Should I gamble using a less formal cover letter?

I have received an email about a job opportunity at an employer that I would be happy to work for. Excellent pay and benefits and I have experience in the field. I am definitely applying for this job.

However, I’m thinking about those people who have to read the resumes and cover letters. Their eyes must glaze over almost immediately parsing this cold, bureaucratic language of the formal cover letter. I speak this language fluently but I am curious if a different approach might work.

My thought is that a cover letter that is less formal and a bit more entertaining might be something an HR person would tell you never to do but would also make an HR person’s day after reading the 90th version of “my skills and abilities would make me an ideal candidate for this position.” However, this seems risky. I wouldn’t want them to take my application as a joke but I would want to stand out somehow.

The position would be as a scheduler for the local health authority. Now I have worked for ten years at an answering service, which meant juggling 900 different companies simultaneously. It is difficult to sum that experience up in a resume because most people cannot imagine what it is like to work in an environment like that. Also, this city is home to a very large call center that does billing support for a major telephone company. There are thousands of people locally who can put phone experience on their resume. However, my experience is much different from theirs. I want a cover letter that stands out but I am not sure if a little less formality would be worth gambling on.

The trick, if you’re a good enough writer, is to make the letter entertaining and noteworthy while still adhering to the “cold, bureaucratic language of the formal cover letter.” If you can pull that off, it’s worth doing.

Smooth the language out a bit and say what you just told us. It sounds like you’re hitting the highlights of what they would consider most important and unique about you.

As someone who has been on the hiring side for decades, I would caution against being too informal or wild. Your hiring manager might well be different, but I tend to dismiss anyone who doesn’t play by the rules in the first round. (Typos in the cover letter, bright Aqua ink, self portrait in a tube top for a business role, or sounding like a TV infomercial.) The submission is just as much a test as the rest of the hiring process.

You’re not trying to catch the attention of someone who’s distracted, or bored, or only reading the letter to while away a bus journey. Assume they’re going to read your letter actively looking for the qualities and characteristics that they are seeking in a candidate. “Entertaining” is probably not one of those chacteristics, though “concise”, “clear”, “well-written” and even “elegant” may be.

I agree. The dirty secret is that cover letters are often discarded before hiring managers even see them. HR doesn’t hire people, hiring managers do and there is a lot more to being hired than writing a clever cover letter or even having a fancy resume. That said, a well put together but clever cover letter probably won’t hurt. I hire people myself and it is usually a good thing to have someone that disregards the cookbook style and displays some creativity and initiative. That won’t get you hired by itself but it can get you an interview which is a completely different category where resumes and cover letters are irrelevant.

An even more effective strategy is to find out who the hiring managers are in the places you want to work, contact them directly and tell them you are interested in working with them. If you are really bold, you can even ask for an interview even with no current job postings. The success rate for that is low but still much higher than just blasting out resumes to random HR people. I have a close coworker that was denied a simple interview three times until I told his bosses I needed somebody to start the same week and I was getting tired of waiting. He was the only one available that they knew of just because he was extremely persistent and it turns out that he was the ideal person for the job all along.

That’s what I was thinking. Don’t get me wrong, if this is for some corporate job that opened up and 75 linkedin followers are sending in resumes on the same day, yeah, you should probably do it properly. But if it’s for a smaller gig, just call them, tell them you’re interested and want to come in and talk about the job. Maybe, if you can, mention over the phone that you have ‘a lot of experience in the area’.

However, and it should be noted that my store is mostly made up of ‘minimum wage employees’ so to speak, it’s not always good to oversell yourself. In fact, we often times don’t even look at people that give us an formal resume. Great, you have a grad degree, you’re going back for more school in fall, you’re last three jobs paid $40,000+ and you’re willing to start at $8/hr? Not buying it, I’ll take the 16 year old that I can probably count on for a solid three years and summers during college.

If this is a small thing, not many people applying, I’d say just see if you can go in and talk to them. Then you can talk yourself up, specifically to what they want to hear. You can tell them about your former employers (that they probably know) instead of listing everyone you’ve ever worked for. You can ask them how much they’ll start you at instead of them passing you up because your last two jobs were paying you considerably more than they want to pay out, whey they say ‘we’ll need you to…’ you can respond with ‘oh, I did that at my last job and at the one before that I did [similar thing which I can do here also, if you need me too]’ instead of here’s everything I’ve ever done since I graduated college umpteen years ago…most of which I don’t remember how to do anyways.

