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I'm aware of the various "is a cover letter even/still necessary?" discussions, but where I am at, a cover letter is mandatory, unless I'm applying to the 1% of companies that have some kind of web "quiz" where they do ask all kinds of questions.

So obviously, just as with CVs, there's various information floating around on how to write the perfect cover letter. Not more than one page… Within the expected standards of a business letter… but not too conservative… You must attract the recruiters interest within this page… so you gotta be creative… yet stay formal… etc. and the latter points is where I got an idea/question:

Can I open a cover letter with something along the lines of "If you're looking for a perfect fit for your job description, you can save some time and move to the next application. But if you're interested in someone with some starting experience who would like to fully pivot into this field and would like to bring in some new ideas and perspectives, please read on."?

Or is that considered an absolute No-no?

The job in question is quite the long shot, so I'm OK with this being taken at face value and my application being discarded, but if I were the recruiter I would actually prefer this honesty over all the bland "I'm the perfect, innovative, flexible, durable, 100% magic candidate!!!!" cover letters that tell you absolutely nothing, besides the person being good at marketing itself. But as I am not recruiter, I don't have any idea if that might not break some unknown (to me) rules or if there is some psychological reason why you never ever should do that.

For the record: I'd say I fulfil about a third of their demands, I've got some skills and understanding of another third and the last third would be completely new to me.

EDIT: The job in question is a "data scientist" and I'm only a scientist that happens to work with data (don't we all?) but not with AI/ML (what they're asking about) and I'm from a very different field, but still in STEM. Hence I'm seeing a lot of stuff I easily can do or quickly learn, but also a lot of things I have no clue about.

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Don't make me feel manipulated or tricked. Telling me what I might want and giving imperative statements like "move on" or "read on" gets my hackles up. Instead, try this:

While I may not yet be a perfect fit for your job description, I do have some starting experience and very much want to fully pivot into this field. I believe I bring in new ideas and perspectives because of my background.

This is about you, not about how I run my application process. It acknowledges your gaps and puts them forward as strengths. The wording is more direct - you claim to bring things, not that you would like to bring things, for example. And it uses less words, giving you room for another sentence about specifically what your strengths or backgrounds are that most applicants won't bring.

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The general idea is practical. But language like "save some time and move on" can be seen as confrontational and not very professional.

Psychologically, most people don't like unsolicited advice. "Move on" or "read on" falls into that category. It can be used in sales pitches, but a recruiter is already in the job of evaluating you.

So the general structure for your type of cover letter would be:

  • Introduce yourself, including 1 fact that fits the position
  • Give 1-3 reasons you want the position
  • Mention the requirements you don't fit
  • Describe how you plan to overcome your imperfect fit
  • Describe the added value you can bring, beyond the requirements

Your quoted opening can and should be phrased as simply "While I'm not experienced in X" - then the good part. There's room to be a bit informal in your cover letter. Just keep it about you.

The recruiter will eventually distill your resume and cover letter into one sentence highlighting 2-3 reasons for the manager to read them. That they liked your letter can be one of them. One way to make it more likeable is to make their job easier - make these facts easy to find.

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    It might be worth mentioning that the skill requirements of most job postings are like Christmas wish lists. They fully know they are not going to find absolutely everything on the list.
    – Philipp
    Mar 12, 2023 at 12:11
  • So, seems like I probably could try it, but definitely with different wording. Failing that, flesh it out a bit more.
    – JC_CL
    Mar 12, 2023 at 12:44
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If I read that line, I'd do just that, move onto the next person.

I'd even be slightly annoyed that you had bothered to waste my time applying when you didn't think you could do the job.

Now, to address your actual point - there are ways to phrase it in a positive light, which is acceptable.

Don't tell me what you aren't, tell me what you are.

Tell me that you are eager to learn and bring complimentary skills. Tell me that you are self-motivated to pivot in your career.

Let me be the judge of whether you can or can't do the job

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is that considered an absolute No-no?

Not at all, and I've seen many similar openers on cover letters. I've lost count of how many openers start by basically saying they wouldn't have a clue how to do the job but are quick leaners and excellent people.

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    That seems like a bit extreme. Maybe for some simple, learn-as-you-go manual labour job, but I'd guess for what I'm looking at, this won't work.
    – JC_CL
    Mar 12, 2023 at 12:46
  • @JC_CL I never said it would work. I just said there is no impediment to trying it. Everyone else who isn;t qualified for a position tries some variation on the theme. And I've seen it tried for quite high level jobs.
    – Kilisi
    Mar 12, 2023 at 23:08

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