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How to write a software engineer cover letter that gets you noticed

An effective software engineer cover letter puts your qualifications in context. Read on to learn how a "show, don't tell" approach can help you stand out.
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Written by Matthew Sweeney, Contributing Writer on
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Your resume doesn't speak for itself. Would you believe that a well-written software engineer cover letter can make a huge difference in landing an interview for your dream job? 

It puts your resume into context — and it's where you get to show off your soft skills and demonstrate enthusiasm to possible employers. But if you're more comfortable writing code than talking about yourself, penning a cover letter can feel intimidating.

Below, you'll learn how to craft an effective software engineer cover letter and find tips to keep in mind.

Why do you need a cover letter for a software engineering role?

A solid cover letter is an essential part of any job application. This persuasive writing makes a case for what you can contribute to your prospective employer. The cover letter allows you to put the qualifications and achievements listed on your resume in context. 

Put differently, a software engineer resume lists what coding languages you know, while a software engineer cover letter talks about the major projects of your career involving those languages.

How long should a software engineer cover letter be?

The ideal software engineer cover letter should clock in at slightly under a page and consist of three to four paragraphs. You don't want to test employers' patience by surpassing a page in length. 

Strive to create a succinct business document.

What should I include in a software engineer cover letter?

All cover letters contain several key elements:

  • Contact info
  • The salutation
  • An intro
  • A body
  • A closing statement

For best results, you should not think of creating a cover letter as a templated, rote exercise. Genuine passion, curiosity, and thoughtfulness must shine through — don't phone it in!

Your contact info

Your contact info should go at the top of the page and include your:

  • Full name
  • Street address
  • City, state, and zip code
  • Phone number
  • Email address (for physical cover letters)
  • Preferred mode of contact

Remember that your email address should be professional, not profane or jokey.

Salutation

The most professional greeting for an engineer cover letter is "dear," followed by the hiring manager's name and a colon. 

Finding out the hiring manager's name shows initiative and conscientiousness that they will likely appreciate. It's okay to use their first name, but if you're applying to a company with a reputation for formality, add "Mr." or "Ms."

If you cannot find the hiring manager's name, "dear hiring manager" will do.

Intro

Your software engineer cover letter's intro is where you need to make a good impression. It should include:

  • Your profession
  • What position you are interested in

Simply stating your interest or enthusiasm in the position is a great way to open. Avoid gimmicks, like defining a word or making an outsized boast about your qualifications.

You may also include how you found out about the job and your history with or interest in the company. Be friendly but polite.

The intro should be no more than four to five sentences.

Body

Your cover letter's body is the meat of the document, and typically it should be one to two paragraphs long. The major points to hit include:

  • Why you are interested in this position
  • How the company's values, goals, and culture align with your accomplishments, goals, and attributes
  • A rundown of your major accomplishments and impacts — demonstrate these with concrete numbers whenever possible
  • What current projects of theirs interest you (if any)
  • How your skillset connects with their requirements

Take care to put your work history in context. Show how your experiences make you suited for the role you want to fill in the company. You can do that by sharing anecdotes and summarizing projects that demonstrate key skills from the job listing.

But don't just restate your resume. Your resume is chronological, while the cover letter should discuss qualifications based on their relevance to the job listing. 

Your tone should balance professionalism and friendliness. Avoid slang, but don't be stuffy. It may help to imagine that you're writing to a new work friend.

Closing/Call-to-action

Your cover letter's conclusion should be confident and respectful. Keep the focus on the company's needs and not yours. Thank them for considering your credentials, express your enthusiasm for the company, and note that you hope to speak with them soon. 

Do not demand they give you an interview or tell them you intend to call them. Assertiveness looks like pushiness — and it puts hiring managers off.

Close with a professional sign-off such as "best" or "sincerely."

Finally, congratulate yourself on a job well done and review our phone interview tips plus our lists of computer science interview questions and impressive questions to ask in an interview.

Tips on writing a software engineer cover letter

You don't need to rewrite an entire cover letter for every job you apply for.

You can make applying for jobs easier by using a software engineer cover letter template that you can adapt for different job postings, rather than starting from scratch every time.

Pick out projects and stories that demonstrate skills common among the listings you see. Then, write up summaries you can copy and paste into the body of a cover letter. 

Plan on writing a custom introduction for each letter.

Put your tech skills in context.

Don't just list your skills. Talk about where and when you have used them in your career. For instance, rather than simply mention that you know Python, discuss a programming project you spearheaded that heavily drew upon coding in Python.

Put your soft skills in context.

Soft, or "people," skills do not exist in a void either. Talk about where they have come in handy across your employment history to give your story credence. 

For instance, you could highlight your leadership skills by discussing positions where you delegated responsibility and guided teams of programmers working under you.

Be quantitative and specific.

When talking about your accomplishments, avoid vague language and quantify the results of your actions. 

For example, don't just say you increased earnings or inspired your team. Note that you helped drive higher earnings for multiple periods during your tenure — and give specific numbers. Other concrete, quantifiable results of actions to discuss could include:

  • New products
  • Increased productivity
  • Higher employee satisfaction reported

Show, rather than tell.

Lean towards showing employers who you are rather than telling them. It's important to show confidence, but let your accomplishments and projects speak for themselves. 

Don't try to pitch yourself with adjectives. Rather than describing yourself as "innovative," talk about the different innovative projects you've worked on.

Show the company you're aligned with them and understand their successes and goals.

Discuss accomplishments and qualifications that line up with the company's goals and values. For instance, if the company has an innovation-centered workplace culture, discuss groundbreaking and first-of-their-kind software projects you've contributed to. 

Proofread your writing and have someone else take a look too.

The last thing you want to do is hit send on a cover letter that contains typos and grammatical errors. This kind of mistake shows carelessness and instantly makes a bad impression.

Make sure to proofread your work before sending it. Getting a second pair of eyes can help even more.

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