How to Write Cover Letters with Examples - Focusing on Developers

This is a comprehensive guide to writing a cover letter. It is specifically for developers and developer team leads, though I believe other careers can learn a lot from this guide as the principles here can be applied broadly.

This is also a reference guide as opposed to shorter blog post. It took awhile to put together and the goal is for it to be used as reference when writing a cover letter, hopefully, you can keep it open in a browser tab and use it as a guide. The outline below should help you see the topics covered.

I hope to give targeted and specific examples for developers and developer team leads. Research, writing the letter and learning about the process can be applied to industries outside of tech as well as other careers, but by focusing on devs, it allows me to use more specific examples.

No one reads cover letters anymore Read the Job Posting For Cultural Fit Research The Company Strategy 101: How Does the Company Earn Money? Opinions Are Good, Assumptions About Solutions Are Bad Uncover Details In the 'About Us' Page Now, we write! A Note About Personal Branding Use a Media Quote To Get Started Draft The First Sentence Tell a (Quick) Story, Don't Restate Your Resume Offer Value Goal Recap: More a Personal Landing Page than a Letter!

But No one Reads Cover Letters Anymore

I hear that often. And, in some circumstances, that is true. This article highlights how recruiters barely even open the resume if it is attached to the body of an email. Unfortunately, both the form and format of the cover letter hasn't received all too much attention for a long time. However, I can tell you that a lot of people have used cover letters EXACTLY because of that belief to gain an advantage in the hiring process.

If you look at a cover letter more as a landing page for new business, you can start to understand what this guide is trying to say. You want to provide someone with a very easy to consume, visual advertisement that has a single call to action. Its actually possible to treat the cover letter as just that and that's the goal here. Here is an example of what we aim to build:

You may still believe that cover letters are not relevant or aren't used, and I understand that. I know a lot of friends that have used the 'apply everywhere using the same method' approach to finding a job. It might work, but then again...

Not a good way

So, you might be here because your job search efforts aren't getting you the results you want. That's excellent, I believe this guide will help.

I also hear a lot of people say that cover letters aren't necessary because everyone finds you on LinkedIn. Certainly, that is the case with many, many recruiters. That's not a bad strategy to finding a job, however, there are some serious problems with relying on your LinkedIn Profile and being discovered by recruiters.

The biggest problem with recruiters using your LinkedIn profile is that they will look to match you to the job you are doing today. They are specifically motivated to find a match between what you do and what their client asked for. It should be no surprise that your goal is to get a job that builds and grows off of what you do today.

A recruiter wants to match a job requisition to what you do today, doing just that ensures they optimize their chance of getting their candidate hired while minimizing their time spent searching. They really aren't incented to find an opportunity that allows you to grow your skills. This might happen randomly, however, it might not, and the more experience you have the less likely it will be.

New Opportunities Are Created Every Day

A common complaint I often hear in web development is that the technologies change so often that it is nearly impossible to keep up. This has spawned a number of 'what it's like to learn X in 20XX' where someone complains about all of the complexity. I actually don't believe this is specific to web development, although somethings being less defined in web development might make this more difficult / painful.

My unscientific evidence for this is in simply watching the TV Show 'This Old House'. If you've never watched this show before, it is usually focused on a specific house where a group of home improvement experts, a plumber, a landscaper, carpenters work to either restore or repair an old house. What is amazing to me is that we are talking about home construction. An industry that has literally been around forever.

Everything is new. From new methods to run plumbing, to heating, to attic ventilation, landscaping. There are literally new options even with something like a faucet. Industries are always, always changing. What this means is that there are always, always opportunities for you to apply what you have learned in a way that can help people make sense of the new technology.

At the same time, learning the newest advances in something that you are interested in is likely the most exciting part of any job. It is precisely because things change so often that both make them exciting to learn and, can at times, make them frustrating when it seems like the newer way wasn't actually an advance but a retreat.

Such that, when working in technology, although things are moving rapidly and, sometimes, it might feel like it is difficult to keep up and that everything changes overnight, the positive side is that the opportunities for you to become the first knowledgable and then experienced person in a new technology is actually pretty good. Many technologies haven't been out there for all that long and are constantly being updated and changing. You are getting in early - even though it might not fully feel that way.

Carefully Read the Job Posting

This should go without mentioning, however, this is often not done.

