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I've worked almost exclusively in academic research for the past few years. I'm now seeking a new job, and am considering working in an applied non-academic setting. This means I'm applying for a number of jobs for which I do not meet the professional background requirements as written, but I for which I still believe myself well qualified based on my skills and experience.

When writing cover letters for these applications, I'm unsure whether I should simply sell myself on the basis of my skills and academic experience, or specifically seek to assuage any concerns that my background may not match the employer's expectations.

For example, imagine I were applying for a position on an engineering team. The job posting might require a BA in engineering plus two years of engineering experience (which I don't have) as well as familiarity with [problems ABC] and [technologies XYZ] (which I have in spades).

My cover letter in this case would presumably have a section covering my most recent work experience and its relevance to the new position, such as the one below. I'm unsure if it would be stronger with or without the bolded sentences. (Please note that this is just an example; I'm not looking for feedback on this specific paragraph or how to apply for this specific hypothetical engineering job)

Though I have never before worked for an engineering firm, I believe my background makes me a strong candidate for this position. Most recently, I worked as a Research Technician for Dr. SmartyPants at Prestigious University. In this position I was responsible for a groundbreaking research project related to problems A, B, and C, which relied upon technologies X, Y, and Z. While this position may have responsibilities that are new for me, I am confident that I will be able to bring myself up to speed quickly. During my project at Prestigious U. I was required to self-teach the necessary methodology and background and also periodically collaborated with and learned from some of the leading experts in the field.

I understand that you're generally not supposed to bring up your weaknesses in a cover letter. However, this advice is generally given in the context of things weaknesses that your prospective employer wouldn't consider without your mentioning them. In this case a cursory glance at my resume would reveal that I am attempting to enter a new field, so I wonder if it's worth it to discuss this explicitly.

Edit for clarity and emphasis: The question isn't about whether I have some sort of obligation to be honest or humble. I understand that a cover letter should be an enthusiastic sales pitch. I'm wondering whether it's possible to make the pitch more effective by including a theme along the lines of, "I know my experience isn't what you were expecting, but let me convince you that it's what you need".

  • just as a note there is a grammatical error "while this position may [have] responsibilities that are..." which - if you keep the section you will need to rectify. – bharal Feb 19 '17 at 22:26
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    I once went to a short course for students about building a career and one of the most important things that stuck with me was: "Most of the people applying for a job don't match all the specifications. And they get the job anyways. If you decide to not apply because you are not a perfect match, you loose. If you decide to play yourself down instead of pointing out how well you match the most important qualifications and what you can additionally bring to the table the recruiting person did not even dare to think of, you loose." – skymningen Feb 20 '17 at 16:06
  • I would suggest that if you have been doing academic research in an engineering field that constitutes "engineering experience". At least I'd view it that way. – DLS3141 Feb 20 '17 at 16:22
  • @skymningen see edit above; the intent wouldn't be to play myself down, but to use a particular pitching strategy. Though your advice is still good, and likely applies. – Joe Feb 20 '17 at 17:40
  • @DLS3141 the example I gave is just an example, but in my actual job search I'm applying for some positions that are very close to the subject matter I studied, and others which really are quite distant. – Joe Feb 20 '17 at 17:42
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When changing careers, should I address my lack of experience in the new field in my cover letter?

No.

Your cover letter is a selling device. It should be enthusiastic and highlight your ability to excel in the job you are seeking. You should not call attention to your lack of experience in this letter.

In your example, portions of each of your bolded sentences could be omitted. This would communicate what you want, but omit the negative parts.

For example say "I believe my background makes me a strong candidate for this position". And "I am confident that I will be able to bring myself up to speed quickly."

Save your honest admission that you don't have specific experience for the interviews, when it will likely be brought up.

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    +1 I would only add that you should mention your experience in ways that highlight how that experience will translate to your new position. – DLS3141 Feb 20 '17 at 16:18
  • I suspect this is the advice I'll go with (+1), but see my clarification above. Can addressing likely skepticism or questions head-on ever be part of an effective "selling device"? – Joe Feb 20 '17 at 17:44
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    @Joe IMO, I would rather "sell" that in-person – DLS3141 Feb 20 '17 at 18:18

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