How to Write a Cover Letter That Shines

Chances are, some of you looked at this headline and thought "Who cares about my cover letter? I need to work on my resume!"

Stop right there.

It's easy to see why people have a tendency to blow off their cover letters. It's obvious that resumes are important -- without a good resume it's extremely hard to even get an interview. But what if you have a boring cover letter?

Well, the truth is, a bad cover letter is probably not going to stop you from getting an interview. However, a killer cover letter absolutely CAN push you over the top and actually get you an interview. This is especially true in the case of career changers, who may be light on skills and experience. Unfortunately, many new developers are so busy worrying about their portfolios and resumes that they neglect this important career asset and miss out on this valuable opportunity to set themselves apart from the pack. 

OK, so now you know that cover letters are important. Here's how you can make sure yours is a standout success!

Start strong

Without a doubt, the most important part of a cover letter is the lead. Just like a good newspaper article, novel, or essay, a cover letter needs to start with something that draws in the reader's attention. You can go a little outside of the box here -- do you have an anecdote that relates you to the company or the company's mission? Don't be afraid to get a little personal! Resumes are usually dry, all business. Your cover letter is where you get to show a little of your personality. Think of it as an intro to talking points for an interview. 



Explain, don't repeat, your resume

Don't just rehash -- or worse, cut and paste -- the language from your resume. A cover letter is your chance to explain those short bullet points. 

Think over your work experience -- where in the past have you used those transferable skills you have highlighted in your resume? Be specificWhat exactly has prepared you for this role? 

Use the job description

Don't forget that the employer has provided you with a valuable road map: the job description itself. Use it! 

An easy strategy to make sure you cover everything an employer wants to know about: First, study the job description. Now, list one skill or role mentioned in the job description. Write it down. Now, think of something you have done that shows you have this skill, or are qualified to fill this role. Write that down. Do it again. It's that simple -- no need to go into cover letter cliches about being "a self-starter" or "fast learner" or "uniquely qualified for the position." Prove it! 

Avoid cliches

Speaking of cliches, this is something that's worth reiterating. A phoned-in cover letter full of template language and cliches that could apply to every applicant is a waste of everyone's time.

Remember, your cover letter is a valuable tool to show that you are up to the task, even if you don't have some of the technological skills an employer is looking for. If you don't use your cover letter to bring attention to all of your positive transferable skills, all the employer will have to go on are your resume and portfolio, which are more project- and skills-based.

The whole point of the application process is to get an employer to think that you are a good fit for their company, and not just because of your technical skill set.  As mentioned before, a good cover letter gives an employer a sense of your personality, and demonstrates that not only can you do the job, you're nice to have around!

Skip the hard sell

Finally, don't confuse confidence with cockiness, especially if you don't have the years of experience to back it up. Hiring managers are people too -- they're unlikely to respond positively to boasting ("You'll never find anyone like me") or minor threats ("You'll regret it if you don't call me"). Yes, you are trying to sell yourself here, but no one likes to feel like they're being sold something. If you've done your job right, your cover letter should make the employer feel like it is their idea that you are a great candidate for the job. The conclusion should just reinforce "their" decision.


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Katy McElroy

Student Services Coordinator