How to Show Your Personality in a Cover Letter

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Hiring managers read dozens, if not hundreds, of applications for every job they post. If you want to get the job, you have to stand out. It’s important to show the hiring manager not only that you are qualified, but also that you are the best candidate for the position.

What should you say in your cover letter to help it get noticed? One way is to write a unique, engaging cover letter that shows not only your qualifications, but also your personality. Go beyond some of the clichéd, formulaic language found in many letters. If you make your personality stand out in your letter, the hiring manager will more likely give your application a second look.

Of course, there is also such a thing as putting too much personality in your letter. You want to remain professional, and focus on what makes you an ideal candidate. Find the right balance between showing your personality and being professional in your cover letter, and you will be on your way to a job interview.

Tips for Showing Your Personality in a Cover Letter

Write a unique cover letter. The best way to show who you are to the company is to avoid writing one generic cover letter for every job listing. Instead, tailor your letter to the specific job and company.

You can write a targeted cover letter in a number of ways. Include keywords from the job listing in your letter. You can also reference the company itself–for example, mention a particular success the company has had, or explain why you are interested in working for the company.

Perhaps most importantly, send your letter to a specific person, if possible. If you have to, do some digging to find the name of the hiring manager, and address your letter to him or her. Avoid the phrase “To whom it may concern” – this shows a hiring manager that you have not taken the time to write a unique cover letter for the specific job.

Avoid clichés. One of the best ways to avoid sounding like everyone else in your cover letter is to leave out some of the most overused phrases in cover letters. For example, don’t say you are a “hard worker” or that you “go above and beyond.” Try to find unique ways to explain who you are. One way to do this is to focus on particular examples – show them who you are, rather than tell them.

Try a creative first sentence. So many cover letters start with the sentence, “I am applying for X position.” While this is a fine way to start, the hiring manager has likely seen this sentence hundreds of times. Try starting with a more engaging first sentence (or first sentences) that shows who you are.

You might express why you are passionate about the job or the company. For example, you could start, “I have always been a storyteller. As a child, I would write countless stories about princes and princesses. Now, I have turned my passion for storytelling into a career in marketing.” Or, “When I first researched your company for a project in a business class over five years ago, I became inspired by your mission to provide low-cost tech solutions.” A great “hook” will keep the hiring manager reading, and will show him or her a bit about why you are a good fit for the job and company.

Make a connection. If you know anyone at the company, or if someone at the company referred you to the job, mention this early on in your cover letter (ideally in the first couple of sentences). This humanizes you, and makes you seem more like you are already a part of the company culture. It also shows that someone in the company already thinks you are qualified for the job.

Think of unique examples. Remember that a cover letter should not simply restate your resume. While your resume lists your qualifications, your cover letter goes deeper, providing examples of times you demonstrated particular skills and abilities necessary for the job.

One way to show your personality is to include some unique, even surprising, examples that demonstrate your skills. For example, if you are applying for a job that requires organizational skills, you might mention how you accurately manage and process dozens of monthly shipments from your Etsy account. These kinds of examples are particularly useful if you do not have much relevant work experience.

Of course, only include examples that are relevant – they need to connect back to a skill or trait necessary for the job.

Show you’ll fit in with the company culture. Hiring managers want to know not only that you are qualified, but also that you will fit in with the company culture. Before writing your letter, research the organization. Check out the company’s website, and talk to anyone you know who works there. Then you can mention ways that you might fit into the culture.

For example, if you know they do a lot of after-work team sports, you might briefly mention at the end of the letter that you would love to put your pitching skills to good use.

Some job listings also give you a peek into the company culture. For example, if the listing itself is very silly or funny, feel free to add a little humor to your letter, if that feels natural.

Tailor your tone to fit the industry. Similarly, you can tailor your letter to fit the personality of the industry. If you are applying for a corporate job, for example, you might want to write a more traditional cover letter. You can still include some personal examples, and maybe a catchy first sentence, but you should avoid too much humor or zaniness.

If you are applying for a job in an industry that is a bit more informal – say, a tech startup company – you can get a little bit more creative. Your tone can be more lighthearted, and you can include some creative examples.

If you’re applying for a job in a visual, creative field, consider showing your personality through the form of your letter. You might include bullet points, or even a visual (such as an infographic). You can include some of these nontraditional elements in your resume too.

Keep it professional. No matter how much of your personality you decide to put into your cover letter, keep the letter professional. It needs to be well written and error free. It also needs to stay focused on the main topic: why you are a terrific fit for the job.

Don’t go negative. Some people try to add personality by using phrases like “I know you hate reading cover letters, but…” or “I know I am one of many candidates, but…” Avoid any phrases that sound negative. Also avoid phrases that imply you know how the hiring manager feels. You don’t actually know whether he or she hates reading cover letters, and you don’t know how many candidates applied for the job. Focus on the positive, and don’t make assumptions about the hiring manager, the job, or the company.

Review a Sample Letter

Sara Jones
7 Chestnut Street
Anytown, Anystate Zip Code
555-555-5555
email@email.com

January 5, 20__

John Wilson
Editorial Director
XYZ Magazine
5 Main Street, Suite 1
Anytown, Anystate Zip Code

Dear Mr. Wilson,

I’m writing this cover letter to you at 11 pm. Why? Because I just finished speaking with my former coworker, Jane Smith, who tells me that you’re hiring for the position of editorial assistant, and I wanted to apply immediately.

Jane will tell you that I’ve been eager to apply for a role at XYZ Magazine since we worked together, first at our student magazine, where I was managing editor and she was editor in chief, and then at ABCmag.com as assistants. I’ve always valued XYZ’s showcase for diverse and emerging voices, as well as its commitment to fact-checking and copyediting.

In fact, my desire to work for your magazine informed my studies at Large Public University. I took several copyediting and multimedia graphic design courses in my last year and have continued taking classes after graduation.

In addition to my background in multimedia design and copyediting – and my passion for XYZ – I have:

  • Three years of experience brainstorming, pitching, and assigning stories
  • Excellent research and reporting skills
  • Extensive experience analyzing traffic trends with Google Analytics
  • Expert-level social media management skills
  • An intense love affair with the Oxford Comma (which I know you share)

I’ve also had a few bylines on XYZ over the years:

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I’d love to speak with you about the role. Please feel free to contact me at 555-555-5555 or email@email.com to discuss it or to arrange an interview.

Thanks, and best regards,

Sara Jones [signature for hard copy]

Sara Jones