Another Viewpoint on the Cover Letter

Nancy Anderson
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Cover letter writing seems like a lost art thanks to applicant tracking systems and automated data-gathering programs. Despite technological advances that help narrow a field of candidates, hiring managers still face enormous pressure to hire the right talent. The perfect person for the job usually comes out with a candidate's personality in an interview rather than a dozen sentences on a piece of paper.

A resume simply doesn't let your personality shine when a computer program crunches it down into tiny, digestible bits called keywords. The applicant tracker then ranks you, and if you appear on the company's radar at that point, you get a phone call. Keywords and automation may doom a cover letter before you even write it because the focus is on a resume. That means you have to try a different tactic to get HR to notice you, such as a perfect LinkedIn profile, a personal branding website or a dynamite YouTube video.

Instead of sending traditional correspondence that may seem like you stand out from the crowd, go for something different. Instead of talking about you and your perfect fit, think about these reasons to stop writing these letters to the hiring manager.

Much like a resume, your cover letter likely has keywords from the job description you found online. By the time a hiring manager sees your email — usually several weeks after the person wrote the job description — he may care more about your personality rather than the nuts and bolts of your experience and hard skills.

HR managers may not have time to read anything extra during a busy hiring process. Your cover letter could be the first thing to hit the trash bin shortly after arriving in HR's virtual inbox. A hiring manager may simply download your resume and completely skip your correspondence.

Similarly, someone hiring you may not care about your personal story as to why you want the position. HR already knows the point of a cover letter is to say, "Hi there, I want the job." Luckily, you have an alternative.

A pain letter serves as a way to catch the attention of HR by offering a solution to a problem before you even get to tout your strengths and weaknesses. This shows off your problem solving skills in a relevant way by speaking to an issue HR cares about, which is the success of the company.

Research a recent problem the employer had by perusing the company's website, stock prices, press releases or news reports. Perform an industry analysis as well. Offer a solution within the scope of the pain letter by empathizing with the HR manager and saying you can help the company move forward from the pain it recently experienced.

The magic of this technique occurs when the person responsible for hiring you recognizes you have a solution to a dilemma. Suddenly, the company may realize you are the best person for the position because you already have a grasp of your job without formally slipping into the role.

A traditional cover letter may get lost in the all of the other pleas for employment from dozens of other candidates. Instead of touting your success from the get-go, talk about how you make the employer successful by hiring you.

Photo courtesy of Project IDEA at


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Nancy thanks for your comment! Yours is the best attitude I have seen in a long time! Yes - go for it. Have some fun. Life is short. People are SO afraid of the cover letter but hopefully your wacky ideas will help someone else realize that sometimes it's best to let your true personality shine through all of the facts and figures.

  • Nancy Lyman
    Nancy Lyman

    I agree that the cover letter can be invested with more power than simple skill or life summary. Over a two-year job search, the only calls I've received are when I've taken chances with the letter to get noticed. Alluding to the ad, I started one letter by referring to "ironing my space suit"; in another, I asked if they needed writing in "less crunchy disciplines than math"; and in still another I presented three ideas for marketing campaigns. At nearly 60, I have nothing to lose and at least I've amused myself. And I've decided to get wackier in the future.

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