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Since I am going to graduate in May I have started to apply for different software engineering positions, especially titled with the suffix New Grad. Although my cover letter has already undergone many rewrites, I feel still a lot insecure:

The cover letter is really a hook to get the reviewer's attention and I do not want to blow with some blah..blah..blah. I ask also, because I often read:

Tell us about your blog, side projects, open source contributions etc. and I struggle to integrate these information in a cover letter, because I still have this very conservative cover letter in mind, not something where I write: Hey and by the way check out my blog.

How could I tackle this problem? Currently my cover letters consists of three paragraphs:

  1. Introducing myself, saying when and with what degree I am graduating then creating some motivation why I consider a job at that company and the tasks as very important and personally fulfilling.

  2. Tell them about my achievements: work experience I got while stuyding, honors and awards, what is really important for me in my technical work and some additions which take the job description into context

  3. Telling them about what my master thesis is about which I am currently writing, and some specialities on my resume they should look out for.

My first guess would be to use the third paragraph, throw it away and rewrite it with personal things, like a blog, side projects, etc. But what do you say?

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Catchy is not the word choice I would use to describe any professional writing. Don't go for catchy, go for effective. –  HLGEM Jan 17 '13 at 19:47
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@HLGEM I agree, that was really bad. –  Max Rhan Jan 17 '13 at 22:33

5 Answers 5

What I read most often is this:

Tailor your cover letter to the specific job you're applying for. Bring up specifics from the job description and explain why your experiences make you the perfect person for the job.

The reason you may be reading "Tell us about your blog, etc. in the cover letter" is likely because those sorts of things don't usually fit in the resume itself, but if you can find a way that your open source contributions help you fit the job, then the cover letter is a great place to bring it up.

However, if you're a new graduate, you may not have a lot of data in the Experience section of your resume anyway. Having a section for things like open source contributions and side projects might be a good idea.

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Most of what you plan on including in your cover letter sounds good. I would caution you on one aspect: the discussion of the masters thesis. If you are applying for a position as a recent graduate, it might not be the time to point out to potential employers that you are already planning on going back to school.

They may worry about how long you plan to stay with their company, especially if you start talking about a program that can realistically only be done full time, or in another city. They will be worried that you might have applied to that program already and will quit as soon as you are accepted.

The fact that you have started thinking about it isn't bad, in fact they might even ask about future education plans during your interview. Not mentioning it in the cover letter could be key to getting that interview.

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My first guess would be to use the third paragraph, throw it away and rewrite it with personal things, like a blog, side projects, etc. But what do you say?

No, I wouldn't re-write the third paragraph this way. I'd probably take portions of the first two paragraphs and stick in references where appropriate from the blog, side projects and open source contributions.

Think of this way: What are you wanting them to get from reading your blog, looking at your side projects and noticing your open source contributions? Is it some measure of technical skill? Is it communication capabilities? The blog could be about anything so I'd put it in the cover letter if it fits something within the job description. This is the key point as it isn't "Hey check out my blog," but rather, "If you want proof of my writing skills, check out these entries that show I can write well," or check out these entries where I show how I know technology X well, etc. The key point here is how well the cover letter shows that you are enough of a fit to have a chat and see if that fit is still there at the interview stage.

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The purpose of the cover letter is to

  1. Clearly show that you meet the qualifications and requirements for this specific position
  2. Explain why you are a good fit for this specific position
  3. Explain why this specific position is a good fit for you.

A cover letter needs to be written with this specific position in mind. A cover letter that could be used for multiple posting is basically useless.

The first person to read your letter will most likely be an HR staffer that knows fairly little about the actual job. They read hundreds of cover letters every day. Their job is to evaluate your application against a written list of requirements that are part of the job description. Your cover letter is the ideal opportunity to help them do their work. List your skills against the requirements for the job and they'll love you for it.

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Aim for less 'conservative', more conversational; but more importantly ... make sure to show you really know about the company and the position *.

*Ideally, you will have already scoured their website for what the company sells, who they sell to, and what their "core values" are. And, then networked your way to a call or email to a current employee where you asked about what their real challenges are for the company, what topics management keeps harping on, etc. [And afterwards of course, thank them, and politely ask if you can mention having talked to them in the cover letter] At that point, write the cover letter just like you would any professional email being sure to causally mention all the inside information you've learned.


Some Perspective on Cover Letter, though:

Most managers either throw away cover letters, or use them as a pre-screening device (ie. no one would bother reading our whole website, and networking with our current employees unless they were actually qualified (and knew it) and were very interested in the position).

So, do the research and networking anyway, as that will help you tailor your resume to each application (which is the much more important activity), but realize that writing the cover letter will be like buying a lottery ticket: it may be useless or it may be invaluable; and you won't know which of those it will be ahead of time.

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