Bullet Points in Your Cover Letter—Do or Don't?

Published: Jul 16, 2012

Topics: Career Readiness       Job Search       Resumes & Cover Letters       

There's a cover letter circulating the internet right now that's quite unique. First, its subject line: I want to work for you!

Second, its bullet points. Or rather, numericals. The email opens simply with "To Claire, I want to work for you and here is why:" She then goes on to make a list of 5 credentials/statements of experience and education. Then she lists another 5 points, a list of commonalities with "Claire" (who is Claire Diaz-Ortiz, leader of social innovation at Twitter, and blogger for the Huffington Post, where she posted the cover letter).

So did it work?

Yes! Diaz-Ortiz was stunned--in a good way! She breaks down what she likes about the letter on her blog (mainly the humor, the wealth of shared interests, and the grabby writing style). But since she experienced the letter on a personal level, we'd like to take it a step further and examine the merits of it objectively.

Though I'm a little reticent to recommend such a bold tactic (it's hard to imagine being able to back up this kind of bravado at an in person interview), I do agree with Diaz-Ortiz that there's a lot working here.

Let's break it down! (In numericals, of course, naturally):

1. (Safe) Humor

"We both have bangs... you can always trust someone with bangs." The writer's jokes are cute without being cloying, and nonsensical enough to be truly funny without the offending. It also endears the reader by casting the writer as a bit of a kook (which works for do-gooder/social media sector). But it's not strange enough to make anyone question her competence. (That part's important).

2. Show of Genuine, Purposeful Interest

The writer is obviously passionate about the work: "I love social media such and believe in harnessing the power of marketing to use for good." Ignoring the typo (Diaz-Ortiz didn't seem to notice it), note how she makes room for both the "enjoyment" aspect of being a good fit for the job  as well as the greater-good side.

She then backs up general mission statements with actual experience in her industry. The takeaway: she doesn't just talk a good game about her interests, she gets out there and makes progress towards them.

3. Specific Flattery

It's always a good idea to say nice things about the person or company you're pinging. But it's not enough to call them "amazing," as Diaz-Ortiz says in her blog. When you don't know someone personally, vague statements of praise ring false-- and shines an embarrassing spotlight on exactly how little you know about them.

On the other hand, specifically calling out what you admire in the person you're sending a cover letter to (information you can discover through researching them, hint hint), it's much more effective. It shows you care enough about the job to follow the work of the company and its leaders, and that see a future for your best self there—alongside your role models.

4. Research

"We both love a good poncho, ballet flats, chai tea, the real housewives, brie and people with calming voices according to your new favorite things part on your website. I promise I am not a stalker but I just love the idea of social innovation with the idea of using social media to spotlight the organizations that are changing the world."

This little excerpt is doing a lot of heavy lifting: First, it's proving the jobseeker is interested enough in the job, the company, and Ms. Diaz-Ortiz to spend time reading up on them. Second, it shows serious consideration of cultural fit (and proof that it's there!). And lastly, it involves practical application of the tools required by the job—social media! A+, in our book.

5. Brevity

Cutting to the chase is usually a good idea. But it's an especially useful tactic for the field the writer's applying in, social media. Not only does her immediacy hook the reader (a good thing in any context), it proves that the writer can hook the reader, and in a very short period of time, without a lot of flowery text. Could it be any more perfect for Twitter, the 180-characters-or-less tool?

If you're on the fence about using bullets, skip them. But here's a great overall takeaway from this cover letter: words are speaking for you on several levels.

On the surface, what you write conveys information you're disclosing about yourself. But on another level, you're cluing the hiring manager in on your communication style, attitude and intent.

Wasting no words is a great way to show your professionalism, razor sharp wit, and best of all, your refusal to fritter away words or time. So even if you skip the bullets, crafting a clean, purposeful letter can only work to your advantage.

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Read More:
How to Get a Job: A True Story (Part 1) (Huffington Post)
Avoiding Cage-gate: Cover Letter Mishaps
The Anti-Resume: Is non-traditional the new answer?