your cover letter won't stand out unless you do this

My best friend is a very successful chef. But in the beginning, he couldn’t even break into the industry.

He researched the “best cover letters” online and followed the formulas. He tweaked. He edited. He tested the letter with his friends.

He did everything you’re “supposed to do.”

He followed all of the advice he could find.

Then the harder work began. For hours every day, he sent them out. One by one. He sent out HUNDREDS of cover letters.

And nothing happened.


No responses at all.

Not one.

How is this possible? He was a strong candidate! He had all the right credentials! Couldn’t they see how great he was? How different he was from all the other candidates?


He didn’t stand out at all.

Not even a little bit.

And there is only one reason why:

He was writing like everyone else.

Impersonal, formal, stuffy writing. The kind of stuffy writing you find in 99 out of 100 cover letters:

“To whom it may concern”


“I’m highly motivated and creative”


“I’m excited to hear more about this position,”


“Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration!”

*throws letter into the trash*


Here’s the truth: everyone writes crap like that.

Most applicants you’re competing with start their cover letter with “I am so and so and I’m interested in the position of xyz at your company.”

Most applicants you’re up against spend way too much time jamming in vague adjectives like “dedicated,” or “creative,” or “hard-working.”


How do you expect to stand out using the exact same wording and style that everyone else uses?


After sending out hundreds of cover letters and getting ZERO RESPONSES, my friend decided to scrap the bullshit and write something new.

He decided to write like he felt. 
He wrote like anyone would feel after getting 300 rejections.
He wrote like a madman.

And it worked. His next 10 emails got 10 responses.

He had a brand new job in less than a week.

How did his letter change? Did he somehow get more experience? Did he reformat his margins and check for spelling errors? Did he fix his incomplete sentences and make sure to be extra polite?


None of that.

He got a job in less than a week by doing the one thing everyone should do, but almost no one does:

He wrote like his life depended on it.

When your life depends on your cover letter, you won’t start with sleepy lines like “I am interested in the position.” You’ll start with lines like “I was born to do this work and I will find a way into this industry whether you hire me or not.”

When your life depends on your cover letter, you’ll already know a lot about who is reading it and you’ll be writing to them directly. “To whom it may concern” is far less effective than “Hi Julia. You don’t know me but your team’s last project was so inspiring I had to write you. You made it look effortless— I’d kill to work with you and find out how.”

When your life depends on it, you’ll actually tell them how badly you want the job. I can’t believe that almost no one does this. Saying you’ll do anything to work there is a huge differentiator.

You’ll stop saying you’re “creative,” or “motivated,” and start telling stories that demonstrate those qualities. Compare these two lines:

“I am creative and hard working and motivated.”
“My team grew revenues by 40% using my ideas, even though I’d only been there for three months. I put in the work and nailed it.”

When your life depends on your writing, you’ll put in the work to become a better writer.

That’s how you stand out.

You write like hell.

You imagine everything about your life that will change if you get the job.

Feel how important it is. Feel how badly you want the job.

Write from that place.

Write like your life depends on it.

It does.

This rant originally appeared as an answer on Quora.

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