Cover Letter Corner- Dan's Letter

Dan contacted me via Facebook and asked me to review his "unorthodox cover letter." He agreed to let me post it, as well as my feedback, here on Grab A Latte.

Hey <company>,

I will be a great fit for your blah blah blah position. Yes, this is seriously my cover letter that was not a typo. Rather than tell you why I will be a great <real title>, I wanted to share two stories with you that provide a small glimpse of who I am. I will let you decide if I will be a great fit at <company>.

Problem Solving: I packed my bags and moved to San Francisco on July 15, 2013. While crashing on a buddy’s couch I began hunting for my own room on Craigslist. After about a week of messaging potential roommates, I had nothing. No open houses. No calls. No email responses. This made me realize, I either suck as a person or my email introduction sucks. I decided my email introduction could use some work. To determine what it was missing I decided to put myself in the shoes of the people receiving these introductory emails. So I found one of the posts I emailed and I re-posted it. I literally copied the post word for word and used the same photo, and to ensure I got some responses I dropped the rent by $200. Sure enough I received 20 introductory emails within the first 30 minutes. I quickly took down the post and began reviewing the emails. I realized all of the emails were boring and sounded exactly the same. The emails where genuine and truthful, but there was little to distinguish one email from another. The one email that caught my eye was a guy who mentioned that he was a trained juggler and he inserted a link to one of his Youtube videos. I decided that I needed to spice up my wording and I also needed some kind of wow factor. My new introductory email had some more exciting wording, and it started with a picture of me wearing a tuxedo from when I was 4 years old. Booyah! The response emails began to roll in. After a few open houses, I found some awesome roommates, signed the lease and moved in August 1st.

Company Culture: My first job out of college was as an accounting specialist for a small city in southern California (Goleta). Like many offices there were people who really loved their jobs and were awesome at them. Then there were those who showed up a few minutes late and always cut out few minutes early. Needless to say the office culture was not that of a young passionate startup team. This of course did not stop me from doing small things to try to spice up the culture of our office. My most popular contribution to the office culture was “ Apple Time”. So for some reason I like to cut my apples up into slices before eating them. Each day at around 4pm I would walk from my desk to the kitchen to cut up my apple. People began to notice my apple eating habit and would ask me around 4pm “is it apple time yet?” So one day I decided to give people what they wanted and let everyone know when it was in fact “Apple Time”. Since I am an exceptional vocalist (lies) I decided the best way to get the word out was by singing the “Apple Time” song on my walk to the kitchen. The song consisted of me repeating “Apple Time” in my best opera singing voice (the song was based on “T-Shirt Time” from the Jersey Shore). Needless to say I got a chuckle or at least a smile from everyone who was lucky enough to hear my fruit serenade. At my farewell party my “Apple Time” song was mentioned as my most memorable contribution to the city and that it would be sorely missed.

Thank you,

Dan [last name]

Sure, Dan's submission inspires obvious cover letter advice:
- His tone is way too informal: "Hey Company", "Booyah", Jersey Shore references.
- His stories will be very polarizing (some will find him obnoxious).
- He nowhere addresses the qualifications of the position and how he would meet them--when you list no true professional experience, hiring managers will wonder if it's because you have none.
- No one should ever go the "I'm writing this thinking, you're reading this thinking" route.

But our friend Dan knows all of these things. He's not trying to write a standard cover letter, he's trying to get noticed, and he's decided to use the strategy that worked in the stories he included--standing out through humor. But I know Dan wants to write a successful letter, that's why he's taken the time to think outside the box.

So, Dan--standard or non-standard cover letter--here is what I think the major problem is: In an economy where hiring managers often look for Renaissance Men and Women, where employees are expected to be able to successfully interact with a myriad client base, you come off as one-dimensional.

Your whole letter reads "I connect to people through humor." That's it. One skill.

Your competitors will list education experience and professional qualifications--and no matter how boringly they do so--they will have listed several skills. And all you will have listed is the ability to innovate through being personable, and in a way that only some will find appealing.

Dan, here is my advice:

1. Drop the Appletime story. I forbid you to use it in your letter, in an interview, in any part of the hiring process. It does not show that you are a happy addition to any company, it shows that you don't have a firm handle on professional boundaries. Too many will cringe at the idea of someone who sings at the top of their lungs every work day when it's time for him to eat an apple (you see charming, we see attention-whore).

2. Write in a professional tone. Someone who is truly overwhelming charming manages to be so no matter the constraints of tone. Being memorable--while being professional--is way more impressive than being memorable through informality.

3. Include the must-haves: You must include your highest degree earned, how many years of professional experience you have and in what field, and how you meet the qualifications. Don't skimp on these pieces of information!

Now, believe it or not, sticking to the parameters above shouldn't handcuff you. To the contrary it actually frees you for some stylistic innovation, because you'll have the must-haves. What do I mean? I mean if your language and structure are appropriate, and you say what you must, you can stylistically vary your examples. For example, after a paragraph about formal qualifications, you could include a section like this:

"I see you are looking for an innovative thinker. While some are satisfied to try the same approach over and over and hope for different results, I figure out what needs to be changed and course correct. For example, when I had trouble finding a room to rent, I listed my own posting so I could compare my inquiry to the ones I received. I noticed that the letter I was most drawn to was the one with a distinguishing personal flare, so I added some personality to my future letters (a picture of myself in a tuxedo at the age of four) and suddenly many more people were interested in me as a potential roommate. As this story demonstrates, in my personal and professional life, I am open to research and innovation to achieve desired results."

Dan--Can you see how unlike the original paragraph, this one (which still tells the same story) connects back to qualifications and demonstrates how you would achieve results once you were hired? And once you have one memorable moment like this, there's no reason to overwhelm the rest of your letter with "personality."

I would like to thank Dan so very much for sharing his cover letter with me, and I hope he finds this advice useful! If you would like me to review your cover letter, send it to (see this post for more information).

Editor's Note: This post was published several years ago and I no longer check this email account nor provide this service.