The Programmer’s Guide to Getting Hired: Cover Letters

The good news for job seekers, at least if you trust this poll, is that the requirement of a cover letter appears to be waning somewhat. This most likely has a lot to do with the shift towards sourcing by querying resume databases in lieu of the traditional correspondence directly with a hiring manager approach.

Here is some advice from my perspective as a technical hiring manager regarding cover letters.  Understand that this advice is completely based on my own experience and perspective and may not apply in all situations. Hiring managers and HR people are unique individuals each with their own preferences and biases that may differ from my own.

Send a cover letter when…

  • The job posting specifically requests it.
  • You have names to drop: Someone referred you, or you have a connection at the company that can vouch for you.
  • You are a really good persuasive writer and showcasing your writing skills in a document other than a highly formatted resume will help your chances.
  • You want to call out something specific on your resume.

Things to avoid:

  • Never apologize for things or call out negatives.

“The 2 your gap in my career was because…” – Bad

“I don’t have this skill you were asking for, but…” – Bad

  • Don’t write a thesis. Hiring managers have enough to read. Have a point and get to it quickly.
  • Don’t bother saying you are a perfect fit for the position, everyone says that and it just wastes space. Demonstrate it by mapping the job requirements to your experience.
  • Never send a cover letter than looks like a template or form letter. It should look like you wrote it in response to the specific job you are applying for. Those templating tools for cover letters on and Dice where you can apply to a job with one click are the Devil.
  • Never address them to “To whom it may concern.” Do some digging and find out who the hiring manager is. In the age of LinkedIn it isn’t all that hard.

Things to consider:

  • If you feel you must include a cover letter, but don’t have any value to add in it, keep it very short (transmittal letter style).

“I would like to be considered for the XYZ position that I saw posted on Attached is my resume. You can contact me at…”

  • Have someone proofread your cover letter, not just your resume.
  • Getting a proofreader is doubly important if the cover letter isn’t in a language that you are extremely proficient in. Broken English resumes do untold harm to candidates.

Further Reading

This article is part of  a the  “Programmer’s Guide to Getting Hired” series.  If you enjoyed it, you might also like these: