You’ve heard it over and over—a creative cover letter and resume can go a long way. Hiring managers go through stacks of applications daily and they’re more likely to notice a well-designed resume or remember a witty cover letter. Right? Sometimes, yes. And sometimes it can work against you.
In my experience, a creative cover letter got me in the door a few times but I’ve also been ignored even after I went all out. I’ve also sat in interviews with people who barely even scanned my resume, let alone read my enthusiastic cover letter.
So, it’s a toss-up. However, I have advice on how you can make the right call on what to do for the next job you apply for.
One size does not fit all
Here’s yet another reminder that you shouldn’t use one resume or cover letter for every application. Are you sick of hearing about it? Well, I’m sick of saying it but people still ignore this advice regularly.
Let’s break down why this is so important. Job A requires social media experience, while Job B requires event coordination skills. While you may be tempted to include everything you’ve ever done in your life on your resume, you’re way better off tailoring your resume to the requirements of the job you’re seeking. Your application for Job A should make you look like a social media expert first and everything else is extremely secondary.
Next, how creative should you get? Well, a funky job application may be admired by a boutique ad agency that has won awards for its viral campaigns. But that same application could be tossed in the trash by a global marketing firm that is looking for an employee who will put their head down and do their work. They’re not going to be impressed that you spent two hours designing your resume on Canva. (No shade to Canva. I love Canva.)
Researching the company will help you decide what to do with your application. Check out their website and social media to get a sense of their brand voice and visual preferences. Minimalism seems to be all the rage these days, but some companies take a bolder approach to their look.
Every organization has its own personality and they’re looking for someone who is going to fit in. Tailor your application to suit the vibe they’re putting out. If your application is branded to look like it came from a company’s marketing department, they will appreciate your effort and attention to detail.
Read the room before making a dad joke
It’s always a bit of a risk to throw a joke into a cover letter or be flippant at all. But if you’re sick of writing the same clichéd phrases and feel you need to do something different, there’s a way to minimize the risk.
Pay close attention to the language used in a job ad and replicate that same feeling in your cover letter. If the job description mentions a ping pong table in the office, make a joke about being a ping pong champion… once you can find the ball your cat stole. This will show the employer that you paid attention to their job listing and have a sense of humour. Some job ads even mention looking for someone who has a sense of humour so take the hint!
Maybe funny one-liners aren’t your expertise. Find other ways to let your personality, and passion for the job, shine. If you’re applying to work at a publishing house, end the cover letter with a mention of the last great book you read. That’s one simple sentence that won’t throw off the vibe of the rest of your letter but does show why you’re the right fit for the job.
You’re a human being, so sound like one
A cover letter doesn’t have to be designed like a great piece of modern art. It can be completely devoid of colour, but the words need to make an impact. A hiring manager is well-tuned to snuff out bullshit. They can tell when your cover letter is the same one you’ve used with 50 other companies, and they won’t appreciate that.
Here are some ways to prove you have a genuine interest in the organization:
- Refer to programs, products or events that the organization has produced that you admire
- Talk about what you think makes the organization stand out in its industry
- Reference a book, speech or social media post you’ve seen from an employee at the organization
And here are ways to prove to them that you belong at the organization:
- Mention a personal story that connects you to the organization
- Talk about what you want to accomplish if you got the job
- Explain why your personal values align with the organization’s values
If I could leave you with any lasting message, it’s that you need to put real time and effort into understanding the organization you are applying to. Most job openings, even at small companies, will get over a hundred applications.
The majority of people applying are not spending more than ten minutes on their cover letters. They’re copying and pasting—and applying. So, it’s actually not that hard to stand out. Just show that you have an actual personality and you want to work for this organization for a reason.