Let's start with a bold statement
Your cover letter is not about you
What?! Why? Huh?
Yes. Your cover letter is not about you, it’s about your fit with the company. It describes how your skills and passion are aligned with the company's needs and culture. It's about you and the company.
The biggest mistake engineers make is only talking about themselves in their cover letter, instead of fit.
Here's an analogy to demonstrate why this is a mistake:
Let's say you are about to go on a second date with someone you like. You want to prove that you two would make a great couple. So, you say to your partner, "I am nice, I'm smart, I can cook a good meal and be a good conversationalist." Does that argument demonstrate you two are a good fit for each other?
NO - you only talked about yourself! The other person would likely respond, "WHAT ABOUT ME? You haven't demonstrated that you understand me -- I have zero confidence that we'd be a good fit."
Here's a better way to frame the opportunity to your date: "I love that we both share an interest in technology and improving the world. You make me feel appreciated and special and I love caring for you and taking you out on dates. I look forward to our time together and would love to see you more".
Much better! You describe the mutual benefit instead of just boasting about your qualities.
Likewise, for your cover letters, you want to demonstrate that you understand the company’s mission, culture, and the role in which they are hiring. Then and only then can you say how you can serve their needs.
In other words, it's about fit. It's about BOTH OF YOU, not just you.
Let's take a look at some incredible cover letters and what makes them great.
One way to show fit is to share how both you and the company share the same mission.
Here's how to demonstrate that you and the company share the same mission:
- Read the company mission. You can generally find this in the "About Us" section of the company's website, or if they have a page dedicated to their "vision" or "mission". Search for this and read it carefully
- Does their mission resonate with you? If so, why? Be able to describe in your own words why you feel aligned with their mission.
- Personalize it: state examples from personal experience. Were there challenges or hardships you faced in your life that cause the mission to resonate with you? Why does their mission inspire you? Be prepared to talk about this.
Pick a company whose mission resonates with you. Write down a paragraph describing why you share the same mission as if you were talking to the founder of the company.
Are your skills actually a good fit for their role?
Here's how to demonstrate that your skills are a good fit:
- Look at the job description. Take note what responsibilities, technologies and frameworks that it lists. Get read to speak directly to those requirements in the job description.
- Think of a project or class in which you directly used the tech or skills mentioned in the job description.
Write a brief paragraph example of how you've successfully used the technologies and languages to build apps, troubleshoot problems, and more.
At Make School you've gained valuable experience working on a team with other engineers. You've been exposed to SCRUM planning, agile project management and used Github, Trello, and other professional tools that most engineers only experience in the professional world. This experience will give you a leg up with recruiters.
For these reasons, be sure to reference your experience working in teams and your desire to contribute to the company's foundation of work. When doing so, it's always smart to demonstrate a growth mindset, and willingness to learn from the team's seasoned engineers. This will show the recruiters that you are an effective team player.
Write a paragraph summary about why you'd be a good member of any company's engineering team.
While finding FIT is important, you can also impress employers by showing that you understand the company more than the typical applicant.
Here's an example...
Person A's cover letter says:
"I'm a huge fan of Lyft! Your service has made my life so much easier of these past years.
I love the product so much so that I recruited 10 of my friends on the app.
You offer one of the most innovative services on the app store."
Person B's cover letter says:
"I love Lyft's vision, especially with the Jan 14th announcement that the company is working to become a Transportation Think Tank.
Also, given your recent round of funding, I'd be even more excited to be part of an evolving and growing work environment at Lyft."
Who stands out?
Person B stands out for understanding the recent developments of the company. Person A's claims will look like that of most candidates.
Bottom line: minutes of research on a company can help you stand out from the crowd.
The best part: you can conduct this research in less than five minutes.
Let's do this together!
- (4 min) Look up recent news about the company: (examples: recent product launch, announced they are hiring 10,000 people, announced they are going to open a headquarters in Oakland, etc.) If you can work these into the cover letter, it shows a level of seriousness compared to people who don’t do this work.
- (1 min) Company size - check out the company on Crunchbase and Linkedin. This will give you a sense about the team dynamics, and what level of growth the company is at. Big companies will have bigger teams and a more formal process. Smaller companies will have more ownership and autonomy.
Now that you've determined FIT and have researched the company, how can you go above and beyond to impress them?
- Become an expert in their product: sign up and use the product yourself, recommend 2-3 improvements, say what they are doing right, what they are doing wrong. Tone is important here: speak as if you are on their team rather than criticizing their product: “one thing you could improve...” "consider changing the ..."
- Get connected with current employees at a company for an informational interview. An informational interview, according to the illustrious website Wikipedia, is a meeting in which a potential job seeker seeks advice on their career, the industry, and the corporate culture of a potential future workplace; while an employed professional learns about the job seeker and judges their professional potential.
- You can use the mentorship reach-out skills we've developed over the previous months to schedule an informational interview. In your cover letter, ALWAYS mention if you know and talked to someone at the company - this immediately get's you in the door and will often lead a recruiter to ask that employee their opinion of you.
- Go to an organization’s open meetups/events (if they have any). Mention that you went to the meetup in your cover letter. It shows that you are proactive and involved.
- Build a product that shows you're committed to the same mission as them. Use their API, prototype new features, build product that uses their tech stack.
Create a draft cover letter for a company of interest based off of these templates
Use this checklist to further improve your cover letter.
When you're done, add a link to your draft cover letter in the tracker
A cover letter is often a first impression. You can go above and beyond.
Remember - your technical skills are far more important than the cover letter. But by communicating your understanding of the company and your fit you'll get a leg up.
Mark your completion in the course tracker.