Help with cover letter
March 18, 2013 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Please help me with phrasing in a cover letter.

I am applying for a job that I really, really like the look of. I have a feeling that there might be some fierce competition for this position. My resume is fine, I just need some help on phrasing in my cover letter.

I work in a very conservative industry and the job ad is a little different than standard job ads in this industry. It basically says, "are you unconventional, contrary, a maverick? An imaginative, outside the box thinker? Opinionated but flexible? If so, you will fit in here." This is different from the bog standard, conservative ads for my industry and it is for an individually owned firm and not the general corporate structure (which is a huge part of the appeal for me).

How do I address this in my cover letter? I could use the same standard boring cover letter I always use, but I want it to be a little creative (but not too much) to be in the same spirit as the ad.

A few notes: I think I am a non-traditional person in my career field for a few reasons. I did not study Subject x in college (say for example, Business. It is not a technical field where a specific college degree would be required to know the job), which every person in my role studied. I have a liberal arts (English) degree and gained all of my industry knowledge through gaining professional qualifications. I don't often broadcast this as there are people who have preconceived notions about people who do not hold a college degree in this general field and I'm not sure I want to point it out in this cover letter though I'm hoping there is a way to convey that I come at things from a different perspective if that makes sense?

Another thing that makes me stand out is that I worked overseas (in the same field) for several years. I love my job and am fascinated by the field and am always reading and learning as much as I can about it. I have been successful in my past roles, which are the same as the one I am applying for.

So can anyone give me some ideas (with actual wording if possible) on how I might make a cover letter that stands out from the normal boring cover letter, but is not too radical? Or should I just play it safe with the normal cover letter that basically says "I have worked as an x for y years. During my time as x I have the accomplishments of a, b and c. I look forward to doing the same for your company."

Thanks.
posted by young sister beacon to Work & Money (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
If the ad stood out to you in some way, open with that--being able to state clearly why this specific company interests you rather than just being "a job" is a great way to catch some attention. Or if not, I can't how it would hurt as long as you're professional. It's actual helpful to be a bit personal in your cover letter.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:21 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The best cover letters are more about the employer than the potential employee - do plenty of research (know their website back and forwards, read about them in industry publications, etc), then find a way to flatter them a bit while tying that flattery into your particular skill set. "I am particularly interested in the fact that your widgets come in slightly larger boxes; in my time overseas one of my primary responsibilities was deciding widget-box-size for XYZ Company."
posted by hungrybruno at 9:26 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


"You seem to be looking for someone who thinks about (subject x) differently. My international experience and the particulars of my professional background position me to do exactly that." And then provide details that show how and highlight your experience.
posted by cranberry_nut at 9:26 AM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


So can anyone give me some ideas (with actual wording if possible)

You know that advice about tailoring your resume to the job you're applying for? The same goes for cover letters. With that said, you should ignore anybody who gives you actual-phrasing answers, because you haven't given us anything to work with. "I work in a very conservative industry" could refer to a hundred different things.

Or should I just play it safe with the normal cover letter

No, feel free to be creative. The ad, or at least the paraphrasing that you gave us, invites creativity. Don't get too wacky, nothing with colors or Skratch 'N Sniff; but clever references, a tasteful pun, or structural variations like bullet points might be perfectly appropriate. Within the bounds of professionalism, go nuts. It sounds like that's what they are looking for.

I heard a college admissions officer tell applicants that their personal statements were going to matter "more than you'd like but less than you fear." The same is true of cover letters.
posted by cribcage at 9:31 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my experience, this is how these breakdown in the real world.

Are you unconventional-Preferably someone without an advanced degree, we prefer not to pay the prevailing market rate.

Contrary, Great we argue a lot around here, so we don't want anyone who will bitch about that.

A maverick? Someone who can read our minds and instinctively know what we want without being told?

An imaginative, outside the box thinker? The mere fact that we've used the phrase "out of the box" means that we have no truly novel ideas.

Opinionated but flexible? To reiterate well all argue with each other, but what the boss says, goes.

If so, you will fit in here. RUN!

Just my two cents.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:27 AM on March 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think you'd be wise to think about Ruthless Bunny's advice; my first instinct was that they may be trying to turn their downsides into upsides.

If you're still applying:

I would stay away from gimmicks of formatting/writing in your cover letter. As others have said, you should be customizing your cover letter for every job you apply for (even more than you should be customizing your resume, IMO). So, with that, make sure you know the company and the job backwards and forwards. Then, write about how your unique set of skills makes you the perfect person for this job at this company.
posted by Betelgeuse at 10:42 AM on March 18, 2013


It's always best to be direct and write in your own voice. So you did it already!

