It’s not uncommon for a hiring managers to receive dozens – if not hundreds – of applications for just one open position. Even if you’re a perfectly qualified candidate, you may still struggle to stand out from the rest of that pack.
This is where a cover letter can help. A great cover letter grabs the reader’s attention, gives a few quick highlights on your professional value, and makes the reader want to know more about you as a candidate.
At our company, we recently had an applicant who took a gamble with his cover letter that paid off big in the end.
In late 2017, we had job posts up for a few different positions. One was for an associate-level position, and another was for a project manager position that required more skills and more work experience. Naturally, we had an inbox full of cover letters and resumes for the associate position, but fewer applications for the project manager role.
One cover letter for the project manager job grabbed our attention from the very first line.
It started out, “I’m not the fit you’re looking for in this role. I know it, and I suspect it won’t take you long to join me in that knowledge.” That’s certainly not a standard opening. While I may be a few years removed from college, I don’t remember any classes or advisors teaching me to open a cover letter like that!
As soon as we read that opening, we were hooked. We had to keep reading. The applicant continued to say that he was confident he could do the job, but there were probably other candidates who already had the necessary experience and could jump right in. In this way, the applicant showed that he was confident without being cocky. He was humble and deferred to other candidates, which is something to be admired. He immediately showed that he was thoughtful and a team player.
The second paragraph was short and to the point: “So instead of trying to lay out a barely solvent argument as to why you should hire me as your digital marketing project manager position, I’m just going to tell you: You shouldn’t.”
He still had us hooked. There was no way we’d stop reading now.
As it turned out, this applicant had applied for the associate-level job but hadn’t heard a response. After a month or so, he applied for the project manager position and wrote the cover letter that flipped the script. In the third paragraph, he wrote, “Instead, I’m going to just say that if there are any other jobs with your company in the same department but with different experience requirements, please consider me. I have already applied to one such job with Go Fish and wrote a more traditional cover letter for that position, which is something I’m sure you can track down and read if you so desire.”
As part of our application, our company asks individuals to be a little more casual in their cover letters and write something that stands out. This cover letter certainly fit the bill.
The next paragraph was more in line with a standard cover letter. At this point, however, the applicant already had our attention. He continued on to succinctly outline his qualifications and why he was a good fit for the company. This part of his cover letter made it clear that that he spent time researching both the job and the company’s culture. The applicant referenced specific requirements from the application and provided brief examples of related work experience. He ended his letter by thanking us, which is always a nice touch.
This applicant took a risk in order to stand out. After not hearing back about his original application, he decided to apply for something he knew he wasn’t qualified for but with a cover letter that was unique. It immediately grabbed our attention and made us smile. He was funny, confident, and creative.
So the next time you’re stuck on the job hunt, consider doing something out of the ordinary. Sometimes flipping the script is what it takes to stand out. It worked for this applicant, and we’re happy to have him on our team.
David Cusick is a content marketing manager for Go Fish Digital.