If the job posting has any specific instructions for you, things like asking you to put a certain phrase into the subject line of an email or something similar, like, 'tell us something unique about yourself' or something of that nature, you must comply - many applicants are weeded out by this alone.

You can often learn a lot about the culture of the company by the special request they place in the job posting.

That is pretty basic, I realize, but I have to mention it as just a reminder.

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast"

Not a good way

This famous quote, attributed to Peter Drucker, has been used many, many times. It is important because a company will evaluate both your technical abilities AND your ability to be successful within their team.

I'll repeat it multiple times, but your resume answers the question of your technical abilities while your cover letter should be used to make them feel like you will be a great fit for their team.

In order to convince a company you will be a good fit you need to learn as much as possible about the company, including through the job posting as well as other sources of information which we'll cover.

The key point is culture has a way of enabling and overcoming many obstacles. When a company is hiring for a position they are trying to gauge whether or not the person will be a good fit for the culture of the company and for that particular position.

IMPORTANT: Culture, used here, has nothing to do with your individual culture. Culture in this sense is more aligned to the behavioral types of how the organization and the team works. Think of the differences between say how a Navy Seal team would function to complete their objective vs. how a department of college professors would collaborate on a curriculum. They each will operate very differently.

Your resume will show them you can do the job technically. However, you are also being evaluated on whether or not you will be a 'good fit' for the position and company. The hiring manager is likely going to, before reading resumes, construct a concept or template or whatever about what someone successful in that position will need to be a good fit.

In the cover letter is where you get an opportunity to convince them that you would be a good fit.

Job Posting Inconsistencies

Next, one of the most important thing you want to look for in a job posting are inconsistencies. Simply stated, things in groups where one of the things doesn't belong. Basically, things that don't necessarily make sense when put together.

An example will make this much more clear.

Take this job title recently posted on

senior rails engineer [react]

Now, (and this will be more specific to developers) but rails and react are very, very different things and sometimes either are used with or without the other. So having a title of senior rails engineer, but then also including [react] in the position title - raises some questions, is this a rails position? Is this a rails position with a lot of frontend development working using react? Is this a bit less of a senior rails engineer and more aligned toward a frontend developer role.

Just from the job posting you won't be able to tell the difference, however, something like this where there are slightly incongruent elements to a job posting are often tell-tale signs that you can use in a cover letter to showcase that you understand and can help solve problems in that specific area (in this case between rails and frontend development using react).

Reading the job posting can also give you a bit of an inclination about the company culture. Some words that seem to often be included are: "...proven team...results oriented...seasoned". Each of these are very general, often used and, unfortunately, don't really convey all too much meaning. It could simply be that the person creating the job posting cut and pasted from a previous job posting, however, either way, inclusion of language like that can start to give you a sense for the culture of the team.

Not a good way

So, your research starts, in some cases with the job posting. However, what if the company doesn't have any opening positions they have recently posted? They might in the future and you want to be there when they do, so lets move on to researching the company.

Company Research

Next, move on to company research. You could just start reading every article you can find about the company. I wouldn't recommend that though, we'll to use our time more effectively.

Let's start by trying to draw, in a simple way, how the company earns money. All companies provide a service or a manufacture a good. However, can you identify the raw materials the company consumes in order to produce either the thing or deliver the service? Then identify the process to move and convert those to the service. Understanding the company's business will allow you to write a cover letter that speaks to their issues and their challenges, first, before you talk about yourself. It shows that you're interested in them.

Strategy 101: How Does The Company Earn Money?

Let's take a few companies as an example - we'll start with a company that everyone knows about - say Google. Now, Google is a massive company, actually the company name is Alphabet, Inc., but lets review how a company like google makes money for one of its largest businesses, pay-per-click advertising.

What does the company sell? The company sells adwords. (I know, they do a TON more than that, but this is just an example). 'Selling Adword' doesn't really hold too much meaning, so let's examine it a little more. You purchase an advertisement that you want to show up on the google website. You can write your advertisement text and even include a link. When you hand it over, does your advertisement then show up on the home page? Of course not. For your advertisement, you purchase a keyword. Then, whenever someone uses the google search engine and types in the keyword you purchased, your ad will be shown to them (again, this is greatly simplified).

So, how does Google make money? Well, it needs to maintain a search engine. That search engine needs to constantly catalogue websites to find new articles and sites that might be relevant. If ever Google allowed their search engine to have stale or less relevant sites, or if people could find more relevant information elsewhere, the utility of google as a search engine would drop and companies would not longer be willing to spend money for Google to display their ads in response to search criteria.

