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Writing a cover letter for a programming job

Updated on December 5, 2011

Writing a cover letter is a very important part of applying for a job. In fact, most of the employers have read much more cover letters than resumes. It means that your resume is looked over according to the interest you attract with your cover letter!

That means that you might have a killer resume, but if you did not pay enough attention to your cover letter, your resume does not matter at all.

The most important thing about cover letter

The most important thing to keep in mind when writing a cover letter, is to remember, that you are not writing it to show, how much profit you could get from the job, but the opposite - how would the company, to whom you write the cover letter, benefit from you!

Many people make the mistake by describing, how they need the job and how important this is to them - this is obvious, that you want to work there, otherwise you would not apply! But after reading the cover letter, the employer must be interested in you also.

Give the employer reasons, why you should be hired. Try to think of something unique, something that the employer will not read from every other cover letter. You can ask your former employers or friends, what is unique about you and try to use that in the cover letter. These unique things are the ones that get the employer interested.

Guidelines for writing a cover letter

Although I wrote in the last paragraph, that the most important thing is to show, how the employer benefits from you and not the opposite, it is also important to show your interest.

Do a little research - maybe the company has a website. Get to know, what does the company actually do, who are the clients and what does the company believe in. You can at least read the "About us" part and then use it in your cover letter to show your interest. For example:

  • "I came across this offer in the 'openjobsexample.com' while looking for a job and your offer stood out - I would love to work on open-source projects in a great team. After reading about the beliefs of your company, I understood that you practice extreme programming, and that is my preference also."

That shows that you know, what you are getting into, and points out, that you would like to work there, without directly saying the obvious fact, that you want to work there! The research might also become useful, when you are called from the company and asked to an interview - you will recognize the company name and will not ask awkward questions, like "Which city is the company located again?".

People want to work with people, whom they like - they fight for the people, whom they like. It is a good idea to be personal in the cover letter. Many programmers do not pay attention to the communication and the social side and that is, where you can differ from others - you can show, that you are not only a good worker, but also an excellent and pleasant co-worker! When you stay completely formal in the cover letter, it might leave an impression, that you are strictly formal and do not want anything else from work than writing code and receiving paychecks afterwards. People want to enjoy themselves during the work-hours - by communicating, for example.

Spelling!

Even people, who usually never do the spelling mistakes, should read the cover letter many times and try to find some. Even the software, that underlines the words written incorrectly, does not save you from some typos that just change the word into something unprofessional. For example:

  • “Following is a grief overview of my skills.”
  • "I am also attacking my resume for an overview."

Maybe the employer remembers you by the amusing typos, but there is a much bigger possibility that it just leaves a bad impression. Making typos is not a very good characteristic for a programmer. Especially, if the typos are not funny, but impolite. So - let someone read the cover letter!

What you should NOT do

There are also some "do not's", while writing a cover letter.

  • There is no point in writing in the cover letter, that you can send some information upon a request. Employer is not going to get some extra working hours and send e-mails, asking additional information. For example: recommendations and completed projects - put them in right away or do not mention them.
  • Try not to use a sample. Most of the people use samples and that is why every cover letter looks the same! Already a change in structure might seem interesting for the employer and make the employer remember you! If you really can not otherwise, try at least first writing your own version and after that looking at some sample. That way, there is a possibility, that you still do something uniquely.
  • Do not write a copy of your resume - your goal is to get the employer to read your resume, not to write all the information in the resume to the employer, but in a little bit different form.
  • Do not mention your weaknesses, unless you are asked. This is not the place. If you will be asked to an interview, the employer probably asks anyway.
  • Do not mention your salary requirements - cover letter is to get the employer interested in you!
  • Do not lie. This might create really awkward situations afterwards.
  • Do not get too personal. The employer does not want to know your children's names and how your husband/wife supports you for the job etc.

These are the main things. You should also probably avoid jokes - you never know, what kind of sense of humor does the employer have.

Conclusion: Writing the cover letter

Imagine that you are the employer, reading hundreds of cover letters and keep that in mind, while writing the letter!

To conclude shortly:

  • Do your research about the company.
  • Differ from other software engineers cover letters by showing that you are not only a good worker but also a very good co-worker.
  • Bring out some unique things about yourself.
  • Let someone read your cover letter to correct the spelling mistakes.
  • Do not do the "do not's"!

If the employers still do not like you - maybe you would not like working there either.

Good luck with writing!



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