Recently an undergraduate finance student sent a cover letter to a major financial firm inquiring about an internship. The cover letter was so honest and so authentic that it has taken some of Wall Street by storm. Thanks to the age of social media, this sincere and heartfelt cover letter went viral. Instead of using fancy buzzwords, the student showed a sense of candor that we rarely see nowadays. It made me rethink the advice I give to new job seekers when writing their cover letters.
- It’s okay to let your personality shine through: Sometimes this is the only aspect that separates you from other candidates. We know the tricks of the trade and to incorporate as many keywords as possible from the job description — but employers and recruiters get tired of seeing the same cover letter over and over again. What another job seeker cannot duplicate is your authenticity — and who can be more authentic than you? Perhaps you met some challenges that now make you a stronger person. If you’re able to show depth and maturity at a young age, it can only be a plus, and will help offset your lack of experience.
- Use some humor and be somewhat conversational: My only caveat may be to research the company a bit beforehand. Learn a little bit about the corporate culture and research the organization on their social media venues to be on the safe side. If you’ve learned from Vault.com or Glassdoor that they value formality — humor may not be the right fit. However, everyone will agree that the days of a stodgy cover letter that begins “attached please find” are over. Being a little conversational can be a good thing. After a recruiter or employer finally sees something different in your cover letter that is outside the box, you will hopefully stand out in a good way. Also, don’t try too hard at being overly brilliant. Using inflated language or showing off a huge vocabulary may be a turn off. You may come across as being overqualified — even though you are not. Worst of all, the employer or recruiter may think you are unwilling to remain in the job long enough for them to make back the investment of training you.
- Think technology: Mashable has some great resources that will help get your creative juices flowing. Use them as a resource when you are drafting your cover letter. However, don’t get so immersed in the technology that you stop being you.
- Be empathetic: Put yourself in the mindset of the potential employer. Learn about who they are from their LinkedIn and Facebook profile. Don’t be too intrusive but find out what you have in common. Did you go to the same university? Are you from the same town? Remember too — they are incredibly busy and you have to be respectful of their time. See if you can remind the employer how they felt to be new to the field. All you need is for someone to crack the door for you. If you remind the employer of him/herself when he/she was at your stage in life, it can only be a good thing.
- Be honest: When you are at the beginning of your career, your resume is going to be limited. There’s no way getting around it. The hardest thing for someone new to the field is to get past the “catch-22” of “you don’t have enough experience to GET the experience.” It’s so tempting to present yourself as more qualified than you actually are, and to write down skills you learned about in school whether you have mastered them or not. But unless you have taken them beyond theory into practice, these skills may not help. You’re much better off telling them how you worked three jobs to put yourself through school which will show dedication and initiative. At the beginning of your career, all you can show is incredible enthusiasm, a love for hard work and a sense of integrity. As this wonderful job seeker mentioned, “don’t hand them a line of crap.” Remember too that sometimes it’s not the quantity on your cover letter, it’s your own personal qualities that make you special and help you stand out as an individual. Also, remember to keep at it and to not get frustrated. Basically, we’d all like to help each other. Employers want to like you, and to see you as an ideal candidate that will make their jobs easier. Giving a realistic picture of who you are is a great start. Additionally, a good honest and authentic cover letter may help you make connections that will last a lifetime.
Richard Spector is senior manager of corporate development at PRSA.