Some jobs are won as much by luck as by hard work and skills that precisely match the job description. But the good news is that you can add significantly to your luck simply by writing a great cover letter and resume for the job that gets them to notice you.
And, of course, it also helps to have dogged determination that … yes … even that can show in a well-written cover letter!
Her cover letter caught my eye
I’ve often helped hire people, from initial resume and cover letter screening to job interviews to making the actual job offer. But there was one time where I was in charge of replacing myself, and it was the woman’s cover letter that helped me zero in on this particular candidate.
Something about her cover letter was different and caught my eye initially. But what she wrote also helped me make the case to my colleagues to call her in for an interview, since she did NOT have the experience that the higher-ups were convinced was a must.
Turns out it wasn’t a must. Here’s the story.
First some background
I was working in a major non-profit environmental organization with a group of scientists who, not too surprisingly, expected evidence of precise matching skills when it came to hiring people. The job itself was an odd blend of things I just happened to have, and it wasn’t easy to find qualified candidates for it.
But I really missed family and I missed Brooklyn. And there were some other reasons making me think I was not the right person to lead the project into its next phase. So after about a year of doing my best to make the job work, and after I accomplished some major milestones, I told my boss I was done.
I offered to help find my replacement, knowing how hard it had been for them to find a match the first time. They reluctantly agreed. And so I made it my mission to find someone who not only fit the real needs for the job, but someone who would also want to stay in it for a long time.
Her cover letter and resume arrive
We got all kinds of resumes, some with direct experience in environmental organizations, some with years of experience on the issues we were working on, and even some with related scholarly papers. And the cover letters all pretty much said the right things.
But there was one weaker resume from a woman who only had some recent experience in our field, although she did have other related education and volunteer experience. Still, her background didn’t come close to the requirements, at least as my colleagues viewed them.
Lucky for all of us, she also wrote one terrific cover letter.
Why her cover letter stood out for me
She addressed her lack of experience honestly without apologizing, and made a case for herself by pulling apart the job requirements and showing how things she had done, some in paid jobs and the rest as a volunteer, were strong evidence of her ability to handle the job well.
Her cover letter was about 3/4 of a page, but in that space she not only showed determination and solid understanding of the job and what she would really need to overcome to achieve our goals, but she told us of her excitement about the job, her passion for the field, and her grasp of the bigger picture.
I had a sense from what she wrote, that more than anyone she might just be able to handle the relationship-building and even the skepticism that she would encounter (things I knew about first-hand), and still be able to charm people and win them over. Her cover letter writing itself was evidence of those skills.
I knew I had found the right person!
And when I phoned her, after just a short discussion, I was even more convinced that I had the right person. I was excited. Unfortunately, none of the senior members of the hiring committee agreed with me.
They felt strongly that just didn’t have enough of the solid credentials they were looking for. They asked me to call in the three top candidates, even though my gut told me it was the woman with the great cover letter who really had what the job needed.
I’ll spare you the details, but in the end, after interviewing some nice people who would have gotten eaten alive by the job, we hired her. And she not only did a terrific job helping move the project forward in four cities, but she loved the work and loved proving to everyone how well-suited she was for it.
And she was. What really goes into making a great employee is a credential you can’t always see in a resume.
A few more thoughts
Of course, not everyone reads a cover letter the way I do, nor gives it as much value when trying to assess potential contributions beyond the resume. But I can assure you that many people do get won over by a great cover letter.
So, since you have nothing to lose anyway, give it your best shot to help them see how well you fit!
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