Cover letters can be beautiful, wild creatures.
Abused by formality and “advice,” a quick google search suggests that cover letters should be stale, formal language expressing one’s resume with some transitions between the content listed in bullet points. Please, no.
I hear from friends in banking that cover letters written with the right sequence of key words will get picked up by the screening algorithms and recommendations selected to weed out the “bad fits.” This turns the cover letter into a two part project: write the secret message of code words AND tell me about yourself. Good luck.
We read numerous cover letters from potential interns on our team at TED, and I am regularly surprised by how uncomfortable many of them are. I understand why. If our instructions just say, “send a cover letter” and “tell me about yourself,” it’s unclear how formal or “out there” you’re allowed to be.
I invite you to be unapologetically yourself.
The best cover letters, the ones that make me smile as I am trying to get through hundreds of applications in a handful of breaks during the week, tell me something that summarized work and academic experience on a resume cannot.
The language tells me about the voice of the person writing to me. Do you love the experience of words? Do you like the technical strength of your specific words? I love the sequence of sentences, what the writer decided they HAD to tell me first and how they wanted to conclude, tells me about the writer’s dreams and mission. I especially appreciate the questions that the writer needed me to remember to understand their personal quests.
The cover letter allows you to share a vignette with me. Who are you now, in a scene? Who are you becoming, who, within yourself, have you forgotten?
Or maybe you’re like me, and my cover letter guides you through the questions that lead me to tying knots in the cord of my headphones with one hand as my other ink-stained wrist dashes across my notebook scribbling down every fleeting moment of logic before it scurries away. These questions live in my notebook, and I never leave that notebook behind. Keys, phone, wallet, notebook. I never leave the house alone. I am questions.
Who are you now?
Who are you becoming?
Who, in yourself, have you forgotten?
You are more than a letter, or a scene, or your questions. But your letter is meant to be just a moment. Please, share that moment.