cover letter for the unqualified
May 28, 2006 5:21 PM   Subscribe

Need help writing a cover letter for a job...the catch is that I am not exactly qualified for said job...

I have been working at my current job for 2 years but have a total of 3 years experience in the field. Last week I found a job posting for what is basically the same job that I am doing now but in a better location/with better pay. Catch is in the posting they say they want 6 years experience. Figuring the worst they could do is toss my resume/cover letter in the trash I was going to try for it anyway. My feeling is the work load I am doing currently is so much higher then what they do at this new place (plus the fact that I interned there for the summer some years ago), that if I could come up with a cover letter to that effect I might have half a chance.

My main question is how direct should I be in my cover letter? Do I come right out and say "I know I am not totally qualified but here's why you should hire me anyway"...or should I just stick with a general letter and let them decide for them selves if I could be acceptable?...or I guess is the whole thing just a waste of time, with my resume going right into the trash?
posted by Captain_Science to Work & Money (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do I come right out and say "I know I am not totally qualified but here's why you should hire me anyway"...

Of course not. What you need to do is convince the interviewer that you're qualified for the job regardless of the number of years of experience.

If you're persuasive enough with your resume and cover letter then the number of years really won't be an issue. Focus on making what you've got look great and don't mention the number of years you've been on the job. With luck the HR people (in general not the brightest bunch) will overlook the experience requirement.
posted by wfrgms at 5:56 PM on May 28, 2006

Best answer: I don't think I have ever fulfilled every single qualification stated in a job posting, and yet, I've landed jobs. I've never drawn attention to the fact that I am a couple years short on experience, for example, I just emphasize what great experience or education I have and what a quick learner I am, et cetera. If I received a cover letter that said something along the lines of "I may not be exactly what you're looking for, but...," my impression would be that the applicant isn't aggressive enough or confident. You should definitely apply and don't even mention the fact that you don't have 6 years' experience in the cover letter.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 6:00 PM on May 28, 2006

Do I come right out and say "I know I am not totally qualified but here's why you should hire me anyway"

Minor re-write: "I am qualified [even though I don't meet the criteria in your ad] because..." (don't include the part in square brackets).

Remember that the goal of the resume + cover letter is to get you the interview -- not to get you the job. Don't try to convince them to hire you, just make them think, "This is someone we have to talk to." Tell them about your unique qualifications that the other candidates don't have and make yourself sound like someone they'd love to sit down and talk to (if only because they want to hear more about your work in Timbuktu).

Once you've got the interview, then you try to convince them to give you the job.
posted by winston at 6:02 PM on May 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

What Winston said.

You tell them that you are very qualifed despite what was asked for in the ad. Don't say that you aren't really qualified. And then explain what your job entails and what you can do for them. If they ask why you want the new job, remember -- the emphasis is on what you can do for them. Think up a well worded answer before asked.

Go for it.
posted by bim at 6:17 PM on May 28, 2006

My current posting asked for a Master's degree in computer science and 5 years industry. I have a BS in Business and 4 years of experience.

Go for it. Don't call attention to your faults in any way shape or form. Your goal is to pimp yourself well enough to get an interview. In the interview, if they ask about 6 years of experience, point out that your 3 years of experience has been in incredibly high-pressure positions that have forced you to innovate and learn new things on a constant basis, and you feel your value is much higher than it normally would be for a mere 3 years.

It's all about BS at this point. ;)
posted by SpecialK at 6:20 PM on May 28, 2006

If you're not totally qualified, the best thing you should do is be as enthusiastic as possible. Don't JUST mention everything about you that makes you a great candidate for the job, play up the fact that you want it more than any other candidate.

It's definitely worked for me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:28 PM on May 28, 2006

Best answer: Write as if it means really means "6 years or someone similarly adept", and don't draw their attention to that requirement or your lack of meeting it - explain why you're the right person, especially in regards to what you've done and can do.

