Your cover letter is usually the first impression you make to the people at a company. Even if you got your foot in the door with one person, a bunch of people are going to see your cover letter and resume before you actually get hired, and thats going to be your first impression with many of those people. First impressions matter a lot.
First impressions matter
For instance, as a developer, you have probably opened up your email at one point or another and found a message that looks like this:
Subject: Exciting Startup-Full Stack Developer Needed
Hi [perhaps your name but maybe someone else’s],
I came across your profile and feel with your background you would be a great fit for an exciting Full Stack Developer position I have available with one of my top clients. It is a well funded company in a lucrative space, with an exciting and challenging work environment. I would love to chat with you about this opportunity a bit more.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at
I remember the first time I got an email like this I was actually pretty excited; it felt like a bit of validation for me as a developer and so I called them back. I was immediately told I didnt have the required work experience that they were looking for.
Today I know better, because I know what to look for. So what are the problems with this first impression?
- The biggest problem is that this message could be sent to anyone. It is not specific to me in any way, shape, or form.
- It doesnt tell me what Id be doing if I got this job.
- It doesnt address my individual needs at all.
- Does this recruiter have non-top clients? To whom do they send those jobs? Why am I even thinking about this?
- Id like to look up some more information about this client to see if Im interested… but I can’t because it doesnt say who the client is.
- Why are there conflicting pieces of contact information?
- And (to a lesser degree of importance) it comes off as we so bad, if you wanna be bad come try to join us.
This small email is full problems; it makes a horrible first impression, and I never want to hear from Jane Doe again. If Jane wants to do a better job, she needs to start fixing those problems. First impressions are important, and this works both ways.
When you reach out to a company, you want to tell a story about how you are going to fulfill their needs. The resume alone usually doesnt do this because its all about you, and the cover letter alone doesnt do this because theres nothing to back it up. Resumes have a fairly standard format that makes them easy to scan and consume, but they don’t always tell the right story for the company by themselves. The cover letter is the best place to start the story you want to tell to each specific company.
Figuring out what to say
So what goes into a cover letter and how do you start to tell a story with it? This comes down to understanding the needs of the company. Why are they hiring? What skills are they lacking in? What problems are they trying to solve? Painting a picture where you are the answer to any of these questions is much more likely to get you a call back than a generic cover letter that says the exact same thing as your resume. Lets look at each question a little more in depth to help you get an idea of the direction we might take.
Why are they hiring?
- Did someone quit and they need to replace them?
- Are they always hiring so they dont miss out when smart people come around?
- Do they have too many ideas and need more people to implement them?
What skills are they lacking in? What problems are they trying to solve?
- Do you know some tools that you could teach their team?
- Do you have domain knowledge related to their problems?
- Are you passionate about their mission?
- Do you have leadership experience?
- Can you add a new perspective to their team makeup?
This is the part that most people find the hardest. You cannot tell a story where you solve the companys problems without knowing the companys problem, and that means you have to do research—at the very least you have to know what products they have and what they are hiring for—on every company you send an application to.
What bad cover letters look like
Many of the cover letters we see look like this:
Dear Sir or Madam:
I would like to submit my resume for your consideration regarding the position of Site Reliability Engineer (SRE). I feel that my experience will be a great fit for Stack Overflow. In addition to many years of experience with the Microsoft .NET stack, I also have experience in a variety of other languages. This background makes we a well rounded developer, and enables me to bring fresh perspectives to problems and tasks.
Hopefully by now you are starting to understand why this is not a good first impression. If I replace the name of the company and the name of the job, I can use this cover letter to apply for just about any developer job, which makes my first impression that of “any developer.” This lacks personalization to the company; it does not address their problems, it does not indicate that I actually want to work there, and the only thing it tells the company about me is that I know the Microsoft stack and some other unspecified languages which may or may not be applicable to what they are working on.