Here goes...

I think I am a non-traditional person in my career field for a few reasons. I did not study [subject x] in college, which every person in my role studied. I have a liberal arts (English) degree and gained all of my industry knowledge through gaining professional qualifications.

I don't often broadcast this as there are people who have preconceived notions about people who do not hold a college degree in this general field. I come at things from a different perspective, if that makes sense.

I worked overseas (in the same field) for several years. I love my job and am fascinated by the field and am always reading and learning as much as I can about it. I have been successful in my past roles, which are the same as the one I am applying for.

Thanks.


See what I did there? If I received that cover letter, I'd probably interview you.
posted by notclosed at 1:33 PM on March 18, 2013


Thanks everyone. A few points:

- this is a new firm which is being started up by a man who already started a similar firm, which went on to become very successful, before starting this one, which will have a slightly different focus. He is somewhat well known in the field.

- Restless Bunny, your point is well taken and the same point had crossed my mind. I'll give this one the benefit of the doubt though, given what I know about the person behind the venture and the industry. Also, my current job is at a major corp, which is such a total and complete mess of mismanagement on the inside that I am willing to take a risk.

That said, could I get some feedback on what I've put together so far? I've taken into account everyone's points above (and used some of cranberry_nut's wording almost verbatim) as well as some other things I've read. This is normally very different from what I would write and I didn't put anything about my accomplishments or what I could bring to the firm (standard template cover letter stuff I normally use), so I'm interested in anyone's initial thoughts. I've taken out some identifying details.

Dear [name],

I am replying to the above job posting from the xxx job board.

Your firm's philosophy [as stated in the job listing] of [basically - trust and creativity] caught my eye. In my time working in this industry, I take my [ethical obligations] to my clients very seriously and never let myself forgot the importance of the trust they have placed in me. As such, I hold the decisions I make with regard to their [situation] to a high standard. At the same time, I know how important it is to remain open minded in an ever-changing industry such as ours and love to keep abreast of new ideas and trends that arise, ever mindful of how I can best [act for my clients] within whatever guidelines we have determined is best for their circumstances.

After reading the job description, it sounds as though you're looking for someone who thinks about [our field] differently and I believe my international experience and the particulars of my background positions me to do exactly that. In college, I made the decision to get a degree in liberal arts rather than [major x, major y or major z] as so many of my peers were doing. I did this because I wanted to learn how to think creatively and also get a well-rounded education. I knew that many jobs would pay for their employees to get a higher education in their specific fields and it is that way that I gained the [industry] knowledge that I have and use today. First, through my studies [overseas], where I obtained my post-graduate qualification from the [overseas institute], which is sadly not formally recognized in North America, but is like a hybrid of [two well-known professional qualifications]. I am now excited to be beginning my studies for the [US qualification] in the US and am looking forward to continuing to learn and grow in my field so that I can always be of better service to my clients.

The thought of being a part of a new organization and helping it to grow and evolve to become one of the best in the industry is very exciting to me and I would look forward to talking with you further to discuss what I can bring to your firm.


I know this needs a lot of work. I would love people's thoughts on whether or not I would even be on the right track here. Thank you!
posted by young sister beacon at 5:35 PM on March 18, 2013


To be honest, this cover letter reads like it's from someone without a lot of experience in the field who is trying to puff up their educational credentials. You also go off on a few tangents that aren't helpful to your case. You don't need to mention that your degree isn't formally recognized in North America--let them do that research and then decide if it's important to them, unless it's something like a medical degree or license that's required to do your job.

From your post it sounds like you actually have a few years of work experience, so I would emphasize that more. It's usually pretty easy to convey education and certifications on a resume--I think cover letters are better used to give examples of your work experience and demonstrate your passion.

Maybe try....

Dear [name],

As an experienced [professional] with a passion for solving problems in unconventional ways, I'm an excellent fit for [job title you're applying for].

I can see from your job listing that you're looking for someone who thinks about [our field] differently, and I believe my international experience and training allow me to do exactly that. For [x] years, I did [talk about what you did in your international experience that is relevant to this job posting and demonstrates unconventional thinking.] I'd love to bring these skills to [the problem this new job is trying to solve].

I am also certified in [degree from overseas institute], which is a multi-disciplinary program combining elements of [the two well-known qualifications]. Combined with my undergraduate degree in English Literature, I'm trained in attacking problems from a variety of angles. I love the work of [field] and stay on the bleeding edge of new ideas and innovations.
["bleeding edge" is an awful phrase, but people who wrote a listing like the one you describe might eat it up.]

Then conclude with a paragraph summarizing why you're a good fit and tell them you're looking forward to hearing from them.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 7:04 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


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