Oh, the dreaded cover letter. How can something so short, so seemingly simple, mystify so many job searchers?
There are a couple of reasons. First, there are so many different opinions out there about cover letters. A simple Google search of “cover letter advice” yields over one billion results. While adding “for coding jobs” to your search narrows those results down, it’s not by much.
Second, most people overcomplicate cover letters. How can one possibly fit their entire work history and all of their qualifications into just a few paragraphs? Well, that’s actually not the goal. Your cover letter is simply a brief way to elaborate on your resume, explain anything that needs explaining, and highlight which of your experiences and skills best align with the job.
The reality is a good cover letter can really help you stand out in this competitive job market. A lot of applicants skip cover letters entirely, so if you’re reading this article, you’re already a step ahead!
A few cover letter rules:
- There is no such thing as an “optional” cover letter. If the job application gives you an opportunity to type or attach a cover letter, you should have one.
- Keep it to one page. Keeping your writing concise while also including everything you want to is a skill that you will have to hone as you continue on your job search. But we’ve got some guidelines for you below.
- Make it unique. There is a lot of advice online that recommends writing one generic cover letter, changing the name of the company in the first sentence, and sending it out with every application. DO NOT DO THIS. First, if you’re applying to multiple roles with the same hiring manager, they surely won’t appreciate reading the same cover letter four times. Second, each role you apply to has different qualifications , so the skills and past experience you include will be different. Third, you miss out on the prime opportunity to make a good impression.
- Keep tone in mind. Is your cover letter going to be read by your potential future manager, the HR director, or a bot? Is the company a trendy startup that will appreciate your wit or a corporate giant? Does the position require you to think creatively, logically, or both? Write accordingly.
Cover letter formula:
If you have the hiring manager’s name, start with “Dear [hiring manager’s name].” Otherwise, start with “Dear hiring manager,” or “Dear [company name] talent acquisition team.” Try to avoid “to whom it may concern” — it’s a bit impersonal.
Paragraph 1 — Begin by thanking them for the opportunity to apply to the position and company. Then, elaborate on why you were excited to apply. Maybe you admire their company culture, maybe you are excited about the professional development in this role. (A little flattery never hurt anyone — don’t be afraid to lay it on thick.)
If someone from the company referred you, make sure to include that here along with their position.
Paragraph 2 — Here’s your chance to argue that you’re not just a good fit for the role, but the best fit. This is really the bread and butter of the cover letter. Use this section to explain what you bring to the table, whether that be a unique skill, a similar past experience, great problem-solving capabilities, etc.
A common mistake that job searchers make in this section is including too much. Stop yourself from rambling. Every sentence should be purposeful and relevant.
Paragraph 3 — Tell the hiring manager how excited you are to accomplish something, and then how you plan on accomplishing it. Managers don’t just want to see that you have the skills to complete the task, but also that you are coming in with an eagerness to contribute to the company’s vision.
End the cover letter by thanking them for their time, telling them that you are looking forward to hearing back, and signing off with your full name.
How to integrate code schools or bootcamps into your cover letter
How to integrate your gaps, setbacks, and insecurities
Imposter syndrome causes many job seekers to skip writing a cover letter altogether. Dreading that they will be judged for their past decisions or questioned about skills they claim to have and don’t have. You may think you’re fooling the hiring managers by jockeying things around your resume or leaving things out, but anything out of the norm will leave them wondering, “why is this resume different?” The cover letter is the best way to tell them what the issues are rather than let them make their own assumptions.
Think of your resume and your cover letter as best friends, one really doesn’t want to go anywhere without the other. Your cover letter can be the difference between you getting an interview or not — or even receiving a job offer over another candidate — so make sure that you don’t skip this step!