The Honest Approach to Writing a Cover Letter (& When to Use It)
Sometimes the best way to catch the attention of a potential employer is to be straight-forward and honest — even if your skills and experience don’t line up perfectly with an employer’s preferences to hire for a position.
For a great example of how one job seeker used this technique, check out this piece in The Huffington Post, which provides screenshots of a cover letter that caused executives across Wall Street to lean forward, chuckle — and reach for their phones to schedule an interview. What led to all this attention? A candid, direct approach.
Here’s an excerpt from the letter.
Here are 3 strategies this job seeker uses:
1. He acknowledges his understanding of the culture in which hiring takes place and is direct about saying that he’s a long shot for the job…
Why this works: Many Wall Street banks recruit at a small number of schools to select a majority of their summer hires. By acknowledging the situation, he makes it clear that he understands how the hiring process often works.
2. He asks for the company to give him full attention and consideration.
I am aware it is highly unusual for undergraduates from average universities like [mine] to intern at [company] but nevertheless I was hoping you might make an exception.
Why this works: He’s polite and direct in asking for the reader’s time.
3. He doesn’t sugarcoat his experience.
I won’t waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles…
Why this works: He shares that he has good grades and some past experience without repeating or exaggerating his resume. His direct approach plays to the type of field that he works in, as Wall Street bankers are famous for being blunt, working in fast-paced environments, and communicating with short, direct language.
Can this approach work for anyone in their job search? Probably not. Many organizations will likely shake their heads at a line such as [I am not] feeding you a line of crap about how my past experience and skill set align perfectly with…[the job].
That said, soften your tone and there are a few good strategies in this cover letter that can work for you — especially if you have gaps in your resume between positions, have taken time off to take care of family, children or yourself, and want to work in a new field or one you haven’t worked in recently.
Here are three lessons we can take away from this letter:
1. It’s okay to be direct about why you’re applying for a job. You don’t need to offer to work for next to nothing, but showing your raw enthusiasm to learn about a new field or career path is a positive way to show your potential fit for a job.
Action Strategy: Match the tone of your letter to the tone of the industry you wish to work in. If you want to work in a job that requires strict confidentiality, don’t gossip or be overly chatty. If you want to work in a sales role, it’s okay to use a persuasive tone.
2. It’s better to be friendly than arrogant. If you market yourself as a rock star who knows the job being offered inside out — despite not having any experience in the field — it can hurt you even if you get the job since you won’t have the skills and experience you need. Instead, present yourself as someone who has some of the requirements for the job, and show that you’ve thought through the skills you have — and what you hope to gain. Many employers hire for personality, aptitude, and attitude first, and then train you on what you need to know to get the job done.
Action Strategy: Create a simple outline that highlights 1-2 ways you fit the job description instead of providing long paragraphs that say you’ve already got the skills and experiences for the job.
5+ years of experience in ____________
Full knowledge of FileMakerPro
3 years of experience in ___, with training in ______
Extensive experience in database management using Access and the ability to learn FileMaker. (In my job at _______, I taught myself ___________.)
3. Use your cover letter to answer any hanging questions an employer may have about your resume.
Did you leave your job early because you got chicken pox in your 30’s? Take three years off to take care of an elderly parent or a small child? Take a job that was the wrong fit?
Action Strategy: Address gaps or trouble spots in employment in a direct and honest way. Don’t embellish the story. Simply say what happened in a neutral tone — example: My mother had lung cancer and I resigned my position to take care of her. I am no longer serving as her caretaker.
Try these three strategies and let us know how they work for you.