Solving the Cover Letter Puzzle
Do you feel like your cover letters are boring, repetitive, or missing something that would help you really stand out from other applications? You can very well go through your cover letter “template” and change a couple key terms and names per company and be happy with that. But if you’re the type of person who sweats the details, wants to be more genuine, and desires to write compelling cover letters, this post is for you. If you’ve been writing tens or even hundreds of cover letters and it feels like they’re all blending into one boring letter, I have two pieces of simple advice for you.
Advice #1: Do you need a cover letter?
Bill Osborn, our Director of Technical Recruiting, weighed in to offer the first piece of advice. Do you need a cover letter? This is a simple piece of advice in the form of a question. It’s in two parts: do you need a cover letter, and do you need a cover letter. Let’s explain:
Do you need a cover letter?
Have you had a recent career pivot and need to explain the gap in experience? Do you need to add extra context to a resume that doesn’t immediately align with the job? Then you need a cover letter. Most of the time resumes are thrown in the trash if they don’t hit the keywords just right, or don’t immediately align with the job. But companies like Bravo LT investigate anyone who takes the time to apply on their own directly. In these cases, your cover letter needs to connect the dots between a seemingly unqualified resume and exactly the kind of person a company is looking for.
Do you need a cover letter?
Let’s say your resume is great and immediately aligns with the job. You, personally, probably don’t feel like you need a cover letter. But the application process may require it. In this case, you need a cover letter. The company may tell you it’s not necessary, but if they don’t specify that, act as though it is.
This becomes relevant if a recruiter asks you to apply for a job. Great recruiters, like Bill, get to know you through the recruitment process before you apply, so a cover letter isn’t necessarily needed. If a recruiter wants you and they don’t ask for a cover letter, it’s probably not worth your time writing one, because your conversations are the cover letter.
If a recruiter asks you to apply, has had conversations with you, and asks for a cover letter, it’s not the end of the world. Consider the big picture around why your conversations haven’t been enough, and why a letter might still be needed to fill in some gaps. They’re interested in you, which reverses the normal need for a cover letter. Be prepared to restructure it accordingly.
Advice #2: Quote them!
That’s it! Quote the company you’re applying to. If they have a blog, you need to find a post one of their employees wrote about company culture, developer strategies, or customer relationships. If they have a mission statement on their website, quote a portion of it and how you align with that mission. If they have any published resources or news articles, quote them and talk about how you can take those activities to the next level. This comes from a desire to find proof that you align with a company’s needs. Let’s go over some concerns you might have with this method, and how to overcome them.
1. Is it time consuming?
It will be hard the first time you start doing this. If you have to write ten or twenty cover letters, you might be wondering if the time spent investigating blog articles is worth it. I can only say that with practice, this gets very easy. After a couple letters, you’ll begin to really know what you’re looking for.
2. What if the company doesn’t have blogs, social media, mission statements, or any information I can use?
I would argue that there’s a high probability that they’re not the right company for you. Do you want to work for a company that doesn’t show their mission statement? Do you want to work for a company that doesn’t have any outreach material for prospective candidates to see, that you can align with? If the job description seems great, why doesn’t the company have a great company description?
3. What if there are blogs, but the target audience has nothing to do with my job?
I’m going to give you my own example to encourage you to look deeper. A few years ago I applied for an onsite developer position at a trucking logistics company. They had blog material, but the posts were all about trucking and deliveries, seemingly irrelevant for my position. You need to understand the big picture of your job, and how to translate it to customer terms and needs. Here is an excerpt from my cover letter, where I quote their post that has nothing to do with software development:
“...To keep improving products at a certain point requires retrospectives, and following through with testing plans. In your blog post, Day in the Life of a Truck Driver, it was written that “One of the most important lessons [Leonard] learned is patience, as traffic and bad drivers are the most common issues he consistently faces.” This stood out to me, because it brings out the truth of the necessity of software testing. We’ve all experienced the longer traffic stages of development, or the unpredictable nature of bad drivers in the form of bugs and project setbacks…”
I hope that these pieces of advice help you on your path to creating genuine and intriguing cover letters. They’ll really stand out, and they’ll be personal to the company.
But before you continue writing cover letters, take a look at Bravo LT’s job postings! We’re looking for people who care about sweating the details, being genuine, and carefully aligning with a team’s mission.
You can chat with me about this topic on our Bravo LT Discord server. I also want to give a shoutout to Bill Osborn for his piece of advice for cover letters!
Written by David Crawford, Mobile App Developer, and Bill Osborn, Director of Technical Recruiting