Basically this is just benign. This doesnt trigger a negative response from the reader but it does not trigger a positive response, either. This is just another resume Id toss on the maybe pile—or just throw in the trash if the maybe pile was full today.
An outline for a good cover letter
Lets get back to the good stuff. Once you know the story you want to tell, you have to materialize it into words. This is typically not that hard, but it can be frustrating figuring out where to start. The solution is that all cover letters need to follow a simple two paragraph format:
The first paragraph tells the company why you want to work for them.
You have one of two options: you either want to work with the people who work there, or you want to work on the problems they are solving. If youre truly in love with both, mention both, but only one is necessary. Once you have written down that you want to work there, back it up with a single specific reason why.
Why a specific reason? Because it tailors the resume to them, showing you have done some amount of research on the company and decided that you actually want to work there. Its much more impactful than just applying because you saw a job listing. When a company thinks you want to work there, it really eases their decision because all else being equal between two candidates, they are going to go with the one who wants to be there. And wanting to be there can often outweigh even stronger candidates because you have shown shared goals.
The second paragraph tells the company why they want to hire you.
This is where you start telling the story you want to tell, and you have to keep it short, around three sentences maximum, regardless if youre applying for junior or senior positions. The real goal of your story is to convince the company you can fulfill their needs. Highlight the exact things you want to bring to the company, whether its knowledge of some tech, domain knowledge, a process you follow, or whatever else you think might work to help solve their problems. And again, back it up with a specific example. These specifics are important because they demonstrate capability early in the hiring process instead of leaving it up to the reader to figure it out for themselves.
Heres an example cover letter that hits all of these points. It clearly states why I want to work there and backs that up with a specific example. It addresses the companys needs by showing a specific example of how I proactively addressed some major problems at my previous job that are applicable to the job I’m applying for. It keeps it short and to the point.
Hello Stack Overflow,
I’ve used Stack Overflow for as long as I’ve been a developer, and I recently came across a post about the architecture of your products on Nick Cravers blog. It made me think, “I really want to work with these people who care so much about what they do.” I’m super excited to hear about all the tools you have built to make developer processes more streamlined; that’s right up my alley.
At my current job I started out as a web dev, but I was constantly blocked by broken builds and the multi-step process for getting code out to production. I took it upon myself to fix this by prototyping a continuous integration system that eventually turned into the system our team still uses today. As we’ve started to grow, I’m focusing a lot more of my time on monitoring systems and currently evaluating some possible solutions.
I look forward to hearing from you soon,
[contact email] [contact phone number]
If were supposed to tell a story, why does the cover letter need to be short? The reality is that recruiters are not looking at just your resume today. They are probably looking at resumes today and optimistically that gives you about minutes to make your impression strong enough to get added to the call back pile. If it takes longer than that for them to read your cover letter, they will never look at your resume or anything else that you included with your application. Keep it short.
To recap, yes, it takes a lot longer to write a good cover letter than to write a cover letter template that allows you to just replace the name of the company and the job. Will you get a call back on every application you send following this template? No, but you will see a significant increase in the percentage of companies that call you back when following the personalized template I have outlined here.
Software Engineer Cover Letter and Resume Examples
Here's an example of a cover letter for a software engineer position. Also see below for software engineer and computer engineer resume examples, and tips for emailing a cover letter and resume.
Software Engineer Cover Letter
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
City, State, Zip Code
Dear HR Manager:
With a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in computer science, numerous years of hands-on experience creating and implementing software applications, and the ability to troubleshoot and solve problems in a timely and accurate manner, I confidently express my interest in your posting on LinkedIn for an experienced software engineer.
I have been involved in numerous large-scale software releases and understand the importance of time management and open communication. While it may be easy to focus on the technical side of work, I’ve found that being able to express concerns, roadblocks, and alternative solutions to colleagues of varying technical backgrounds has been invaluable in my professional development.
Over the course of my career as a software engineer I have:
- Become a certified Software Development Associate and Professional.
- Led two successful software releases as the Java, team leader.