Not a good way

So how does a company like Google convert raw materials into cash. We already know the cash piece - it is paid to google by companies that would like their advertisement to show up when a particular search term is used. So google needs to maintain a search engine, to do that it must operate and constantly update the search engine for which is needs computer hardware and software developers.

Therefore, at the highest level, and for a huge company, Google takes the raw materials of software developers and computer hardware that they use to build a search engine which creates a catalogue of information and websites available on the internet. Google then converts the results of search requests into cash by displaying advertisements based on the keyword search term.

Now, that example is SOOO high level you may be asking yourself, what's the point? Especially in this example, as so much has been written about Google being able to hire the best engineers from Universities like MIT, Princeton and Carnegie Mellon for what seem like eye popping salaries.

Here is the point: in your cover letter, you could spend time talking about how much you understand a particular development language like C++ or javascript or whatever, however, if you spend some time showing that you understand the company's business, you will immediately start to differentiate yourself.

Not a good way

Google is often a difficult example to grapple with because the technology has so many moving parts, but because of its familiarity, its a great place to start. We can simply though to get a better understanding.

Instead we could start with a company selling ties. That's it - nothing more than selling ties. If you want, you could replace ties for t-shirts or whatever. So, how does the company make money? Simple, a customer purchases a tie from the company for specified dollar amount. That's easy. Now, can we figure out how the company makes money? The raw materials in this case are the cloth, manufacturing and packaging required for the tie. So, very simply, a company purchases cloth, stitching, design, manufacturing and packaging, puts them together and sells a tie.

Not a good way

So, on the purchasing side the company must find suppliers for cloth and the stitching, factories that will sew the tie together and logistic companies that will package and ship the product all throughout the world. There are also different retail strategies: - will their be retail space in shopping malls, order direct, a website. Lastly, retail is always heavily dependent on marketing and brand image - thinking of Nike or, more specific to ties, Vinyard Vines.

Opinions Are Good, Assumptions About Solutions Are Bad

Don't assume you know the best solution ... have opinions yes, but be willing to learn

It is important that your cover letter convey a sense that you understand what the company does and how it does it. However, you must be careful not to assume that you know how to best solve a particular problem. For a company that you are just learning about, the chances aren't that great that you would immediately know the solution to all of their problems, so you don't want to come off as a know-it-all or someone that arrives at decisions rashly. However, not being able to see the big picture of how the company operates at the highest level is a honest problem, and, if you can show that you understand how the company works, makes money, you will be in a much better position to be considered for the position.

Another Example - A Marketplace For Temporary Bartenders :)

Lets use another fictional example, this one a little more difficult, a company providing a marketplace between sellers and buyers. Let's review how it makes money ... a company, like a restaurant or hotel will need to staff a particular worker for a particular shift, in our case, a bartender. That company will create a post on the website. The website will then try to match that post with a person it knows about.

So, much in the same way that google matches keywords, this company is matching bartenders. The raw materials are a computer system to keeping tracking of applicants, some intake mechanism to encourage shift workers to sign up, and a process for interviewing, vetting, and documenting the results. Another so-called marketplace solution.

Not a good way

What are some things that might be important to this company? A crazy easy to use interface. An excellent reputation for providing the best staff. They might care really, really a lot about providing great customer service. The goal in researching the company in this way is to try to see things as your company sees them. The first thing our cover letter needs to do is to convey the we have researched, tried to understand the business the company is in first, and only then compared how we might contribute to its success.

Is this too much work?

Now, a lot of people I know have said to me "who cares whether or not I learn about the company at this stage? This is way too much work to do. I'd be better off just sending out a lot of generic letters at this point and then only take on the initiative of research a company once they have expressed some interest in my background.""

That strategy might yield you results. However, there are many, many examples of qualified people not hearing back from employers. This is actually one of the biggest complaints job seekers have. So, I encourage you to try something different.

Spend no more than an hour trying to answer the question of how the company makes money, what raw materials they consume to either manufacture a product and provide a service or both and then see how the job position that has been posted fits into that conversion of materials to cash.

About Us, CEO and Leadership Team

Now, move on to the CEO. Small to mid-size companies will often have a story told from the 'About Us' page on the company site. It should be a priority that you visit the About Us page when researching a company. Now, if you have small to medium sized company the About Us page will often tell a story of how the company was started.

