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I'm finishing up my freshman year in college, and have begun applying to various internship opportunities for the summer. Despite attending a very rigorous degree program, I still have less technical knowledge compared to upperclassmen from other universities.

I won't name the company in question (but you've probably heard of it if you know anything about aerospace); however, suffice to say they expect very dedicated workers willing to forgo the work-life balance.

While I most likely can't impress with my technical skills (technically, I do fit all the requirements in their application; but they seem suspiciously primitive), I think I can discuss my drive for success, with points such as

  • skipping two years of high-school to get into college,
  • approved to take two extra classes (one later-year class required an prerequisite override from the professor); something not usually permitted for freshmen,
  • taking on two projects rather than the required one,
  • studying and working on projects 80+ hrs/week,
  • As in almost every class.

These are points that reflect my work ethic, and I'd like to put at least some of them in my cover letter. However, I don't want the hiring manager to read an impressive cover letter, only to be disappointed (and potentially feel mislead) to see that my technical skills are lesser compared to more experienced candidates when s/he looks over my resume.

How should I mention these points in the cover letter without disappointing the hiring manager after s/he looks over my resume?

  • You are probably overthinking "where to put it" in the resume, or, cover letter. A resume is only a page anyway, a cover letter is even shorter! The simple fact is "you will add it as a couple of bullet points". There's no misleading or confusion. – Fattie Mar 19 '18 at 11:50
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    I would be cautious about reading too much in to what an employer is looking for, at least in terms of what you're calling "work ethic." For instance, working 80+ hours a week isn't always a perceived as a good thing - for some employers, that may give the impression that you're not able to get a "normal" amount of work done in a "normal" time. Or, worse, it comes across as an empty brag. Concentrate on tangible examples of skills, work quality, accomplishments, etc. instead of bragging about how hard or how long you work. – dwizum Mar 19 '18 at 17:24
  • @dwizum -- Yes, I'd like to avoid bragging. Actually, working 80+ hrs/week isn't unique to me at my college (in fact, I think I get more sleep than most my peers :) ). Then, I suppose I should emphasize that I'm managing two extra classes and maintaining high grades with a high-yet-similar rate of studying. Could you recommend how I might be able to phrase this without sounding arrogant? – Fine Man Mar 20 '18 at 4:39
  • It's hard to give a concrete example without being in your shoes. Focus on what you did during those 80 hours or what you learned during those two extra classes, instead of just stating that you did them. When I interview, I look for skills, experiences, and stories - not volume or quantity. "I did 2 extra classes" isn't an accomplishment. "I learned X or lead X project or researched X" is. This will be especially important if you're right that working 80 hrs/week isn't unique to you - don't brag about things that don't even make you stand out. Tell your unique story instead! – dwizum Mar 20 '18 at 13:06
  • Further: It's easy to find a grad with a really high drive and super high energy level. What's hard is finding a grad who can hit the ground running and actually follow through on real world problems in an imperfect environment, someone who can actually make stuff happen. Good grades, high energy levels, and long lists of classes are the minimum to get noticed. What separates you from the rest is storytelling. Showing that you can actually understand and solve a REAL problem, versus showing that you're just another robot who is good at pumping out high volumes of schoolwork. – dwizum Mar 20 '18 at 13:11
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I do not think any points you highlighted would "mislead" recruiter in anyway irrespective of level of your technical experience. So I think you can include these points in your cover letter. However, reading closely the points you have mentioned, you essentially have two major points to describe yourself.

  1. High Aptitude (Jumping grades in school and allowed to take multiple classes)
  2. Hard working ability (worked 80+ hours, multiple projects, etc).

So I think to keep your cover letter succinct, you can broadly talk about your aptitude and hard-work and mention other points as evidence.

Also, consider putting some of these points in your resume as well. (Sometimes recruiter may skip cover letter completely). You can, for example, just mention or highlight the fact that you enrolled into college earlier than usual.

  • I'll certainly put it into my letter then. That being said, where would I stick it into a resume? I feel like it would be odd putting "Skipped 2 Years of High-School" it next to "Dean's Honors List" or my GPA, since it isn't exactly a fact about my current college academics. – Fine Man Mar 19 '18 at 7:24
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Some of the points you mentioned are usually best emphasised on the resume rather than the cover letter. To try to cover the points as you listed them:

skipping two years of high-school to get into college,

As you are new to the workplace, it would not be unusual (at least here in the UK) to mention your High School as well as some notable grades from your final-year classes. At this point, you can mention you attended the school from "2015 to 2017" for instance. If your employer is from the same area, they may take note of this. If they ask you about the dates listed at a later time, this is when you can emphasise that you were able to skip two years without it coming off as bragging too much.

approved to take two extra classes (one later-year class required an prerequisite override from the professor); something not usually permitted for freshmen,

If you are listing the various classes you took as part of your course, you can make a sub-section of classes with a title like "additional classes, approved by the faculty (see references)". Again, this can draw attention to the extra work you put in. From your background, I assume you will have a college professor as a referee? They can back this up too.

taking on two projects rather than the required one,

Again, in describing these projects, you can emphasise a "main project" and "elective / optional / secondary project" or however you think is best to label them.

studying and working on projects 80+ hrs/week,

Some employers may ask why you had to put in so much time for studying and project work if you mention this. Was it because you were struggling, or did you just really, really like the class? Be prepared with an answer to that. There will be other ways this can be worded. For instance, in your cover letter, you can talk about experience of working in "high-intensity environments" or "always meeting tight deadlines". Something that will convey that you are a hard worker because you want to rather than just because you needed to be. These, combined with your other resume additions, should not mislead anyone. Curiously, my first job out of uni was with an aerospace company and going along these guidelines probably helped secure the interview.

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Adding an answer based on my comments above at the suggestion of @Fine Man:

How should I mention these points in the cover letter without disappointing the hiring manager after s/he looks over my resume?

In order to answer this question, you need to understand what constitutes "disappointing (a) hiring manager." You're focusing on what you're calling "work ethic" and technical skills. Both are important but shouldn't be the sole focus of either the resume or the cover letter.

It's easy to find a grad with good grades, high energy drive, and an impressive list of classes. What is difficult is finding a grad who can actually execute (to completion) on sometimes poorly defined, messy real world problems. There's a subtle difference between working really hard all the time and accomplishing something. When you're pursuing a professional position, you don't want to come across as a robot who can pump out as much as possible - what matters is showing the result of what you're pumping out. You need to be deliberate about what you're pumping out, and show it has value.

You list these as your accomplishments:

  • skipping two years of high-school to get into college,
  • approved to take two extra classes (one later-year class required an prerequisite override from the professor); something not usually permitted for freshmen,
  • taking on two projects rather than the required one,
  • studying and working on projects 80+ hrs/week,
  • As in almost every class.

You're describing how much of a machine you are. Instead, focus on the output you created! For instance, instead of studying 80 hours per week, describe what you learned. Describe the projects you finished and the difference they made. Describe the research you did and what you learned, and why you were interested in that subject. Get to your motivations and the output you created.

I realize that, as a freshman, you may not have a long list of stories to tell. That's likely okay, since you're applying for an internship and not an experienced position - but if you really focus on it, I'm sure you'll come up with plenty.

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