How to apply for my DREAM job, without sounding too much like a fanboy.
October 29, 2014 5:28 PM   Subscribe

I am about to send off my application for a job posting for what is my DREAM position. It is a 3-month paid internship with a major medical humanitarian aid organization. This is an office-based administrative position in a major Canadian city, and seems to have a lot of overlap in tasks with some of their other permanent positions, as well as their field-based positions. In terms of skills, experience, and interests, I feel as though I am a strong candidate for the position.

(I am going to be a little vague on the details in this question. You'll likely be able to connect the dots, I just don't want this question, and my profile, to be too easily Google-able.)

Here's the thing. This is my absolute dream organization. My goal is to work with this organization for the rest of my life (or at the very least, another similar NGO). It is a cause I believe in with every single fibre of my being. I have spent years reading everything about them that I can get my hands on. I've read enough to know downsides, the risks, the bureaucracy, etc. This is an organization I am - literally - willing to give my life for one day. (Well, not for the organization itself, but in working with them.). My ideal career path would be this internship, followed by a permanent position in the same (or similar) department, based on-and-off overseas and stateside (which seems to be pretty typical for this org.), for pretty much the rest of my life.

I'm having a lot of trouble writing my cover letter. I have a standard one that I use for non-profits, and I am going to modify this. It's a pretty solid cover letter, based loosely on a more professional version of this. I want to clearly communicate my passion for the cause, and my interest in working with them for my entire career, without coming off too obsessed. Passion is great, but they also need someone with tangible knowledge and skills, and I want them to know I have those, too. I'd like a little advice on the proper phrasing for my cover letter.

Also (and importantly!) they also have a job posting for a full-time position in the same department. It requires 2 years administrative/client relation experience (which I have), and asks for a related degree (I do not have a degree). I fit all the other requirements for the role, like knowledge of international politics, cultural sensitivity, 2nd language skills, etc. I also have a lot of experience doing personally what this job would require professionally (Arranging travel visas, booking international flights, etc). They say that previous experience at an NGO is a strong asset, and while I've worked for non-profits, I do not have experience in this niche. I would LOVE to apply to this position as well. Or instead.

My questions are:

1) How do I properly my cover letter to demonstrate my very strong passion for the organization, and interest in working with them forever, while remaining professional?

2) Should I apply for the internship, or the full-time position, or both? Do I mention my interest in the other position? My first goal is just getting ANY position with them, but of course I'd prefer the full-time spot. The deadline for the internship application is in, like, 12 hours (!!), and the application for the full-time position is on Monday. I would be happy to Memail links to the two positions if it would help anyone answer.

Oh gosh. This is a lot of rambling. I'm just really, really excited/nervous! Thanks in advance!! :)
posted by hasna to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I work for an organization that is many people's "dream employer." The big thing is to emphasize your enthusiasm for the position and its attendant duties not the org and its mission. (Though of course it's good to mention how passionate you are about that mission - just don't make it the focal point of the cover letter.). Every time we're hiring we have to bin a bunch of resumes who clearly just want a foot in our door, not a career with us.

For #2, I'd just apply for the full time position, not the internship, provided you are an objectively strong candidate. But that's just me.

Good luck!!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:47 PM on October 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think the best strategy is to design your cover letter such that it reflects to the best extent possible that you have done your homework on this org. Make reference to specific programs they run. Awards they have won, unique features of their strategies, their annual report and strength of their financials.

Spend very limited space talking generically about your admiration for them and how superlative they are, everyone will do this and it could be a form letter. Be specific.

The lack of specified degree is probably a serious drawback for the full-time job if this is a competitive position, and it sounds like it is. I wouldn't discourage you from applying, but I think you should apply for the internship as well.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:49 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Like shroedingersgirl, I work for another org that is many people's dream employer. I would say that it's fine to express passion for the organization and mission, but like she says, not at the expense of showing that your skills and expertise match what they are looking for.

However, the cover letter is a good opportunity to show how familiar you are with the org's work and history. Don't "show off," but you might want to have a sentence at the beginning that says something like "I've long been a supporter of Organization - most recently, I was excited about/inspired by/etc [recent victory or campaign]." And try using the same language they use to talk about their work.

