That Viral Cover Letter? Not Quite as Blunt as We Thought|
Do not underestimate the phrase, “honesty is the best policy.”
A cover letter from a college student to a Wall Street bank has gone viral because of the young man or woman’s refreshing style of writing (you can read it below). It has not only exploded on the Internet but also is being sent to banks all over Wall Street and the country, with people calling it one of the best cover letters ever written. There are reports that numerous banks are interested in this candidate. Is this the approach we should all take with cover letters now? After careful analysis, it seems maybe not.
Many of us use the cover letter as a means to convince a potential employer that we have wizard-like qualities, can defy gravity and can turn water into wine. We are just trying to present the best version of ourselves, but in the process we tend to embellish and move into phony territory. This young man took a different approach. The undergraduate at an “average university” said in the letter, which was leaked to Business Insider, “I won’t waste your time inflating my 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.” He also says he has no “unbelievably special skills or genius eccentricities.”
Is not pretending you can single-handedly make a company better a tactic we should all take in cover letters? Should we all claim our education is average and that we didn’t climb Mount Fuji to get where we are now? Why is this resonating so much and why is it being so well received on Wall Street, a place that values Ivy League educations, cockiness and boasts more than any other industry?
Roy Cohen, a career counselor and executive coach with a focus on Wall Street as well as the author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, told Levo that it may not have just been his brutal honesty that landed him a job. It was a very smart cover letter, but not just because he said he wasn’t going to inflate his credentials.
“The writer initially targeted a boutique firm — the right universe — and offered to work for virtually no compensation. If the letter were sent to Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan Chase, I guarantee…it would have been ignored.
“Except for a few typos it is well written,” he continued, “which leads me to be a little suspicious. It is far too wise for an undergrad, and because it is so well constructed, the typos (as an oversight) are a surprise. I suspect that the writer had a lot of guidance in preparing it. There is already a demonstrated commitment to working in finance as evidenced by an internship at Merrill Lynch. So despite the logistical challenges and the no-name academic credentials, the writer is not exactly a blank slate.”
Cohen also points out how the letter references the right buzz words, and the writer was smart enough to network at a known Wall Street watering hole, Smith & Wollensky. Not exactly naive! “It is clear that the writer knows exactly what he wants,” Cohen says. “There is a sense of purpose that is clearly communicated; plus what appears to be a strong skill set — or strong enough to know the value of a graduate degree in accounting in this very challenging market.”
The writer also said he would do close to anything for an internship, including “shining shoes or picking up laundry.” In a time when interns are suing companies like Condé Nast and the debate over payment for interns rages on, this attitude is pretty refreshing, Cohen adds.
But as he also points out, there may have been more strategy involved in this cover letter than it appears. You should never lie in a cover letter because it can absolutely bite you later, but this kid’s brutal honesty was also surrounded by some very smart strategy. It is that combination that is making this kid an Internet star and ultimately maybe landing him a job on Wall Street.
Would you write a brutally honest cover letter? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments!
Photo courtesy of WSJ