The dos and dont’s of figurative language in your cover letter

Figurative language refers to some of the best methods in a writer’s toolbox to “color” language and draw readers in – and can also be used to write the best cover letter.

How does figurative language do this?

By gently alluding to something instead of stating it outright, it gives the reader a sense of autonomy and unlocks their own creativity.

So what does this have to do with writing the best cover letter? Everything.

Cover letters are notoriously boring. But the thing is that they don’t have to be.

In fact, we’re often using figurative language and don’t even know it.

Here are the dos and don’ts of using figurative language in writing the best cover letter

If you need to select the best cover letter format, we’ve got you covered, too.

The big five

The truth is that there are many, many literary devices out there, including alliteration, onomatopoeia, idioms, irony, oxymorons, puns, synecdoche, and more.

We picked out the five most commonly used (and some of the most powerful) types of figurative language. Learning how to use them is enough to help you write the best cover letter.

Here are the five main types of figurative language:


When using a metaphor, you make a statement that is not literal. For example, the phrase “the world is my oyster” does not literally mean that the world is your oyster.


Rather, it’s a dressed-up way of saying you can achieve anything or go anywhere you want in life because you have the opportunity or ability to do so. Other examples of metaphors include “this house is an icebox” and “we were all drowning in a sea of grief.”

Do you see how speaking in this way would wake the reader right up?


Similes are similar (no pun intended) to metaphors and are both used to make comparisons.

The main difference between metaphors and similes is that similes use the words like or as to compare two unrelated things whereas metaphors make a direct statement.

Here are a couple of examples of similes:

● She is as tough as nails

● He is brave as a lion


Personification is a bit different from similes and metaphors. It gives human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals, or ideas.

Personification is often used in poetry, fiction, and children’s rhymes and has a real way with words.

Some examples of personification include:

● Opportunity knocked on her door (opportunity obviously did not
literally knock on her door)

● The sun greeted me at the crack of dawn

● The sea was full of anger


In writing, hyperboles are used to add color or depth to a character. It is a shocking, ridiculous, and often funny exaggeration that is used to prove a point.
Some examples of hyperboles include:

● When I was your age, I walked 15 miles to school in the snow, uphill,
with my bare feet

● You could knock her over with a feather


Symbolism occurs when a word is used to represent something other than itself. For example, symbols can be used to make something appear deeper and
more significant.

Some examples of symbolism include:

● The use of colors in writing that are symbols for other things like death or love
● Using a smile to symbolize friendship or love
● An owl that represents wisdom

Ok, so how can these powerful literary devices be used to write the best cover letter (see what I did there?)

We’ve got you covered with these dos and don’ts.

The dos of using figurative language on your cover letter

1) Let yourself get creative (this works especially well for creative jobs  like copywriting and marketing, but can be used in most fields.)

But remember to keep your balance, too.

“Balance is essential: don’t be too wacky, or it will turn off the reader,” reports The Guardian.

Here’s an example of a great copywriter the right  gave:

“Dear Ms Green,
· Confused by commas?
· Puzzled by parenthesis?
· Stumped by spelling?
· Perturbed by punctuation?
· Annoyed at the apostrophe? (And alliteration?)

Well, you’re not alone. It seems that fewer and fewer people can write. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who can read. So they’ll spot a gaffe from a mile off. And that means it’s a false economy, unless you’re 100% sure of yourself, to write your own materials. (Or to let clients do it for themselves.)

To have materials properly copywritten is, when one considers the whole process of publishing materials and the impact that the client wishes to make, a minor expense. Sloppiness loses clients, loses customers.

There is an answer. Me. Firm quotes are free. You can see some of what I do on my multilingual website at [insert web address]. If you’d like, I can get some samples out to you within 24 hours. And, if you use me, you’ll have some sort of guarantee that you can sleep soundly as those tens of thousands of copies are rolling off the presses.

Luck shouldn’t come into it!

With kindest regards”

2) Use simple language and uncomplicated sentence structure.

Write tight and eliminate any unnecessary words. Using big words does not make you appear more skilled or intelligent. In fact, it has the opposite effect.

3) If you want to inspire your reader to take action, try using a metaphor.

This device can make your writing stronger, more memorable, and more persuasive.

Best of all, metaphors can be used to help explain complex topics. You can do this by creating vivid images in the reader’s head. Use metaphors to distinguish yourself, tell your story, and explain how what you’ve done aligns with the position you’re applying to.

Additional benefits of using metaphors include engaging the right brain, by-passing rationality, increasing trust, and lowering defenses.

All very useful when trying to impress a stranger with a piece of paper.

4) In the first paragraph of your cover letter where you introduce yourself, explain why you’re applying and use figurative language to enthusiastically present yourself for the position.

5) Saying something like “Sales is like a roller coaster (a simile) and explaining why that’s true can go a long way in terms of emotionally connecting with your reader (i.e. the hiring manager.) Don’t be afraid to get creative. We’re often afraid a hiring manager will think we’re crazy or too “out there”, and this is not usually the case.

1) Avoid figurative language that falls under the categories of slang, colloquialisms, or clichés. An example of a cliché is saying something like “Enclosed, please find my resume.”

2) Honesty is important in a cover letter. Don’t use figurative language that doesn’t make sense or is inaccurate. Avoid saying things like “I will knock down the walls for you.” Make sure you’re conveying the right message and be careful not to sound sarcastic. Ask yourself what you would hear if you read it.

3) Never skip the cover letter entirely, no matter how great your resume and background are.

“Given the modern recruitment technology that's available, many job seekers might think their applications are simply automatically scanned, rather than being reviewed directly by a hiring manager–and for a small business, that’s likely you. However, a new survey shows this is not the
case,” according to Inc.

“Despite hiring managers placing a high value on compelling cover letters, most candidates–about six in 10–don’t submit cover letters with their applications, regardless of whether or not the job ad says a cover letter is required,” the article went on to say.

4) Recruiters tend to dislike reading hyperboles like “huge,” “big,” “large,” and extensive. Instead of saying you’ve had “outstanding results,” try something like “10 years of experience in…” and “measurable results.” As a rule, avoid hyperboles unless they can be backed with quantifiable results. Instead of writing “successful marketing professional,” say something like “doubled marketing results by 23% in 2018.” The more specific, the better. And more believable.

5) Don’t use hyperbolic phrases like “sales-driven,” “detailed-oriented,” or “strong work ethic.” Just as in writing, it’s a lot more effective to
show (your results) than to tell.

6) Don’t use hyperbolic statements like, “I’ve done this millions of times in the past so I’ll have no problem doing it this time, too.”

This is another terrible (and very common) way people often unintentionally use hyperboles in their cover letters. Exaggeration can easily be confused with lying, and too many hyperboles in your cover letter can appear as a red flag (symbolism!)

To avoid this, use actual numbers, examples, and statistics.

The most important thing to remember when writing a cover letter is that it’s intended to separate you from the herd, which means taking risks, showing your personality, and allowing yourself to shine.

If you need even more motivation, it also means your job search process is likely to be a lot shorter.

We hope you’ll try using figurative language to help write your best cover letter.

To recap, here are the benefits of using figurative language in your cover letter:

1) It gives you a differentiated advantage and separates you from the herd

2) It increases the level of trust between you and the hiring manager

3) It shows you’re a great communicator, an important asset in any position