What should I write in my cover letter? (Or that Email to a Real Person)

While most applications don't require cover letters these days, it's still an important skill to learn for the few cases when they are requested.

Cover letter best practices are also great for companion emails when you send a resume to a contact.

For example: Don't just write:

Hi Bernice,

Here's a copy of my resume.

Cheers,

Taylor

That doesn't make you stand out from anyone, nor provide Bernice with any particular reason to look at your resume over someone else's.

A much better message would be something like:

Hi Bernice,

I really appreciate you taking the time to look at my resume.

After reviewing your job posting for a Front End Developer, I noticed that Jane.com devs are expected to really 'own' their products.

I actually have had a lot of experience with this in my prior work as a Project Manager. As a PM it was my responsibility to keep jobs on track, support the client, and take full responsibility for project results.

You can read more about the projects I owned in my attached resume along with some work I've done in the tools this position requires including: React, NodeJS and Linux.

Looking forward to chatting more soon!

Cheers,

Taylor

In the brief message above, Taylor focuses on what exactly Bernice is looking for in the job posting, as opposed to just saying "thanks" or using fluffy, unsupported statements like:

"I'm a fast-learner with a great work ethic! Let's chat!"

But how did Taylor know what exactly to talk about in her message?

Guess what? It was actually all in the job posting!

One of the least used and most useful job search tools is in fact the job posting. Today we’re going to learn how to dissect a job post to figure out exactly what the company is looking for and how we might qualify for those needs.

Exercise 1:

Let’s start with the job posting below:

Most job postings have 4 sections and in this job posting we have highlighted this information with different colors denoting each section:

  • Blue: What the company does/their product
  • Pink: Company culture and values
  • Green: Technical job requirements
  • Yellow: Daily responsibilities and details

Next, let’s take some time to break apart each section and list the topics from the job posting:

What is Jane.com?:

  • Boutique Marketplace selling children's clothing, women’s clothing, and home decor at great prices

Company Culture & Values:

  • Fun & Contagious environment
  • Work/Life Balance
  • The sellers come first and we want them to have the best experience
  • High quality code
  • Continual learning & improvement
  • Encouraging others
  • Collaborating with users to create the right product

Technical Requirements:

  • Knowing the latest Web-Technologies
  • Knowing Front-End Development practices
  • React (or similar: Elm, Cycle)
  • Functional state management (Redux)
  • Node.js (Koa, Express, GraphQL)
  • Typescript
  • Flow
  • Webpack
  • HTTP, REST, WebSockets, GraphQL fundamentals
  • Git, Github, CI
  • Docker, Linux

Daily Responsibilities and Details:

  • Teams own their own product and are responsible for keeping it clean and up to date
  • Multiple production releases per day
  • Teams focus on perfecting specific experiences on the platform

Great! Now we've broken down the entire job posting into a simple list of requirements, as opposed to a bunch of paragraphs. You can apply this exercise to any job posting you're applying for to better understand what they want and what it's like to work there.

Exercise 2:

This next exercise helps us find our personal connection with the business and job qualifications that we can write about in our cover letter.

People are more likely to hire someone who has a connection with their business because it will likely mean that they’ll enjoy their job and probably stick around for a while.

Having the qualifications listed obviously shows you know how to do the job.

To complete this exercise, we'll next want to go through each topic from Exercise 1 and ask ourselves some questions to see which topics we connect to/qualify for and then respond to those questions.

What is Jane.com?:

  • Have you ever purchased product via Jane.com?
  • Do you have an interest at all in these topics?
  • Do you have children?
  • Are you a woman?
  • Do you really like bargains?

Company Culture & Values:

  • What makes you Fun & Contagious? How so? Have you worked in an environment like that?*
  • Is Work/Life balance important to you? Why?
  • Have you ever worked hard to make sure a client’s needs were met?
  • How do you ensure you create high quality code?
  • What are some examples of how you are always continually learning and working to improve yourself? Do you attend conferences? Work on side projects? Go to meet ups? Contribute to Open Source? Take other courses?
  • Do you have an example of the impact someone made by encouraging you?
  • Have you ever found value in encouraging someone?
  • Have you ever collaborated with a user to improve a product? What happened? What was it like? How did you succeed?

Technical Requirements:

  • Do you know any of these technologies?
  • If not, are you willing to start learning any of them? Which ones?
  • If you’ve started learning any of these languages, what tools have you been using?
  • Do you have any examples of you practicing/learning these languages? Projects you’ve worked on? Etc.
  • Do you have any examples of prior projects that include you using these technologies that you could use to demonstrate your experience?

Daily Responsibilities and Details:

  • Do you have an example of a project/product that you had to “own”? What happened? What did you like about it? How did you work to stay on top of it and make sure that everything was going smoothly?
  • Multiple, daily production releases make it sound like Jane.com is fast-paced, Do you have any examples of working in a fast-paced environment and enjoying it?
  • Perfecting specific experiences sounds like each team is assigned to specific parts of the platform and kind of stick to that. Have you ever worked in a dedicated department before? What was that like?

Exercise 3:

In Taylor's case, after answering each of these questions, the topics she most connected with were her experience of 'owning' projects as a Project Manager and having technical experience for this job in Reactor, NodeJS, and Linux.

So, with the goal to keep her email to Bernice short and to the point, she decided to write her cover letter on those topics:

Hi Bernice,

I really appreciate you taking the time to look at my resume.

After reviewing your job posting for a Front End Developer, I noticed that Jane.com devs are expected to really 'own' their products.

I actually have had a lot of experience with this in my prior work as a Project Manager. As a PM it was my responsibility to keep jobs on track, support the client as necessary and take full responsibility for project results.

You can read more about the projects I owned in my attached resume along with some work I've done in the tools this position requires including: React, NodeJS and Linux.

Looking forward to chatting more soon!

Cheers,

Taylor

Final Thoughts:

You really can apply these exercises to any job posting when writing a cover letter.

Does it take a little extra time and thinking? - Yes!

Will it make your cover letter far exceed generic messages like:

"As a highly qualified developer, I know I can meet your team's needs!"

- Absolutely! What does being a highly qualified developer even mean anyway?

Do you have to write about every single topic in the job posting?

- No, and Please Don't:

Cover letters can be very useful but only when people read them, so be sure to keep your message concise.

Now let's get out there and attack your next job opportunity by writing about what your specific hiring manager wants to hear.

And where can we find that information?

In the job posting!


This post is part of series on job search best practices. Check out the following posts below for more job searching tips: