July 10, 2015

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: How to Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

By: Claire Kittle Dixon

Snoopy_It_Was_Dark_And_Stormy_NightIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…

Call me Ishmael…


Who doesn’t love a good story?

Everyone loves a good story! And hiring managers are no exception.

That’s why they cringe when they read the same generic, banal cover letters day in and day out.

Many (ok, most) cover letters I read leave me feeling uninspired and unconvinced that the candidate is actually excited about the job.

Take, for instance, this cover letter I received last week:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am very interested in obtaining an interview and consequently a position with your company/organization.

The rest of the letter was just that impassioned. Blech.

It is cover letters such as this that typically end up meeting with the delete key. After all, why would an organization want to interview someone who appears disinterested (not to mention lazy for failing to tailor the cover letter!)?

One way to save your cover letter from eternal damnation is to weave in a story.

This Forbes Blog explains the concept well. An excerpt:

Tell a Story, One That’s Not on Your Resume

As humans, we love stories far more than we love data sheets. (OK, I speak for most humans). So, what’s your story? What brings you to this company? Did you used to sing along to all of its commercials as a kid? Did the product make some incredible difference in your life? Do you sometimes pull into the parking lot and daydream about what it would feel like to work there? Tell your story. Just make sure you have a great segue. Random trivia can come across as weird.

Fabulous idea, right?

Here’s part of a cover letter I received that tells a powerful story. To provide context, this letter came from a gentleman outside of the free-market universe. This is how his cover letter began:

Some years ago, and for reasons I cannot now recall, I picked up a book called “Orthodoxy” by an interesting figure named G.K. Chesterton.  It was unlike anything I had ever read.  He wrote brilliantly and thoughtfully about everything that mattered – philosophy, theology, logic & reason, ethics, art, politics, education, economics…and even public policy.  And, just like the alarm clock that jolts a slumbering person from that sluggish, dull, and unintelligible state of awareness to one more vivid, exciting, and bright, Chesterton sparked for me a committed interest in the truth, the “what is”, and a passion for the pursuit of knowledge and the love of wisdom rather than the status-quo, apathetic worldview I had previously held.  

As a result, I ultimately stumbled across the likes of Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Leonard Read, Thomas Sowell, Walter E. Williams, and Henry Hazlitt, among others.  These thinkers have heavily shaped and influenced my views on freedom, individual rights, the uses and limits of knowledge, coercion & force, the business-cycle, the effects & unintended consequences resulting from good-intentions, private property, the nature and limits of government, the history of economics, law, public policy, the superiority of a free-market, education, and so on.

Intellectually, I am fully convinced by the superiority of economic freedom – and not merely in the utilitarian sense, but also in the moral sense. It is what I believe. Emotionally, there is no subject I believe more important, nor one that I am as passionate about by comparison. It is who I am.

Wow. I couldn’t stop reading. I didn’t want to stop reading. The candidate effortlessly pulled in the reader, artfully explained his philosophical evolution, and clearly illustrated his passion for free-markets.

To be clear, I don’t think successfully weaving a story into a cover letter is easy. And if done incorrectly, it could come across as clumsy, or as the Forbes writer says, weird. But if done correctly, telling a compelling story in your cover letter might make the difference between getting the interview or getting deleted.

And if you’re wondering, the candidate quoted above landed an interview – and the job. A big thanks to Sam Cosby, Director of Development at Beacon Center of Tennessee, for allowing me to share his story.


Claire Kittle Dixon is the Executive Director of Talent Market.