You can also get a feel for the culture: does the company list pictures of all employees with a (not too) funny description of the person? Is the description serious, wherein it lists the degrees they've achieved at university? Each of these are clues to the culture of the organization. Then, research the CEO directly.

Search for information about the CEO that is NOT on the company's website.

More often than not though, there will be articles, stories, media that the CEO has been working to get out the word about their company. That will tell you a lot about what the CEO is talking about publicly and can certain help to offer clues about you could start your cover letter with.

Warning: here is where there be dragons. Along the way of your research, there may be many, many opportunities that tell you this job on this org. isn't the right fit for you. This has happened to me more times than I can count. Push through! Your research could be wrong, the position isn't really the one they are hiring for, etc.

So, you just did a ton of research - now you need to write examples of translating that research into a cover letter that makes a difference .. so here you need, say, three or four examples of converting your research into a cover letter that makes a difference.

Now, Time To Write Using Your Research

So, now you've done a decent amount of research on the company, you know a little bit about their CEO or about the company in general. This has all been the background work for you to create a cover letter. You did all this work in order to create a cover letter that will stand out. This is because, first off, many applicants will have read that cover letters aren't read and so will think that they are wasting their time.

What You Shouldn't Do

Please don't go through all of this work to simply create the same cover letter that you would've otherwise created having not done any of the research. That cover letter, the one that is not informed of your research, will be something that looks like reading through the job description and then trying to highlight the three or four elements about yourself that you think might be most applicable to the company. You can do so much better than something like this...

"of particular interest to you Awesome Company is my experience developing SQL stored procedures for an online dating app".

Although you certainly do want to highlight aspects about yourself, doing so in an introduction might not be the right approach.

What You Should be Prepared To Do

You should be in a position to talk, in your cover letter, about the company. Think about this from another perspective, say you meet someone at a neighborhood block party...

Graphic: Who would you rather talk to at a neighborhood block party? two frames. Nice t-shirt: do you work with react? {} This is an XKCD-like cartoon.

What would be interesting is, if you took a look at how the company made money and picked something specific about that process - that you know is a general challenge that organizations struggle with. We'll get to that in one minute, however, first, we need a note about Personal Branding.

A Note about Personal Branding and Unique Selling Propositions

Here is where, many guidelines get the cover letter wrong. They will tell you to pick something that you are uniquely capable of solving, lots of people call this your unique selling proposition(USP).

This USP is good, but it isn't useful at this point in time. Right now, you are interested in developing a relationship, you already know (and they know) that you are interested in them - you are searching to find out what would make the company interested in you.

Your USP probably isn't as much of an interest to them unless it specifically addresses the problem that they have. To be honest, the chances of your USP specifically addressing their problem is the same chance that, upon walking into a speed dating session, you find your 100% perfect partner.

It could happen, but it probably isn't the most likely. And even if it was, the company is STILL going to evaluate you on whether or not you will be a good fit for their team. The 'genius that treats everyone like garbage' is not going to cut it no matter how much they have invested in their Personal Brand.

Unfortunately, so much advice out there has been focused around things like building a 'personal brand' and taking pages out of the marketing and branding playbooks. Even though those things are valuable, they might not be the most useful for you at this point.

Think of some well known individuals in the Software Development space, particularly surrounding Javascript and React. Names like Kent C. Dodds and Sarah Edo are certainly very well known. However, even though these very well-known and knowledgeable people have a very strong presence, it would be hard for us to say what their Unique Selling Proposition would be.

Sarah Edo could be "wrote the book on SVG and is a big supporter of VueJS" ... Kent C. Dodds could be '...working at Paypal and does a lot with React and testing', to be honest, those really don't do them justice. The point being here that finding and communicating a Unique Selling Proposition or a 'personal brand' isn't really going to help you start a relationship.

If it is difficult for us to conceive of a USP for even some of the more well known people in the industry, how much harder is it for us to do the same for ourselves when we are not as well known.

Of course, you could spend a lot of time becoming as well known as these people, but while you are doing that, you will likely need a job that pays the bills - so let's make sure that you can do that. Let's get back to writing now!

Use A Media Quote As a Good Starter

So, we're back to what we should write about in the cover letter and our materials, our base to work from, is the company and how it converts raw materials into cash through either manufactured products, provided services or a mixture of both.

