‘Brutally honest’ cover letter lands recent graduate dream job

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NEW YORK — For fresh-faced college graduates looking to land that first job, standing out from the crowd is never easy.

Matthew Ross did just that.

In January 2013 he penned a now famous email cover letter to a managing director at Wall Street firm Duff and Phelps asking for an internship. In it, he said he “won’t waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of crap about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking internship.”

letter2Ross also claimed to “have no qualms about fetching coffee, shining shoes, or picking up laundry.”

The email quickly made its way across trading desks from New York to London, and within half an hour Ross was fielding calls from reporters and multiple employers looking to interview him.

Flash forward a year and a half and Ross has the job he wanted. He is an investment banking analyst at Duff & Phelps in Los Angeles. CNNMoney talked to him and some of his bosses to see how his no nonsense attitude proved fruitful.

A big gamble: When he sat down to write the cover letter, Ross yearned for an edge. He was about to graduate from San Diego State University. It’s a good school but it lacked the prestige of some others in California, such as Cal-Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA and USC.

“I was reading through some cover letters, and they were all fluff to me, everyone was embellishing and lying,” Ross said. “I wanted to take a fresh approach, tell the truth, and be brutally honest.”

It worked. The Duff & Phelps managing director he emailed promptly got him an interview in the firm’s L.A. office. “I was shocked. When I clicked send, I thought there was a 50% chance he’d respond,” Ross said.

Foot in the door: With a 3.9 grade point average in accounting, Ross was obviously a strong candidate. But his resume was not too different from the hundreds of others that Duff & Phelps receives for internship opportunities, according to Sherry Cefali, who heads up the firm’s L.A. office.

When Ross came in to interview, Cefali and the other hiring managers were extremely impressed. He was articulate and had good answers to the firm’s tedious technical questions.

“The cover letter opened the door but he really did get the job on his own,” Cefali said.

Treated like everyone else: Once Ross arrived at Duff & Phelps, he was placed right at the bottom of the totem pole and received no special attention. Still, he loved it.

“I was just pretty much thrown in,” Ross said. “I tried to be disciplined, to work hard, to do what’s asked of me without raising any questions or raising any flags.”

That strategy promptly paid off. After only two months of his internship, Ross was offered a full-time job in the mergers and acquisitions group. He works mainly on deals involving the consumer, food, and retail sectors. The hours are grueling, but Ross relishes the rewarding feeling of finishing up a big deal. His superiors have taken notice.

“Matt’s always the guy that’s going to raise his hand,” said Jordan Lampos, a Duff & Phelps vice president. “You know the work level is going to be good and there’s going to be a high level of accountability. ”

Advice for others: Lampos thinks that the fact that Ross didn’t come from an elite university may have helped motivate him to succeed.

He said new employees who graduate from top colleges often have investment banks fawning over them, which can sometimes lead to a sense of entitlement. “They don’t take it as seriously or they’re not as grateful for it,” he believes.

As for Ross, he tells investment banking hopefuls to stay resilient in their job search. Though he admits he “probably got lucky that the cover letter exploded the way he did,” he’s doing what he can to help others get noticed.

When SDSU students reach out to him for advice, he passes along their resumes to the human resources department at Duff & Phelps.

“Hopefully they’ll get an interview or foot in door,” he said. “It’s up to them at that point.”


  • Ron Konkoma

    Recent graduate. That’s the only reason he got it.
    $5 will get you $10 he can’t even make a sandwich or balance a checkbook but he’ll engineer the next big economic meltdown.

    • Wow.

      I imagine with his 3.9 average in accounting, he can balance a checkbook. And he doesn’t need to make a sandwich. He can go t McDonald’s and buy one.

    • Ron Konkoma

      Yeah I am. When a wet-ear pup lands a gig like that with beer-bong skills and a long list of fangirls who gave him handies for 4 years, I get pissed. I have 3 decades of experience in the actual job force following all the alleged rules and can’t even get an effing interview because all the recruiters are just like him.

      • Let me call you a Waambulance...

        You should stop complaining and actually make yourself a better candidate. Old guys like you love to complain about my generation taking your jobs, and then claim that you’re better at it just because you’ve been doing it for awhile. Don’t you think if you were as good as you believe you are, you would have a job? Stop being bitter, stop bashing this kid without knowing him, and improve yourself.

      • livingit

        Unfortunately, I don’t believe you’re in possession of all the facts, when it comes to older workers. Very often, they are let go so that companies can hire inexperienced workers and pay them lower wages. Also, many companies have begun using only temp workers, because they don’t have to pay for benefits for them. You are probably correct when you assume that you might have more technological know-how than some older workers. However, some skills are learned only through years of experience, and you have yet to acquire them. One of those skills is tact, and you would do well to brush up on yours. Remember, if you live long enough, you will be an “old guy” someday too…. it happens much sooner than you can imagine.

      • In response to LIVINGIT,

        I absolutely agree that being able to pay young workers less is a big factor. What I am trying to say is that a company is going to hire whoever is the better value. Often, the more experienced worker is simply not worth what they are being paid compared to potential replacements. It is the responsibility of the older worker to ensure that he or she possesses some sort of skill or niche ability that is hard to replace, and thus worth what he or she is being paid. If you aren’t worth what you are being paid, you will be replaced. Don’t blame the younger generation for your inability to justify your own salary in the eyes of your company. (General you)

        A person with tact wouldn’t take a personal jab at someone they don’t know on a message board. I’m doing fine for myself, thanks.

      • livingit

        Are you saying that I made a personal jab at you? No jab was intended, I assure you. If you’re saying that Ron Konkoma made a personal jab at the individual in the story, I agree with you…. however, having seen the effects of job loss and redundancy on older workers, I can understand his bitterness, to some extent. And you did take a personal jab at him. ;) I understand what you’re saying about skill and niche ability… however, many people in their 40’s started working in factories in their 20’s, and the management of these factories is impersonal at best. The ethos in these factories has always been to keep your head down, come in, and do your work, and get out without rocking the boat. For whatever reason, innovation and outside-the-box thinking was frowned upon. The job market these days is a whole different animal, and you’re right, these people must adapt. It’s just very difficult at times, and I can see both points of view

      • livingit

        I can sympathize with you… my husband has 25 years experience in his field, and he lost his job in March… it’s been difficult to see the effect it has on him, not being called in for interviews, or being called in, and getting excited about the possibilities, and being offered pay that’s 7 dollars per hour less than he used to make… he has come to the conclusion that he’s going to have to acquire some different skills. I’t’s been a real struggle for him, but he has been approved for WIA funding to attend some college classes… hopefully, this will be what he needs to get on the road to employment again. Perhaps WIA would be able to help you? Obviously, I don’t know your situation… it’s a real pain to jump through all the hoops to get funding, but I believe it will be worth it in the long run… good luck to you.

  • Curious

    Honesty and hard work still pay off. His absence of facial piercings and tattoos also set him apart from the average twenty something as someone willing to not follow every ignorant trend.

  • Joust

    Oh spare me. You don’t know squat. Go play the victim card somewhere else, you pathetic wretch.

  • Bob

    50 years of social welfare and affirmative action and some people have to play the race card because they still can’t get it together. I am sick of paying higher health insurance and higher taxes to pay people to stay home and they still think that the white people put them down. Why would they not stay home really? It is better money and less effort then working a minimum wage job or and is easier then going to college for free to better themselves. This guy went to school, got good grades and most of all he applied himself!

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