- Increased team efficiency by implementing Agile methodologies.
I truly believe in continued education and research and continue to seek new software and methods to assist with product development. I hope to bring my knowledge, and future knowledge, to your organization.
Attached is a copy of my resume that further explains my background and technical skills.
I can be reached anytime via my cell phone, or via email at email@example.com Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to speaking with you more about this opportunity.
Your Signature (hard copy letter)
Software Engineer Resume Example
6 Kent Street
Home | Cell
Superior knowledge of computer systems, design, and analytical projects, along with first-hand experience with all phases of product development lifecycle.
Master of Science, University of ABC, Dearborn, MI
Anticipated May 20XX
Major: Computer Science
Bachelor of Science, University of ABC, Ann Arbor, MI
Major: Computer Science
Software Engineer, Varys, Detroit, MI
June 20XX - Present
- Analyze, troubleshoot and solve problems in a timely and accurate manner.
- Produce automated test scripts and define environments to conduct test activities
- Extend SDK functionality to new platforms and partners.
- Write clear, concise, and thorough specifications and documentation.
Software Engineer - Intern, Summit Technology, Detroit, MI
December 20XX - May 20XX
- Designed and implemented algorithms for indexing and searching documents.
- Worked with team members to investigate design approaches and evaluate feasibility.
- Developed software architectures and designs based on product requirements.
- Helped improve the reliability and efficiency of Summit’s core systems.
Applications: MS Visual Studio, Eclipse
Application Server: JBoss, Tomcat
Operating Systems: Windows, Unix, Linux
Database Systems: SQL Server, MySQL, Ingres
Computer Engineer / Programmer Resume Example
City, State, Zip
Computer Company, Software Engineer
August 'XX - present
Software Engineer. Duties include developing current release using C++ and Java; assisting in design of next release (J2EE); traveling to standard meetings at SNIA SMIS-S to represent Company Soft Manager; traveling to SNW, a semi-annual consumer conference, to showcase product; and working closely with new developers in India Tech Center.
Computer Company Training Program
June 'XX - August 'XX
Member of the Computer Company Bootcamp program, an intensive three-month training program for choice software engineers. The program covered advanced topics in software engineering, SQL, C++, J2EE, XML, Windows Server, Unix, UML, and various company products.
January 'XX - June 'XX
Consultant for high school in the outer Boston area.
Tutored the programming instructors for the AP programming class in the Java programming language. Helped to set up development environment for the classroom.
Company Inc, Software Engineer CO-OP
January 'XX - September 'XX
Developer. Worked on new functionality in the release of the Company Dynamic Sourcing Engine. Developed in C++ in Unix and Windows Visual Studio. Also worked on a solo project to add multithreaded capabilities to Company's engines.
Languages: C++, Java, C, dfknj.wz.cz, SQL
Applications: MS Visual Studio, Eclipse
Application Server: JBoss, Tomcat
Operating Systems: Windows, Unix, Linux
Database Systems: SQL Server, MySQL
Certifications: CCNA, Unicenter Certified Engineer
ABC College, Troy, NY, May 20XX
Major: Computer Science, Minor: Management
Brother of Delta Chapter of Delta Chi Fraternity
- President (January 20XX - May 20XX)
- Scholarship winner at Delta Chi Leadership Conference
Member of College varsity football team (Sept. 20XX - Dec. 20XX)
Sending an Email Job Application
If you're sending your resume and cover letter via email, list your name and the job title in the subject line of the email message:
Subject: Software Engineer - Your Name
Include your contact information in your email signature, and don't list the employer contact information. Start your email message with the salutation. Here's an example of a formatted email cover letter.
More Sample Cover Letters
Cover letter samples and templates for a variety of career fields and employment levels, including entry-level, targeted and email cover letters for many different jobs.
Please Note: This sample is provided for guidance only. The provided information, including samples and examples, is not guaranteed for accuracy or legality. Letters and other correspondence should be edited to fit your personal situation.