If you've read my last post about getting a job, you'll know that I touched on the fundamentals of getting a job (and if you haven't read it, go read it!) But, I thought I would take the time to write about a very specific part of the application process that I think a lot of people trip over: the cover letter.
We all know that we're supposed to introduce ourselves in 3-5 sentences, give a little bit about our education background, dive into our work experience, then close by emphasizing how we are the perfect match for the position and include a call to action like "I look forward following up next week with a phone interview." These are the basics that everyone knows. These are also the basics that will not get you an interview.
Why? Because following the most basic outline of a cover letter tells the hiring manager that, at the very most, you can just get by. You don't break norms. You don't take risks, but you can be a mindless work horse. If the company is looking for someone who will work and never think for themselves, great! But, now you have to compete against 10 other candidates who submitted the exact same cover letter but substituted your UC Davis B.A for a UC Berkeley B.A and changed your college job at the Dairy Queen to an internship at Goldman. Even if you do make it passed the phone interview, you've still got sharks waiting to greet you in the waiting room, and you're just a tiny little minnow. So, you're fucked, right?
No. If you know the pond is filled with sharks, then don't jump into the pool thinking you're a minnow. Be another shark. Be the most ferocious shark you can pretend to be, and the easiest way to do that is by changing the first touch point you have with a hiring manager. Because, why knock on the door when you kick the it down?
Below is a cover letter that is now circulating Wall Street because of the candidate did something right. Click it: Source Business Insider
Structurally, it follows the basic pattern that we're used to, but it's the content that's getting this candidate a ton of attention. The kid points out that he isn't a shark. He doesn't go to a top tier school, he doesn't have a wide range of experience, and he openly admits that he has "no unbelievably special skills or genius eccentricities." But he also doesn't let that stop him from writing a cold email to a potential hiring manager asking for an internship. But, even though this move might seem bold, a lot of other candidates do this to push their resume to the top.
So, why is this kid so special? Again, it's all about the content. By openly acknowledging the areas that might make him look like a weak candidate, he is able to easily transition to his strengths and reveal more about himself. He comments that the job might not be glamorous (and really, it probably isn't), but he'll work hard no matter what. His tone is conversational while being professional, and most of all, the letter is a breath of fresh air in a sea of mediocre, generic cover letters that follow the same structure. Almost immediately, you know much more about this candidate than just skimming his resume. In short, he does what others do not do: use a cover letter to show the hiring manager why he is the best candidate for the position and the company.
In this job market, getting a job isn't easy, and sometimes getting an interview seems even harder. But blaming the economy for all of this won't do you any good. Turn the critical lens back to yourself and ask "Why would someone hire me? What makes me different from the other candidates?" When you figure out the answer to those two questions, incorporate them into your cover letter in a different and unique way to really show that you're different; you're skilled; and you're a god damn shark.
I'll end with two intro paragraphs from my past. They were submitted about six months apart, and the approach I used in each is very different. I hope you're smart enough to figure out which one was dumped into the trash and which one got me the interview (and if you can't, go back to the top of this post and read again)
"I am writing to put my name into consideration for the Assistant Editor position at DC Comics. I will be receiving my Bachelors of Arts in English with minors in Asian American Studies and Economics in June, and I am eager to nurture my editing abilities at DC. I have been an avid fan of DC Comics since I saw Bruce Timm’s depiction of the Dark Knight in the original animated series. From that point on, comics have been a crucial part of my life, and it feeds my desire to write and edit. It is this passion for comics that makes me an excellent candidate for the Assistant Editor position."
"It all started with the flick of a switch. I sat down in front of my 32" CRT television hoping for anything that would keep me entertained until my dad could drive me to school, but I wasn't sure if they had Saturday morning cartoons at seven A.M on a Tuesday. Then I found the WB. They were playing a show that I had never seen before. It was definitely a cartoon, but the characters weren't brightly colored and the theme song didn't make me want to dance. It was dark. It was gloomy. It was like nothing I had ever seen. It was Batman: The Animated Series. This was my introduction to the world of comics, and my life changed forever.
I was five years old, and I believe that now, at twenty-one, I have the experience and passion necessary to be an excellent Editorial Accounting Coordinator."