A cover letter doesn’t actually have to be a letter at all, so long as it helps you get the hiring manager’s attention.

Everyone knows you need to submit a great cover letter with your job application.* But you might not know that that great cover letter doesn’t have to be written in “business block” form. You don’t even have to use Microsoft’s “Clippy.”

A nontraditional cover letter can take the form of a list of quotes, a table or chart or an infographic. It doesn’t even have to be a letter at all, if it succeeds in getting a hiring manager’s attention.

Here are five examples of nontraditional cover letters (and some non-letters) that landed people interviews:

1. The chart

Try listing the job ad’s requirements on the left and matching them to your qualifications on the right, like in this example, which landed a recent grad a position at a major metropolitan newspaper.

You don’t have to crack jokes (here’s an example of a more formal approach), but you do have to actually make an effort to read the job ad and think about how your qualifications make you a match.

Hiring managers say they like this format because it saves them time. If you’ve done the work for them of showing how your skills make you a fit, you’ve saved them from having to puzzle it out.

2. “Getting to Know Charlie”

Charlie Drozdyk, author of Jobs That Don’t Suck, wrote a cover letter called “Getting to Know Charlie” where, instead of talking about his work experience, he quoted friends and family members saying somewhat bizarre things about his personality. (He even quoted his first girlfriend as saying “He’s cute, but I can’t imagine dating him.”)

Since Drozdyk was applying for entry-level copywriting jobs, where good writing and a sense of humor are important, he managed to get four interviews with this letter.

3. E-stalking your target

In some industries (like advertising), people Google themselves all the time. So Alec Brownstein decided to turn that to his advantage and buy ads that would display next to the names of creative directors at top New York ad agencies.

For a total outlay of $6 (ads for such unpopular keywords are cheap!), Brownstein got a job.

4. Eating the company’s dog food

In business, “eating your own dog food” refers to a company that makes its employees use its own products (you know Apple employees can’t get away with using Android phones).

In your job search, eating your dream company’s dog food can make you a killer candidate. Hanna Phan decided she wanted to work for SlideRocket, a company that makes presentation software (like Powerpoint). Instead of submitting a traditional application, she made her cover letter into a presentation using SlideRocket’s software. She tweeted it to the CEO, and she heard from him an hour later.

5. Faking the company’s dog food

Chipotle doesn’t make a product you can use in your job search (well, unless you get hungry). But Bianca Cadloni wanted to work there. She built a website called “Will Work For Guacamole” that mimicked the look of a Chipotle napkin. The spot-on visual branding, combined with an aggressive Twitter campaign, got her noticed.

While she didn’t land the job with Chipotle, she was offered a marketing internship at a different agency, which ultimately turned into a paying job. (“Thank you for not hiring me, Chipotle,” she wrote.)

Ultimately, whether you decide to use social media as your cover letter, write a nontraditional letter or try any other gimmick is a judgment call. A startup might be more receptive to getting funny objects in the mail or seeing you show up at their office in a gorilla costume; an established magazine might prefer a more traditional approach. So long as you do your research into the company, you’ll be equipped to take the right risks.

And remember: while it seems like these nontraditional cover letters are everywhere, that’s just because nobody ever writes a news story about how a simple, well-written letter scored someone a job.

What are your favorite nontraditional cover letters?

*Yes, yes, the debate still rages. It’s kind of like the global warming “debate” at this point, though. Just write one.

Rachel Kaufman is the author of Cover Letters for Creative People, an ebook about nailing the perfect cover letter in your job search. Get your own copy here.


  1. Joseph Terach, ResumeDeli.com

    My definition of creative may be a little less…well…creative. The cover letter approach that most often works in my experience is one where the job seeker does enough industry and employer-related research and is so dedicated to his or her field that they can write an insightful opinion about the state of their industry and the specific direction and needs of the company to which they’re applying. Such a cover letter is employer-focused by nature and will make it impossible to refute your knowledge and passion for what you do. Who wouldn’t want to work with you? Joseph Terach, ResumeDeli.com

  2. Eline

    I agree more with Joseph. His comment explains what is important, namely the passion and drive for the company and mission. In my opinion we are having the wrong discussion here. The discussion should be how companies identify these people that have a real drive for the company and its purpose. The entire application process should change. Eline de Goede, http://www.challenge2connect.com

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  5. resumestoyou.info

    The examples are fascinating…..Everyone knows that you need to submit a great cover letter with your job application and I hope your tips will work to search a good job.

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  8. Sello Mathakhoe

    As CV is an weighty document that will choose your impending in the employment process. Hence, you need to take hard work to current of air a well-planned resume letter. The employer will read your resume only if you are able to prove your suitability for the job through your letter. You can even refer some example letters, cover note templates, or sample letters, before you start drafting your resume letter. Make sure that you comprise all the vital points mentioned on top of in your letter. Visit http://www.coverletter.co.za

  9. Brent A

    This is great! Your example of “eating the company dog food” is a perfect example. One of the largest changes I’ve been seeing is with technology such as social media to help land a job. I liked how you addressed that here as well.

  10. Vicki Winters

    I sent this video cover letter to BIG FUEL 2 years ago…not a peep. http://vimeo.com/26291949

  11. Vicki Winters

    Then I sent this one to ANDAZ…Also no reply.. Anyone else think it would be worth, at least a call?

  12. Zisis

    It is always great to see Creative Cover Letters, but the results may vary. Either you will stand our from all the other candidates or the HR department (assuming it has people that do not “appreciate” creativity) will dismiss it.

    Personally I like to read creative cover letters, but I really want to see a professional structure.

    Combining successfully these two things (Professionalism and Creativity) will definitely attract they eye, and create a great impression to the HR department, but this can be tricky!

    You can start reading on Cover Letters Guidlines first, and then add some of your creativity later.

    Learn the Basics first and then start adding your personality on it!

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  14. Caelan Huntress

    I juggle flaming torches in my Video Resume Cover Letter at http://huntress-for-hire.com. I just produced it this week; let’s see if I get any interviews.

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