Since this is an article centered on writing cover letters for web developers, lets focus on things specific to web development. Lets start with my manufacturing example from earlier. This company is manufacturing a product which they need to sell through both an online and retail based presence.

Many, many times, the CEO will be quoted somewhere in the media. Take this quote for example:

Our biggest challenge is disrupting the established behavours in the temporary staffing marketplace. We’re looking to provide as much education and support as possible whilst listening to feedback from our clients, and in turn create a supply and demand cycle.

Hmm, well there certainly is a decent amount of executive / corporate speak in there. More importantly, none of it is specific to things like databases, rails controllers, docker containers or javascript libraries, which are generally the things that as a developer, you'll have deeper knowledge surrounding.

So, imagine someone talking to you about that as a challenge and you immediately jump into how ReactJS is the best for Front-End Development library. Even asking the question, 'what do you use on the front-end?' may be ineffective, as, if you don't show that you understand the core problem, no framework will make the difference.

Ok, so what can we focus on about the company? Well, we know that the company makes money when other companies post a position on their site that they can then fill with qualified individuals. We can also infer from this quote that there are established behaviors that people have either grown accustomed to or are comfortable with and that these behaviors may not be serving their needs as effectively as possible.

So, the ease by with a company can post, review and fill new positions is clearly something that could be talked about in the cover letter. Corporate managers might need guidelines, analysis or wizards that help them, step by step, work through the specifics of what they need, ... which leads us into...

Draft the First Sentence

Yes, the first sentence you write is usually the most important. This is because, after reading the first sentence, the reader will likely make a decision about whether to continue reading or to file and move on. Much advice will suggest doing things that grab attention, and I certainly do think those things have a place, however, not always. The attention grabbing headline, hasn't always worked too well in the scenario of job hunting. Many times, you need to be a little bit more subtle.

First, keep in mind that it should take two or three tries to get the first sentence correct. So don't put so much pressure on yourself to get it right / correct / perfect on your first try. Instead, try to write a sentence about what the company does.

Awesome Company is a company that maintains a website that serves as a marketplace for contractors and employers to get hired.

Mmmm, that's not bad. However, does the company get paid by its contractors? No. It gets paid by other companies who hire through them, so, while the contractors play a critical role in meeting the goals, starting by focusing on employers is likely a good straight forward option.

Awesome Company provides a marketplace for employers to quickly staff positions.

Not bad. Anyone reading that sentence, would likely ask the question ... "true, but so what?"

If they do ask that question, congratulations!!! Your first sentence has done it's job.

Just like the place kicker in football who trots onto the field for brief seconds during the game only to execute a singular, albeit very important, function, the job of the first sentence is solely to get the reader to want to read more.

What you really don't want to do here is simply restate what was already in the subject of your email. So if the subject of your email was something like ".... in response to your posting on", you should never waste your first sentence by saying something that essentially repeats what the subject line said.

My suggestion here is start basic: write out the following:


A lot of advertising today is not like this. It doesn't talk about the person reading, it instead immediately focuses on the product. So, we get car commercials that tell us about all of the great JD Power and Associates awards the car has won. It is really, really difficult for me to make the connection between winning an award for which I don't really understand what went into winning it all the way over to something that I want or will meet a need that I have. Instead, talk about what I do. E.g.:

You spend 2 hours commuting into NYC in the morning and the evening.

My response, "Indeed, I do spend a boat load of time commuting, so what?". Now, you have the opportunity to take the conversation in several different directions - maybe the car has features that help you to avoid traffic, maybe the car has features that help you to stay productive via audio conference calls during that time, maybe you want to talk about the reliability of the car for commuting.

The exact same thing goes for a cover letter. Just making the statement about what the company does, even in a simple form like above, or making a statement about what the car buyer does(as an example) shows that you have invested some time to understand and learn about who they are.

Now, you can take a shot at something that might be helpful to the company, remember that it doesn't have to be specific to something that you have experience in. It just needs to tie to the first sentence. Furthermore, you don't need to immediately jump into any recommendations or suggestions, in fact, it is probably better if you don't and spend another sentence or two talking about the company.

There are many ingrained and established behaviors in the temporary staffing industry and marketplace that have evolved over the past 20 years.

The above was specific to the industry and not the company, it'd be better at this point to focus on the company.

