How to Write the Perfectly Imperfect Cover Letter (and Get Hired)

imperfect cover letterThis is a message to all recent grads who, as they write each cover letter they send, feel compelled to claim they are perfect for a job: You can write an imperfect cover letter and still get hired!

Case in point: Matthew Ross told a Wall Street financial firm his resume is flawed, and they hired him anyway. CNNMoney reports the college student wrote a ‘brutally honest’ cover letter for a competitive internship at Duff and Phelps.

The Imperfect Cover Letter

You can read the perfectly imperfect cover letter here, but here are the two key sections:

“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 inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of crap 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.”

But wait…where is the part about Matthew’s “perfect” skillset? His honors and distinctions? His swagger and (over)confidence? The perfect keywords and insertion of all the right acronyms?

What Kind of Young Professional Cover Letter is This?

It’s just the kind of imperfect cover letter employers actually want to read. Did you notice the two most impressive parts?

“I would love nothing more than to learn under your tutelage.”

“I just want to…gain as much knowledge as I can.”

A young person who can admit he still has a lot to learn. How refreshing.

Don’t you think employers see the opposite kind of job application 20 times a day? The one that implies, I know I’m only 22, but I have it all figured out. So just bring me on board and let the magic happen.

I read one cover letter recently in which a girl called herself a public relations “guru.” She graduated from college this past May. Guru? Leo Burnett was a PR guru. The girl is a newbie who knows little of the real world (especially this stuff).

Ross’s cover letter strategy is beautiful because it isn’t a strategy at all. He bluntly says I am who I am. He wagered a boss would rather hire a low-level employee short on skills but long on attitude. In the end, he was right.

Go Ahead: Tell a Potential Boss You Have a Lot to Learn

I suspect many employers relish the chance to mold a young person and share their knowledge. It’s much better than the alternative: endure an entitled Millennial who “knows” everything. Let other young adult applicants prove the un-provable, how someone with little to no work experience is, in fact, a seasoned vet who doesn’t need coaching.

As for you? Write the imperfect cover letter. Promise to work like mad and soak up the wisdom from everyone around you. Matthew Ross did. And look what happened.


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Danny_RubinAbout the Author: Danny Rubin is a communications expert and author of the new book, Wait, How Do I Write This Email?, a collection of 100+ templates for networking, the job search and LinkedIn. For more of Danny’s insights and sample chapters from the book, visit his blog, The Template, which highlights the career advice in the latest headlines. Follow him on Twitter.



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