On Cover Letters

Posted by mitch on February 28, 2010

I’ve looked at perhaps 1,000 résumés and cover letters in the last few years and around 200-300 cover letters in the last few months.  We are hiring and looking for super talent.  We have real jobs open and we are looking for great people to fill them.  I am completely open to bringing people in who are not in our network to interview, but you have to convince me it’s worthwhile.

Here’s a things that I see over and over that are not effective:

  • Writing the same cover letter as everyone else
    Pretty much every cover letter reads the same. “Dear HR, I would like a job, please hire me.” Sure, some of them are more verbose than others. But I almost never see one that shows the candidate has looked at our company in any level of detail. Tell me why you want to work for us. Just one or two sentences that shows you looked at what we do and can spin something targeted to us is enough to make me look further.
  • Attaching the cover letter to an email
    As a candidate, your goal is to get me to read the cover letter and get interested in you with as few steps as possible. If I have to open an attachment, that’s extra steps that I might not get done. I’m looking at dozens or more applications a day and I spend literally 1-2 minutes looking at those applications. That’s about 10 seconds per application. I am skimming for a few key elements–For example, in a junior programmer right out of school, I am looking for hobby projects and internships. That’s it. I don’t care where you went to school (within reason), your GPA, or that you were a member of the Computer Science club.
  • Applying to every job we have open
    Nothing will put your application in the trash faster than this. If you are applying to QA and sales and developer jobs, there’s a deeper issue here.
  • Writing several paragraphs on the fact that you are applying for a job
    Yes, I know that. You pretty much communicated that merely by sending an email to You don’t need to spend even 3 words on this (in one case, a candidate wrote about 375 words on the fact that he was applying for a job).
  • Applying for a job long before you are ready to start
    There is no reason to apply for a job today if you are not able to start work for 10 months.
  • Sending email rather than getting an introduction on LinkedIn
    If you have hundreds of people in your network who know people at the company, and you choose to send email to, I will really wonder why. An introduction from someone we both know is far better than an email into the void. This is especially true if you’re in sales!

At the end of the day, you need to find a way to be different in a sea of cover letters. Following a few of these tips can help you stand out. I have no doubt many high quality candidates are lost in the sea of noise. But those candidates who can say something different are the ones who will progress to the next step.

I suspect that this will be the topic of several posts in the future, as there’s plenty more to say on this.

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