Even though there are established behaviors in the temporary staffing industry, these haven't always been effective and Awesome Company's [ability or approach or technology] allow it to [stand out, do something different, serve a different customer segment].

In this case, it might be capitalizing on the desire for remote work, the gig economy, etc. Let's put together what we have so far:

Awesome Company provides a marketplace for employers to quickly staff positions. Even though there are established behaviors in the temporary staffing industry, these haven't always been effective and Awesome Company's technology allows it to provide a straightforward solution to hotels.

Begin the Transition to You

Ok. So, we've talked about the company for two sentences and our goal has been to set the stage. Many candidates will immediately jumping into something like "I've been a rails developer for the past 15 years...", which I don't recommend at all. We need to make the transition easier.

Instead, an easier jump to make is something that talks about what the company needs. This is not in a "you need to be hiring a person with these exact qualifications..." No, this is more aligned to things like "design is really important in this industry because of ...insert some reason".

This doesn't have to be something that currently exists or that you currently are - in fact, it would be far better to propose that you want to work together to build whatever is needed as opposed to building ONTO whatever they already have.

So, in our example, what are some things the company needs?

They need someone that can learn and understand the preconceived ideas and patterns/behaviors of existing users. They need someone that can translate that understanding into something that will be easy for them to use. They need someone that is more concerned about users than about implementing the latest technology.

THIS is why we spent time researching how the company earns money. Understanding their process will help us to craft a sentence or two at this point that speaks to what they need.

Lets get them interested in you

Now, HERE is where some better marketing can be applied. Again, we've been through why most advice here will tell you to highlight the specific areas where you have experience and while that isn't bad advice, my suggestion is that it misses the boat in this context. If they are interested in you they'll see from your resume what your experience is. The key point there being 'if they are interested in you'. So our goal is to make them interested in us. This is the case despite what experience we have.

As an employer, I am interested in employees that will solve my problems.

So, let's take this a step further using our example. The company's problems are going to be tied, in some way, to how the company makes money. You have already detailed out how the company earns money, we did that above. So, as we look at each stage of the process, we can think about the problems that might be happening at that stage.

Let's return to our example of the company that makes a marketplace between bartenders and hotels. Can we state some of the problems they may experience:

  1. Attracting qualified bartenders
  2. Scheduling
  3. Attracting and training hotel staff

We can actually pick any one and we could even brainstorm more. I'll choose the third one, but only because it seems to be something that relates to the found CEO quote from above. So, a.) there are established behaviors that aren't always effective and b.) one way the company makes money is attracting and training hotel staff. Let's tie those two things together, my first try was something like this:

Awesome Company needs incredibly easy-to-use design skills in order to make everything they do more user friendly to hotel and training staff.

This is a good start BUT ONLY BECAUSE I WROTE SOMETHING. What is wrong with it?

Simple, in the above statement, I have assumed that I understand the problem and then proposed a solution. For example, if only they did this one thing, they would be in better shape. That might not be true and, even if it was, we don't want to come off as a know-it-all. Let's revise the above sentence. Again, getting a first line down is great because it's like clay that we can start to work with.

Making something more friendly and easy to use, might have nothing to do with design and might, instead have everything to do with simply understanding the user. Some people feel like a command line terminal or a green screen are friendly, others feel like the Mac OS is friendly. So what is important is not necessarily design, but understanding how hotel staff will use the product. Let's try:

Services to the temporary staffing hotel industry are more successful when they are focused on bringing the user along for the journey to more productive solutions.

So that our introductory paragraph looks like:

Awesome Company provides a marketplace for employers to quickly staff positions. Even though there are established behaviors in the temporary staffing industry, these haven't always been effective and Awesome Company's technology allows it to provide a straightforward solution to hotels. Services in this industry are more successful when they are focused on bringing the user along for the journey to more productive solutions.


So, what did we just do? We opened up the stage a bit to talk about the success of the company. This is a topic that is absolutely at the forefront of the person who will hire you. Showing that you have thought about their success (and not just getting this job) is often a win in and of itself.

THAT is the goal: show the company that you have thought about what would make them successful. Now, that you have done that, the introduction paragraph is done, it has done it's job. The hiring manager will now have a choice to make. The discussion has led down the path of the company's success. There is some degree of momentum created.

This momentum is along the lines of ... "we're talking about the success of my company, it probably is worth my while to read a few lines more." Contrast this to something that says, "of particular interest to you is my 3 years experience with React Hooks". I'm definitely more interested in my success than I am in someone's experience with a particular piece of technology.

