A Cover Letter Hail Mary

Write a cover letter like your job depends on it—'cause it does.

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Marty Nemko
Marty Nemko
Editor's Note: This is the third in a series on Job Seeker Hail Marys.

You see a job posting and are excited ... and then depressed: You picture a horde of other applicants and worry your résumé won't stand out.

It may be time for a risk: a Hail Mary résumé and/or the subject of this post, a Hail Mary cover letter. Sure, if your application is first screened by a computer, it may be rejected before a human lays eyes on your cover letter. But your cover letter may also be read—especially at smaller places of employment. Indeed, it could be read before seeing your yawner of a résumé. To help ensure that, supplement your e-application with a hard copy, placing your cover letter on top.

Of course, if you write the standard cover letter—"I believe I'm uniquely qualified because I'm a self-starter and a team player who delights in exceeding customer expectations and under-promising and over-delivering, blah, blah, blah"—your application may well get tossed before the employer even finishes your first paragraph. While a Hail Mary cover letter might make the employer press "delete" even more quickly, it should give you a better shot at landing an interview.

Consider, for example, this Hail Mary cover letter:

Dear __________________,

* If available, insert the decision maker's first name above. That increases the chance of creating a human connection. Using Mr. or Ms. subtly invokes the employer's all-business/no-nonsense side. True, some employers, especially in a formal field like law or banking, will be offended by the informality. But it's worth the risk, especially in a Hail-Mary situation.*

Undoubtedly, you'll be tempted to toss this application because I don't have the experience nor a bachelor's degree. Nevertheless, I'm hoping you'll read this letter.

People always tell me that my ability to learn quickly, work hard and ethically, and be liked by everyone makes me a great employee. Indeed, I've been successful at nearly everything I've done. For example, I assembled and led a team that built a boat we've since sailed on a 200-mile trip. As fundraising chair of my sorority, I helped us to break all records for most money raised in a year. As reservationist at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I got top evaluations and have been offered a slot in its management training program. But I'm planning to turn that offer down because I'm much more excited about working for you—What could be more important than products that improve health? Plus, your products have a wonderful reputation.

With regard to my not having a bachelor's degree: After two years of college, it became clear to me that spending more years and a fortune listening to lectures on largely theoretical, academic material would be less valuable than learning in the real world, for example, those projects I mention above. I like to think that being someone who can learn and accomplish without school's hyper structure (Do problems 1 to 37, the odds by tomorrow at noon) is the sort of self-starter who would serve you well. 

But now we reach the moment of truth: Will you interview me? As I mentioned, everyone says they really enjoy working with me, and I like to think that if you meet me, you might feel the same way.

Hoping to hear from you,

Sincerely,

Jane Jobseeker

If you were the employer, would you not consider interviewing Jane even though she lacked the direct experience and bachelor's degree?

Of course, many employers will reject your application no matter what your cover letter says. But when applying for a long shot job, a Hail Mary cover letter gives you a better shot of levitating your application to the top of the pile and landing you an interview. In that case, you'll want to read Interview Hail Marys.

The final installment, Thank-You Note Hail Marys, will be published next Monday.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.