If the 6 years really does matter to them, they can read between the lines and toss your resume, but this is no loss since you were never going to get the job if the 6 years is non negioable. But if 6 years is merely what they would prefer, then you've done a good job showing them why you're a better choice than a 6-year vet who might only do the minimm required for a paycheck.

Ie, leave that kind of thing to the interview - if they bring it up in the interview, you can discuss it, find ways to make them more comfortable with taking you despite it, etc. You don't get that chance in a cover letter, so lay out why you're the right guy in a way that counters the perceived risk of your lack of experience without drawing attention to it, and hope for an interview :)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:23 PM on May 28, 2006

On a marginally tangential note -- I've had both the experience of being unqualified for a job, getting it and doing very well and being unqualified for a job, getting it, and sinking like the Titanic.

But you should definitely work to get the interview so you can explore the opportunity. Write your cover letter in a way that gives the coded message that you have the skills, intuition, and the capacity for responsibility of someone who has six years of experience doing what you now do. Perhaps mention your intern experience if it was positive. Mention how much satisfaction it gives you to apply once again to the company and how you could really see yourself working there. Let them know that you are looking for a position where you have something to learn as well as have something to offer. Let them know what you do offer. Give the impression that you intend to be successful at your job over a period of time (i.e. one of the reasons they might require six years is that they want someone seasoned who will stick around). If you've done important stuff that some who has been doing what you do longer would still be doing, mention that. Ask them for an interview. Be articulate. Good luck.
posted by mrmojoflying at 8:32 PM on May 28, 2006

I'd recommend mentioning your internship there. Not necessarily because its shows experience (although it can't hurt), but because it might create a more personal connection. Rather than being Applicant #251, you're the guy who interned there and wrote that really nice cover letter.

Although you probably don't have to volunteer that you don't meet the 6 year criterion, don't attempt to mislead them about how long you've been working. Not only will they probably see thought it, but it could be grounds for dismissal.

Here's a (potentially risky) idea I'll put out there, never having tried it or having any clue how it'll work: call the guy up and explain your situation. I say it's risky in that he might tell you not to waste your time applying (and then what do you do?), but it seems like there's also the potential that he'll tell you to give it a shot, in which case he'll remember your call when he gets your resume, which creates a sort of personal connection. He told you to apply, so he'd feel bad throwing it out.
posted by fogster at 10:24 PM on May 28, 2006

Go a step beyond. Find all the people you had contact with in that internship, let them know what's up. Ask for help. Someone will be able to put in a good word for you. Especially if you can find the person responsible for choosing you, or the person you worked with/for. People love being asked a favor.
posted by bilabial at 10:46 PM on May 28, 2006

I'm going to recommend against the conventional wisdom here: as someone who has been on several hiring committees, I think it's more respectful to look like you actually read the job requirements, instead of making your resume look like the other 80 applicants who obviously didn't. And when there are a lot of applicants, the committee is glad to limit their workload by tossing applications w/ missing requirements into the "doesn't meet minimum requirements" pile -- unless you specifically give them a reason to give your resume a second look.

This actually worked out for me: I had an amazing resume and was more than qualified for a job I applied for, but didn't have the master's degree they required. So in my cover letter, I wrote: "At first glance, you may notice I don't have a master's degree and be tempted to toss my application in the 'doesn't meet minimum qualifications' pile. Don't! I absolutely believe that given a chance, you will find I am the best person you could find for this job, exceeding all your requirements but this one." And then I gave them a resume which, in fact, exceeded anyone they could hope to find for that position.

Afterwards, I was told they couldn't hire me for the job I applied for (and as it was a state job, I knew that was going to be true, because legally they -have- to hire someone who meets the minumum qualifications or rewrite the position description), but they had been so impressed with the resume they wanted to hire me for a different job -- which turned out to be even better.
posted by gretchin at 12:13 PM on May 29, 2006 [2 favorites]

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