It Takes Revision

It is very important to stress that it isn't easy. For certain, you don't want to come off as someone that just knows all the solutions, remember, they are likely far more experienced in their specific problems that you are. They will likely have researched the problem in depth. What you can offer is new, fresh perspective, certainly, but more important is a teamwork attitude of solving problems together.

So, what questions now exist in the readers mind? Well, if our opening sentences have done their job: 1. Can this person be successful for the company? 2. Will this person fit in well with our culture? Remember the resume will answer the first question, so, for now, we really want to focus on answering the 2nd question.

Tell A Story Instead of Restating Your Resume

One option is you could tell your own story. This is telling the story of where you are right now and how you got there. First, this is really most effective if you are currently employed. Saying something positive about where you were is certainly the way to go.

Why? Imagine saying something negative? Even if the negative aspects of the job are there, like all jobs have, focusing on these will be something that sends up warning signals to employers (e.g. all jobs have negative aspects to them, is this an employee that is going to be more trouble then they are worth?) you especially don't want to give off that vibe.

However, let's say that you are recently out of work. You don't want to jump into the story of how you are out of work, it would seem kinda awkward if you immediately started to complain about why you got laid off versus someone else on your team.

So, now you have your option to pick a story from your background that highlights / showcases something specific about yourself with the goal of convincing someone to read through your resume. Certainly, speaking about your most recent position is a very easy and straightforward methodology. However, what are some other examples?

One, is to use the most recent or most memorable emergency that you worked through. We all have several large-ish problems that will occupy our time at work over a period of weeks or in some cases months. The key is don't start from the beginning, e.g. don't start with "First, Frodo Baggins was born". You must start with a problem, as in "Whoa amigo, there are some really nasty Black Riders looking to do you some serious hurt - leave now."


Describe a scenario where in a story form you outline a problem that you solved. There are challenges, delays and problems, and telling the story of how you were able to deal with those problems is a way to engage the person reading your cover letter. You want to show that person, though your cover letter, you have you researched the company, and that you will be a good fit because you approach problems and see things from a similar vantage point as they do.

What are some common problems in software development and engineering that could apply here? A very common one is going above and beyond to help a product manager better define / describe the business requirements.

For example, talk about a business requirement described in such a way that it would cost too much or be too confusing for the end user. Speak to how you found the better solution through communication that ditched lengthy emails and long slack back and forth's to something where you prototyped and iterated on different solutions.

Here is what our cover letter looks like so for:

Awesome Company provides a marketplace for employers to quickly staff positions. Even though there are established behaviors in the temporary staffing industry, these haven't always been effective and Awesome Company's technology allows it to provide a straightforward solution to hotels. Services in this industry are more successful when they are focused on bringing the user along for the journey to more productive solutions.

Creating the right service means asking why a functionality is needed and most importantly, suggesting different alternatives to solve the need. The alternatives will deepen our understanding of why the need is important and give us information into how it needs to be solved.

Not bad. Still needs some revisions, but it is getting there.

Next, Offer Something Of Value

It is understandable to be a bit tired at this point. Not sure if I mentioned it or not, but it usually does take a few hour to compile a really good, custom cover letter with the research taking an equal amount of time as the actual writing. The good news is that you'll get faster and faster all while improving your chances.


Have you done anything particularly creative where you combined two things to effect an end result in a unusual way?

These are great because they don't need to be technically sound, they just need to show your willingness to think of different solutions that might involve LESS technology. What are some examples of this? There is the person that wrote web scraping scripts to alert for expiring domains- and there is basically no limit on the creative ways that online services could be combined for similar solutions.

Anything in this regard that showcases your ability to work within and around constraints will show off your ability to get things done and work through problems, both are key considerations with respect to fitting in culturally.

There are some things that, if you taught yourself, are very helpful in this area, even more so than others. For example, being able to create websites very quickly, is a very useful skill to have. And, pretty much anyone can create a site, you really don't need to be technical at all.

Site designs fall into this category, being able to create a new design in Sketch or Photoshop. That is because these skills are things that could translate very, very easily to creating something of value that you can offer to share with the company.

I'm not suggesting you do a lot of free work. Which is why whatever you offer as something of value should not be something that takes a month worth of work, working 40 hours per week. You need to get paid for your work and doing something specific for one company and spending that much time will not yield results.