BUT I would say don't sweat the cover letter TOO much. It's not going to make or break your application. When I'm hiring, I always scan the resume first. If I see what I'm looking for, the person goes in the "phone screen" pile, and I'll look more closely at the cover letter before the interview. If I don't, THEN I look at the cover letter to see if there's something important that is in the cover letter but not the resume. So don't spend so much time on the cover letter that you get your application in too late! Give it another few days and submit.

Finally, some maybe-harsh words: it's great that you are so passionate about this organization's mission, but you really won't know if it's where you want to work long-term until you actually work there. I know you think you know all about the upsides and downsides of working there, but you don't know how those upsides and downsides will affect your day-to-day. You won't know how the organizational culture suits you. You might get this job and then find yourself 3 years later in the same job, desperate for a change but unable to advance for whatever reason. Or you may work there and have an amazing career. It's just, you have no way of knowing.

When I finished grad school, there was a job with another one of these Dream Orgs that I wanted SO BADLY. They took forever to get back to me and then called me back for an interview ... two days after I'd accepted a job elsewhere. I was so upset - but I've since met other people who worked there and discovered the org culture is really messed up in a way I would have hated - and this is something you'd never find out through reading about it.

So please don't think your entire career success and happiness rests on this one application. When it comes down to it, even doing Super Important Work for a Dream Organization is just another job, with parts that are good and parts that are bad. And if you don't get this job, there are other organizations out there doing work that is just as important, I promise you.
posted by lunasol at 7:14 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh and, yes, apply for the full-time paid position. Give it a few weeks. If you haven't heard back, reach out to HR and ask if you should apply for the internship as well.
posted by lunasol at 7:15 PM on October 29, 2014

Thanks for the excellent advice so far! You've helped put things into a little more perspective for me. I just wanted to clarify one thing, though. The application for the internship position is due at 9am tomorrow (and is listed to start "asap"), but the one for the full-time position isn't due till Monday (They were posted last minute). So I don't think I should wait to apply to the internship if I don't get the full-time gig. Right now, I'm thinking my strategy should be to apply for the full-time position, and mention at the bottom of my cover letter something like "I am also very interested in the XYZ internship, should you feel that my qualifications and experience be better suited to that position." Sound ok?
posted by hasna at 7:29 PM on October 29, 2014

I would recommend downplaying the fact that this is your dream job. If you have the right credentials it will be obvious that this is your dream job. And virtually everyone who applies to a glamorous organization considers it a dream job and many of those people are applying for all the wrong reasons (world travel, cultural cachet, instant prestige). You don't want to cone across as one of them. I guess what I'm saying is that the fact that this is your dream job does not in any way make your application special.
posted by jayder at 7:30 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

As in any cover letter, you need to focus not on how great a job this will be for you, but rather on how great an asset you will be to this organization. Why will your unique mix of education, skills and experience make this specific position more efficient and effective? What do you offer that other candidates do not? Are there ways in which putting you in this position will provide something to the organization that they didn't even realize they could use or benefit from?
posted by Rock Steady at 9:08 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wait, I don't get it. What's the downside of applying to the internship (other than scrambling to get an application in)? Why apply to both? There's no rule, right? Especially since it sounds like you don't actually have the degree qualification for the full-time position. What if you don't get the full-time position and didn't bother applying to the internship? At least if you put in an application it would be an option.

Sounds like I read this question late, so hopefully your applications are well on their way, but if I cared about this as much as it sounds like you do, I would absolutely stay up all night to finish an application, or take a day off of work or something. Good luck!
posted by spelunkingplato at 4:17 AM on October 30, 2014

Reading your update more carefully, I know it's a pain, but (again) I would apply to both. If the organization is as major as you say, the internship review people are probably not the same as the full-time position review people. And if it's as popular/overworked as it sounds like it could be, they might not read the letters super carefully (or at all until they've sorted through resumes/CVs, or something like that), or the letters might be screened by computers looking for keywords. I wouldn't count on including a sentence that effectively says "could you pass this message along to the internship people that I want a position (but didn't apply to it)?" to necessarily work.

