Kristian Glass - Do I Smell Burning?

Mostly technical things

Cover Letters: Always Send One

Younger-me believed a bunch of classic “naïve engineer fallacies”, like “marketing is a waste of time, it’s all about technical superiority”. One of them was “Cover letters are a waste of time! They should be able to tell my suitability from my CV alone!” (somehow I still believed this despite having a very short CV).

Younger-me was wrong, very wrong.

Send a cover letter. Please.

  • Cover letters tell me who you are
  • Cover letters tell me what interests you
  • Cover letters tell me what doesn’t interest you
  • Cover letters tell me what you bring to the table
  • Cover letters tell me that you’re human

It’s Friday 15th. I posted two job adverts about a week ago. In that time, we’ve had about 300 applicants. Now, that’s great – we want a lot of applicants. Our adverts are written to be as open and as encouraging as possible, because people come in all shapes and sizes. We don’t have rubbish “Requirements” sections that are ten bullet-points long and have things like “5+ years of Python experience”. Yes 5+ years of Python experience would help when it comes to working on our primarily-Python backend services, but so would X years of writing web services in half a dozen languages that aren’t Python, or 5+ years of field biology followed by a career change into web development (Yes field biology – I’ve read Things I Learned as a Field Biologist and that puts even the most hair-tearing of software-bug-grappling into perspective). We’re not a company of “Did Computer Science as a student, then a career in web tech” (though, actually, that does sort of describe me) – we’ve a bunch of people from different nationalities with different backgrounds and that diversity strengthens us.

So if you’re applying with a CV that’s all about how you’ve been doing QA of .NET desktop apps for the last 3 years, that’s not a problem. Just please throw in a few sentences explaining why we’d want to hire you. Maybe you did a work side-project you think is relevant. Maybe you’ve been doing online courses in your lunch breaks. Maybe you’ve picked up a tonne of skills you think would be relevant. If you don’t tell me, I won’t know.

Even if your CV feels like a perfect fit, give me a short cover letter that makes it painfully clear. Humans are imperfect. Data transmission is unreliable. Redundant methods of indicating your suitability are unlikely to hurt.

I don’t want War & Peace. I don’t want you to gush about how I’m awesome / our tech’s awesome / the company’s awesome. All you need is a few short lines – try this template:

Hi, I'm [A].

I saw your ad for [Position] at [Place] and was very interested.

I've done [Something] previously,
and [although I've not [done/used/experienced this thing you mention],]
I've [relevant thing] which I think would be very useful.

[Here are some additional details about my situation that may be useful, e.g. availability for further interview]



Tell me how you’re relevant. Show me why I should hire you.

Thanks to Matt Cottingham and George Hickman for reviewing this