Writing a cover letter is one of the most difficult parts of the job application process. In comparison, resumes are easy: all you have to do is list your accomplishments, succeed in avoiding typos, and don't use comic sans. But the cover letter is an exercise in personal marketing. Choose one tone, and you can sound too glib; choose another, and your letter will sound formulaic and fail to get a response.
A recent applicant to an internship program on Wall Street solved the problem with a rather novel approach: he was bluntly honest. How honest? Here's an excerpt:
"I am aware that it is highly unusual for undergraduates from average universities like [university name] to intern at [company name], but nevertheless, I was hoping that you'd make an exception. I am extremely interested in investment banking and would love nothing more than to learn under your tutelage. I have no qualms about fetching coffee, shining shoes or picking up laundry, and will work for next to nothing. In all honesty, I just want to be around professionals in the industry and gain as much knowledge as I can.
"I won't waste your time with credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of crapp [sic] about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking internship. The truth is I have no unbelievably special skills or genius eccentricities, but I do have a near perfect GPA and will work hard for you."
The cover letter was forwarded to 20 people within half an hour of the applicant sending it. At least a few people in the chain called him to talk to him about an internship at their company. As one person on the email chain said, "I wouldn't be surprised if this guy gets at least a call from every bank out there."
Maybe when it comes to cover letters, honesty really is the best policy.
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