Maybe my workplace is not the kind of workplace that other people have, but I'm surprised to be alone in this opinion.
posted by spelunkingplato at 4:27 AM on October 30, 2014

Yes, apply for both. Include a P.S. In both cover letters mentioning that you applied for the other. This is totally standard and not something that would seem at all weird to me as a hiring manager.
posted by lunasol at 4:44 AM on October 30, 2014

Uhh, don't write an actual "P.S." in a cover letter. It's a professional statement, not a letter home from summer camp.

I used to do hiring for a company that is many people's dream (with lots of attendant fanboys) and the candidates who were obvious fanboys rarely knew anything about the actual operations of the company. They were very familiar with our mission and our high profile work, but in terms of day to day operations, they were often clueless. An example weed out question that we used all the time, and was often met with blank stares by extremely passionate candidates, was "How do we make money?"

At the end of the day, most people are far less satisfied than they predict by merely working for their "dream company." The specifics of the job itself have to be rewarding to you. It is much more important to convey that in your application and interview.
posted by telegraph at 5:13 AM on October 30, 2014

First of all, don't get your hopes up. Typically job postings that are up as long as a fart in a whirlwind are actually jobs that are already filled, they just need to get a pool of applicants. So know that going in.

But, you have nothing to lose, and you never know, so go ahead and apply to any opening they currently have for which you are qualified.

They already know how awesome they are, so tell them how you'd awesomely fit in and fulfill their needs.

I used to use a cover letter that would basically restate the posting:

Your Needs
BA in English Lit
5 years Experience in Foo
Intermediate BLAH user

My Qualifications
BA in English Lit
7 years experience in Foo, 3 years experience in bah
Certified BLAH user with 4 years experience

You get the idea. Even if that layout is corny, your cover letter should highlight the skills and talents that you possess, that they are advertising for.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:41 AM on October 30, 2014

I don't know that I would apply for the internship if I also put in an application for the a full-time position, to be honest. I could see them thinking, why should we hire you for a full-time position if you're also just as eager to do an internship? I could be wrong though.
posted by ferret branca at 9:42 AM on October 30, 2014

You're not applying to work at Marvel or Playboy or someplace it would be borderline creepy for you to come off as a "fanboy". It's good to be passionate about medical humanitarian aid. Don't make the mistake of trying to sound like you don't really want the job. Outside of high school and a few sort of touchy/complicated environments, generally it's better to come off as someone who really cares and wants this.

My one piece of advice will likely have been mentioned above, but on the off chance it hasn't. Your application should focus more on what you can do for them, rather than all about how they are the perfect company for you. "I have X qualifications, which are uniquely suited to Y aspects of the position." Don't make the mistake of just listing off all the reasons you want to work there. Lots of people probably want to work there; what they want to know is why they should hire you for this position.
posted by Sara C. at 10:24 AM on October 30, 2014

See if you can get anyone on the phone from that company and tell them that you want to apply. That way they know you are enthusiastic and expect your letter. You can also give your letter a more personal heading "Dear Mrs. Smith - Jones" instead of "Dear Madam/Sir". Anything to make you stand out from the crowd. You can ask this person for their time, and ask them if you can apply for both. Bring the letter in person, maybe you can even give it to the person responsible. Ask a good friend to review your letter and resume. Be sure every item in your resume lists something you've accomplished as opposed to only enumerating the dry details. Include a STAR example in your cover letter (Situation - Task - Action - Result) and if they want to interview, be sure you have 5 more STARs committed to paper. Avoid negative words in your cover letter. And if you happen to not get either position, ask them for the reasons and make sure you work on that. Ask them if you can apply in the future with an open letter for another internship.

Good luck!
posted by hz37 at 1:53 PM on October 30, 2014

Uhh, don't write an actual "P.S." in a cover letter. It's a professional statement, not a letter home from summer camp.

What? Again, I'm a hiring manager and it's never even occurred to me to look down on a P.S. Maybe it's different in the for-profit sector?
posted by lunasol at 1:05 PM on October 31, 2014

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