Matthew Bellantoni

Advice For Job Seekers: Please Write a Cover Letter

advice-for-job-seekers, startups


I'm starting to do a lot of hiring again and once again I'm becoming reacquainted with a lot of the things job seekers do (and don't do) that annoy me.  I've always said "I should write some blog articles about this in hopes that it will change some people's behavior."

So, here's the first one!  I don't offer this as universal advice (though I think a lot of this is good general advice for job seekers.)  I think this is good advice for getting hired at a small tech startup.  It's definitely good advice if you're trying to get hired by me! :)

To The Matter at Hand

As the title of the post suggests, I get frustrated that most resumes I receive are not accompanied by a cover letter.  (And by "cover letter" I mean "cover letter email.")  I know this may strike a lot of people as old-fashioned but it really bugs me.  Here's why.

With no cover letter, you're putting an enormous burden on me to figure out who you are.  In general it's hard to write a resume and most people are not good at writing them.  Recruiters have caused people to create resumes that are a jumble of keywords.  People either write "War and Peace" or they don't write anything of substance at all.

Over the years, I've developed a bunch of rules of thumb that I used to reject resumes, there are a few specific things I look for that interest me, but frankly, the rest is sort of hit or miss.  If you write some actual prose explaining your career history, why you think you'd like to come work for the company, etc. I would find that immensely useful.

Otherwise, I'm left trying to figure out on my own how all the pieces of your history fit together in a way I care about.  (Which I'll eventually do, but don't you want to help point out the way?  Do you not want me to experience delight at our first meeting?)

Not sending a cover letter shows a lack of effort and genuine interest.  I worked hard to craft the best job description I could to attract your attention.  I will carefully read your resume.  I will spend time prepping for a phone screen with you.  And so on.

When you don't write a cover letter, I have no evidence that you've done the same.  Given my history of awful phone screens where people have not taken the effort to look at our company website or try the product, I'm pretty comfortable making this assumption.

Really, a resume that shows up on the "careers" mailing list or our resumes tracking system without a cover letter looks a lot like spam.  It's impersonal and feels like you're just on the receiving end of a mass mailing.

Sending a cover letter shows that you have a command of written English.  The farther along I get in my career the more I realize just how hard it is to communicate with other people.  I also realize more and more how much a well-functioning team depends on strong spoken and written communication. ("Hrm, what does this crappy comment in this code mean?")  As a consequence, I find myself more demanding that people we add to our team are well equipped to communicate effectively.

In Conclusion

So, please, the next time you apply for a job (especially with me!) please write a couple of short paragraphs building a narrative of why you think you're a good fit for the position in question.  It doesn't need to be high ceremony--please let your personality come through.  It's an easy way to jump to the top of the list!