I have no unbelievably specials skills or genius eccentricities, but I do have a near perfect GPA and will work hard for you …”
Apparently, misspelling “crap” will get take your résumé more places than a cover letter riddled with buzzwords.
3. The best cover letter that didn’t work.
If you’re looking for inspiration, you couldn’t go wrong mimicking a cover letter from one of the 20th century’s most iconic journalists—unless that scribbler is Hunter S. Thompson, in which case, mimic with caution.
In 1958, a young Thompson in search of a newspaper gig mailed a punchy, entertaining, and ridiculously frank letter to Jack Scott at the Vancouver Sun
. It begins:
“I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on the Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I'd also like to offer my services.”
That’s a helluva lead.
While discussing his previous employer, Thompson writes:
“He'd tell you that I'm ‘not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.’ (That's a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)
“Nothing beats having good references.”
He indicts the journalism profession:
“It's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity.”
And Thompson makes this strong appeal at the end:
“I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don't give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.
“I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
“It's a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I'd enjoy the trip.
“If you think you can use me, drop me a line.
“If not, good luck anyway.”
He didn’t get the job.
Read the entire letter at Boing Boing
, or buy the book in which it’s printed
4. The C-word cover letter.
Is the author of this cover letter the same person who wrote The Onion’s infamous C-word tweet
? Last year, someone at a Houston-based creative agency forwarded a jaw-dropping cover letter
, in which the person—who was applying for a PR internship—writes (and the asterisks are mine):
“Please feel free to f*cking contact me … And if you dont im gonna be f*cking pissed!! So come on stop bullsh*tting and call me ;) Thanks, C*nt.”
So, this would be an example of what not to do.
5. Video killed the cover letter star
The final cover letter doesn’t fit the bill in the traditional sense. It’s a YouTube video, in which the jobseeker, PR practitioner Graeme Anthony, introduces himself before urging viewers to click one of several links embedded in the video that serve as his résumé.
It’s a clever idea that’s drawn hundreds of thousands of views. His British accent might have something to do with the charm. Either way, the video cover letter landed Anthony a job. Bully for him. Here’s the video: