8

I'm looking for what should be in a cover letter for someone who has at least 5 years of experience in the field (software engineering).

Should it focus more on previous education, specific projects I've worked on, be more general about myself or something else?

If you could link to your own personal successful cover letter that would be best, otherwise samples or snippets are appreciated.

11

If a cover letter has one goal it is grabbing attention of recruiters. With a goal like this, there just can't be a single universal way of preparing it.

  • If you apply for a corporate job, you likely want to do nothing fancy. Just highlight the strongest point of your career.

  • If you think about medium company (and many small ones as well) showing how your career is connected and your skills relevant to what the organization does is probably the best strategy. Note: in cover letter you can show such things even if, in the context of your whole career, they aren't that significant.

  • If you try to get a job in a small company or a startup and you know that they aren't wimps you may go creative and surprise them with your passion and involvement. I remember Joel Spolsky's story about one of guys who redesigned whole area51 site to show his passion for the idea. He ended up being hired (although I'm not sure if this was the goal).

  • If you apply to more creative company there are fewer boundaries as there are fewer expectations how "proper" cover letter should look like. For example you definitely can, and should, allow yourself more when applying for a job in a creative agency than it you try to get a job in bank.

  • Finally, the more you know about a company you write to and the more you use this knowledge in a cover letter the better.

Also, arguably, you can get rid of a cover letter at all. Many claims that recruiters don't read them, and this is true in many cases I know. It's always sort of a balancing act -- how do you show your involvement, what are the best means to do so, and how much time you're willing to invest in it. A cover letter may, or may not, be a right tool for you.

7

There's no consensus in terminology, so please consider my answer as "one of many".

Résumé is usually a static document which changes along with your career.
Cover letter should be individual per application. Its primary intent is to tell the HR why you are eligible (and the best!) candidate for the very position you are applying to, by polite highlighting only those of your expertises that worth more for a particular position.

There are opinions the HR would never read cover letters. It is correct, because people write bad cover letters! The main goal of cover letter is to save HR's time. If you are not someone they are looking for, cover letter will provide with opportunity to quickly skip your résumé. There's nothing bad in skipping. You express kindness toward the HR, and you should expect kindness from them by keeping your résumé atop of the others for future use.

If you could link to your own personal successful cover letter that would be best

A small sample.
Your CV tells jobs and projects you've been working for, you don't change it very often.
Say, you're applying to a Project Manager position in a company that makes XML-based tools for e-Learning industry, and you know their soft is written in .NET. Your cover letter may contain something like:

• My strongest technology is .NET (C#, ASP.NET) - X years;
• X years experience with XML, XSLT, XSL-FO and related technologies;
• ... interest in languages (X years Chinese, X years Spanish) and theoretical linguistics;
... results across entire development cycle:
• ... initial research and prototyping;
• ... key business requirements ...;
• ... project architecture ...;
• ... automated team collaboration procedures and TDD practices; Risk Management;
• ... development on time and on budget ...;
• ... communications with the customers;
• ... deployment and support ...;

4

You are trying to highlight what part of you makes you the best choice for the position. You need to match your strengths to what in in the job description. The information will be in your resume or on the application, but this is your chance to politely point it out to them.

If you know something about the company, its history or culture and how you are a good match point that out also.

  • good point about the companies history or culture. – Greg McNulty Aug 14 '12 at 4:22

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