Granted, I’m not in a ‘professional’ business, but when I see something like Special Skills: Took 3 years of French in high school with an average grade of B+" and then I scroll down and see “High School: Jefferson High, Class of 1989”. Yeah, sure, lets hear you say something in French? Time to clean up your resume. (not that it matters, I just think it’s funny, besides, in my store Spanish, Italian or German would be much more worthwhile).

Also, if you want, you can have your full resume in your car and at some point in the interview say “Do you need me to fill out an application, also, I do have a resume in my car if you want me to grab it”.

But that’s just my opinion and, like I said, my store is mostly made up of high school/college kids (and a few adults that otherwise bored SAHMs). In out business, over qualified nearly always means ‘I just need some cash and I’m going to quit the second a ‘real’ job comes along, even if it’s next week’.

Have you ever had to read 100 resumes at a sitting? A bus ride is a damned orgy in comparison.
When I was hiring I seldom saw cover letters, and never saw one that swayed me one way or another, but if I were doing it I’d write something you can’t put into a resume. Something I’d try to get into an interview if I got that far.
Does the OP have an experience at work that would be relevant to the new job? If so, write it up, and keep it positive, of course. That would be both entertaining and give a hiring manager a reason to read further - and remember the resume as opposed to the zillions of other cookie cutter ones.

This. It is amazing how seldom people use this strategy. It is even better if you know something about the hiring manager (in my field many have published stuff) and are able to make use of it.
The last few years I mostly hired students, but the ones who bothered to Google me and knew what I had done got a bit of an edge. I suspect they Googled the company also, but we don’t spend a lot of time publicizing what we do.
It is not going to make up for a deficient resume, but it will make you first among equals.

Well thanks to all for advice. I will try to make it unique without making it over the top irreverent. UDS, I hear you loud and clear and I absolutely intend for it to be professional but I also want it to be memorable. I have already given this organization a pile of cookie-cutter resumes and they have not worked thus far although I did interview with them several years ago.

However, at that time I had a bunch of medical issues that I didn’t even know about. I have an underactive thyroid, diabetes and ADD. So at the time I would have been on a sugar high but bodily fatigued from the bad thyroid and lucky to know where I was at any given moment on account of the ADD. I also think I messed up one of the interview questions. They asked me what I would do upon encountering a lazy coworker. My answer was non-committal and probably didn’t amount to anything. Whereas now I would tell them that if I as a new person noticed that an employee was lazy it would be equally evident to the management. So the only thing I might do in that situation is talk about how we work for a great company with great benefits etc and boy would it ever suck to work somewhere else. They also asked me about what to do in a three people needed but only two available situation and I think I fumbled that one. The answer is pretty simple though: communicate. Make sure everyone knows what is happening as it happens.

In any case, I feel like if I can get in front of their interview panel again I’ll do much better this time. It’s just the matter of getting there!

Back when computers had 3.5" floppy drives and CD rom drives were new and exciting, I recieved a CD in the mail that was someone’s multimedia CV on CD.

It was way cool. I watched it several times, showed it to some friends, talked about how it was probably soon to be the norm.

Never contacted the person, though. It was an amazing idea, but the guy had an unpleasant camera presence. The last thing I wanted to do was meet him face to face.

Even today the one weirdo that submitted his CV/resume via youtube video (or a link to a youtube video of himself on linkedin) would probably be passed over…assuming he was the weirdo I’m making him out to be, because he’s the one person that made a video.

But it’s funny you mention that you thought they might all be like that some day. “Back when computers had 3.5” floppy drives" is also when video dating was starting to get popular. That never went anywhere either.

I’ve seen employment columns/advertorials recommending this. It seems like an awful idea unless the job one is applying for involves making videos or marketing. The last thing I’d want to do is to invest five - ten minutes on a video resume that might be useless. Plus there could be EEO issues. In Europe it seems people normally put their picture on their resumes - I’ve never seen that here. Not counting headshots for acting jobs, that is.