However, it is COMPLETELY worthwhile to spend a month or even more, creating something that you are interested in, learning a lot a long the way, and then sharing in some way what you have created with a prospective employer. Here, there are huge bonus points if what you created is, in some way, valuable.

What are examples of those? Things that a person could use? For example, search results. Something that monitors for when a specific action occurs. Something that simplifies a process that was otherwise more complex - e.g. sms based form fill. Or, a twitter bot that sends you a text message when some action occurs [careful on this one] or a guide to doing something common - like processing credit cards or using AWS to send emails, as just one example.

If you think these examples are far-fetched, here is a basic list of projects that really don't take all too much technical know-how to complete, they are more-or-less follow along, fill in the blank exercises that you could complete once, then reuse as something of value that you could offer that also showcases your skills.

TODO: INSERT 4-5 Example Cards

Now, we can update our cover letter to look like:

Awesome Company provides a marketplace for employers to quickly staff positions. Even though there are established behaviors in the temporary staffing industry, these haven't always been effective and Awesome Company's technology allows it to provide a straightforward solution to hotels. Services in this industry are more successful when they are focused on bringing the user along for the journey to more productive solutions.

Creating the right service means asking why a functionality is needed and most importantly, suggesting different alternatives to solve the need. The alternatives will deepen our understanding of why the need is important and give us information into how it needs to be solved.

Something I continue to work on that helps me learn what users need are the blog and newsletter that I run I focus on a lot of subjects and topic areas and many of them all come back to understanding what the customer's needs were, whether it be a reader or someone using the technology to accomplish something.

Lastly, you need to attach your resume. This is the last step in the process. However, it is important that success isn't just that they open your resume and read through it. Many will do just that and some will even skip over a cover letter and go directly to your resume. However, your goal is for the reader to open your resume already knowing that you will most likely be a good cultural fit and that you already know a lot about the company and what it is trying to accomplish.

What you want to avoid is an interview decision being made based on a comparison of traits like school or technologies used.

Someone will always have graduated from a 'higher-tier' school (whatever that means, to be honest I'm not sure it even matters any more), with a higher GPA, or someone will have actual experience in industry that might be more closely aligned than yours. The point is that when comparing one resume to another it is just a comparison of attributes that isn't linked to the company in anyway.

The best possible scenario you can have is that a reader of your resume is now looking to FIND ANY REASON TO SPEAK to you such that they'd like to at least have a conversation, even if you have a resume that doesn't exactly have everything they want.

Here is the important thing to remember, there is a better than average chance that no resume they review will have everything they are looking for.

Your job is to show that you will do a better job no matter what. Keep in mind our initial goal: if you are applying for a job and you meet every requirement, while you will be able to leverage your experience, you may not be GROWING your experience.

Your goal is to get that next position. The position that will require you to do something in a scenario that you've not yet had to tackle, whether that be technically, in different industries, or in different contexts.

Cover Letter Goal Recap; More a Business Landing Page Than a Letter

So, in summary, how do we measure success? Simple: you either want an email or a phone call back from your cover letter. That is the base case of success and, is one that so many job applicants fail to get. I hear constantly from people that applied to "100s or even 1000s" of jobs without ever hearing anything back. Your goal is to hear something back. All the cover letter does is get you to the starting point.

If you have made it past the initial cover letter / screening process. Someone, somewhere in the company has likely already made a statement, either tacitly or implicitly that this is someone that we could likely hire. For the company, the process to evaluate candidates from this stage on is EXPONENTIALLY more time consuming and expensive.

This is a point that often goes misunderstood in playing the numbers game. If you try to send your resume to 1,000 positions in a spray and pray effort, each of these will have the same low probability of hitting. However, if you instead work on increasing the percentage of times you get contacted back, your actual job offer rate will skyrocket.

Why? Because once you have made it that far, you are now in a place where you likely have a double-digit, say 20% or even 30% of eventually getting the job. Remember, companies won't spend the time or money on you if they don't think you are hire-able. It would be rare for a company to narrow down a search and then run full interviews with twenty people (1:20 is 5%). Far more likely for them to narrow the process down to 10 (1:10 10%) or even lower to 5 (1:5 20%).

Going from a less than 1% chance on just a form resume sprayed to 1,000s of recipients to even just a 5% chance at a handful of opportunities is a massive increase in odds and opportunities.

Lastly ...

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