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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

3 Ways to Get Your Foot in the Door When a Traditional Application Won't Do

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

As an animal lover, I have mixed feelings about that expression. It’s gruesome, but that doesn’t make it any less applicable in daily life. There are always multiple paths to reaching a goal and crafting job-hunt related messages is no exception.

Sometimes, a traditional application simply isn’t the best way to open doors. As much as a good cover letter can help you at some companies, it can detract points at others. For example, it’s increasingly common to see a job description that includes “no traditional cover letters” in the application instructions. Or, to follow a company that’s clearly growing, but that doesn't have many openings on its site. Or, if you’re a consultant or freelancer, you need to sell yourself differently than the average 9-to-5er does.

So, if you’re trying to get someone’s attention at an awesome company and have a feeling the traditional route isn’t the right one to take, you’ll probably find (at least one) of these alternatives useful:

The “Wham-Bam” Message

By “wham-bam,” I mean a cover letter that’s short and to the point. Instead of selling yourself with three to four paragraphs, you do it with a matter of sentences. The idea is to get in, show the company that you understand its needs and have the experience it’s looking for, and get out. Try something like this:

Hello Sadaf,

Venture for America is known for shaking up the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and I’d love the chance to contribute to this reputation as your next Company Partnerships Associate.

The attached resume will tell you about my three years of experience in sales and account management—what it won’t tell you is that I’m crazy about startups and their ability to adapt and disrupt.

I’m ready to leverage my background in a role with a team that values grit and social intelligence, and your Company Partnerships department seems like the right fit.



Wham-bam messages are best suited to modern, fast-moving companies. Your succinct and energized message will resonate with the way their teams communicate. Better yet, at a time when half of all talent acquisition decision makers report that mobile recruiting is a focus, your message will be no longer than a single screen.

The “Show Your Interest” Pitch

You’re a smart cookie, so you’re well aware of the fact that many job openings aren’t advertised. If you love a company and it doesn’t look like it’s hiring any time soon, a letter of interest is your best friend. It’s like a cover letter, in that it sells your skills and experiences, but unlike a cover letter, your interest message doesn’t mention a specific role.

Hi Will,

When I heard that BitPay was having trouble finding product-market fit, I knew wanted to get involved as soon as possible.

ChangeTip faced a similar challenge last March, so I helped the team there create a strategic buyer list and led introductions that secured the company a $12M acquisition offer by the end of February.

If your customer base is still an area where you’re looking to grow, I’d to love to chat and explore more about how I might be able to help your team.



Done right, a letter of interest is the equivalent of tucking yourself into a neat little box and tying it with a bow. Your reader can easily understand why you’re reaching out and where you might fit into the structure of the company. You’ve done the thinking for the team while still leaving room for discovery.

The “Cold Networking” Note

Many people think of sales when they first hear of “cold networking.” Don’t worry. This isn’t about being slimy, spammy, or becoming an infomercial in human form—I promise. It’s about networking like a pro, someone who makes connections and builds authentic relationships. Your email might sound something like:

Hello Alyse,

I’m Terri, communications researcher and travel enthusiast. I’ve been following your work at Priceline for a few months and would like to learn more about your path in business intelligence.

My next step is a role in marketing, and hearing about your experiences as an analytics specialist would help orient my thinking in a powerful way.

Would you consider letting me buy you a coffee near your office next week?

Thank you for your time,


Effective cold networking emails are similar to wham-bam messages in that they’re straightforward, if not (politely) blunt. Your “ask” is direct and simple, paired with a personal tone. Do all of these elements guarantee you’ll get a response? Not always. But I can tell you that a custom message like this one increase your chances and helps wash away the ick factor you might feel when reaching out to strangers for the first time.

Yes, there will be times when you still need a traditional cover letter. And you’ll usually be able to tell because the company will ask for one in its application instructions. But for those other times when you don’t think that’ll do the trick, try something new and different.

Photo of person outside courtesy of Lumina Images/Getty Images.

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