Jack Anderson

So You Want to Write a Tech Cover Letter

5 minute read

A defense of the cover letter

I’ve heard it from others, and I’ve even said it myself: Applying to software jobs, especially your first job, is a numbers game. When your goal is volume, does it really make sense to spend time writing a cover letter?

Sometimes, it does. After all, quality of applications can matter just as much as quantity.

A cover letter is your opportunity to put a human touch to your application. It’s your opportunity to contextualize the contents of your resume, and relate to a hiring manager why you’d be the right person to hire. If you’re really excited about an opportunity, this is a huge way to improve your chances.

Some people do this by tailoring their resume to a position. That works too–I find it much easier to write separate letters than to keep track of separate resumes.

Before we go further, I should add that this is just my take. I’m not a hiring manager (though I do interview a lot of people). And, of course, this is my opinion and not my employer’s, etc etc.

The Format

Remember writing five paragraph persuasive essays in elementary school? It’s a lot like that, just shorter.

  1. Introduce yourself.
  2. Why you’re a good fit for the company.
  3. Why the company is a good fit for you.
  4. Say bye!

These don’t all need to be a full paragraph–these are just the points you want to hit.

At every step you should be reinforcing the idea that you are a good match with this company.

Practical Exercise

I’ll write up a brief cover letter, as if I were applying to the job I currently have.

Here’s the position. If for some reason this link is down when you read this, email me and I’ll pull a copy.

Preparation and Materials

There are two inputs you should have here: the job listing, and a list of your skills and accomplishments.

The job listing is above. I’ll include snippets here in the post where appropriate.

You should always maintain a list of cool things you did. This might be your resume, or a separate document, or maybe it’s in your head.

Tease out the key criteria

I like to have a mix of areas I emphasize in my letter. In this case, I’ll go with ‘culture fit’, ‘technical skills’, and ‘industry experience.’ That’s generally a reliable mix, but if it’s a new field to you, or you haven’t had the time to develop technical skills, you can play up the others.

With those areas identified, I’m going to scan through the job listing items or topics that fit those areas:

Earnies are empathetic, product-focused, proactive, and curious.

At Earnest, we use Node.js, PHP, and TypeScript on the server-side. On the front-end we use React/Redux for building new things and vanilla JS depending on the use case.

Experience working in Fintech, Banking, or related Consumer Financial Services companies is a plus.

Note that there’s a lot more that I didn’t pick. Just take a few things and focus on them. You’ll inevitably leave some of your skills on the table too, that’s ok. You can always talk about them later. This letter needs to be concise.

Write your letter

Using your list of accomplishments, write a brief letter that fits your skills to those criteria.

Hi! I’m Jack, a full stack software developer in North Carolina. I read the listing for the Senior Full Stack Engineer and I think it would be a great fit. I’ve been working as a software engineer for six years, with a lot of time spent in finance and fintech.

I’d like to highlight my skillset as a full stack developer–I’m comfortable working on anything from backend microservices to React component libraries. At the moment, I’m working on a total rebuild of a legacy loan repayment application. We’re rebuilding using React, Docker, GraphQL, Typescript, and a microservices-first philosophy. I’m always happy to chat about what we’ve done, and more importantly, why.

I’m really excited about Earnest–I like working in product focused environments, where I’m empowered to tackle new problems and to follow my nose to find new opportunites to improve. At my current job I started a new group to build bridges between engineers and designers, and to collectively build our front end expertise. I love the process of rooting out problems to solve, and then solving them.

Finally, I’d like to thank you for considering my application–I hope the excitement is mutual!


Final notes

Once you’ve done a little bit of research (or introspection on your accomplishments), you should be able to write one of these in ten minutes or so. Keep it short!

It’s always going to be a choice to write a cover letter. They’re rarely necessary, but can often help! A cover letter will be most effective with smaller companies, or at companies where hiring managers review submissions personally.

If you’re in an active job hunt right now, I’d encourage you to try it out. If it helped (or didn’t!), please let me know!