How to Write a Software Engineer Cover Letter
When applying for a job as a software engineer, you will often be asked to submit your resume and cover letter. You should spend as much time crafting your cover letter as you do your resume.
Your cover letter will be the first impression that you make on the company, and it should leave the recruiter wanting to know more about you and to go on to review your resume favorably. Think of your cover letter like a sales pitch.
You must write your software engineer cover letter fresh for each application that you make, although there will always be similarities. Recruiters can easily spot a cut-and-paste generic cover letter and it will be much harder to secure that all-important interview if they feel you have sent the same letter to every company and competitor.
At first glance, you might think that a software engineer would be more used to writing code than good copy, but it is imperative when working as a software engineer that you can communicate complex ideas to a decision-maker or budget holder.
It is, therefore, these skills that you should be looking to showcase with your cover letter.
You will particularly find this relevant when applying for software engineering jobs in smaller and niche tech firms.
However, you may also find that you need to upload a resume and cover letter as part of the online application process for big corporates, including management consulting firms, financial institutions or even Fortune 500 companies, many of which hire in-house software engineers.
A great software engineer cover letter will do several things:
- It will persuade the company that they should meet you
- Convince them that you want to work for them
- Highlight relevant experience and skills that match the job description requirements
Remember that the recruiter or company may receive hundreds of applications for a software engineering role. You therefore want to ensure your cover letter makes you stand out from the crowd for the right reasons.
Your letter should be short, to the point and cover no more than the equivalent of one side of letter paper. Everything you write should be carefully checked for both spelling and grammatical errors.
The focus of your letter will depend on the level of the role for which you are applying. If it is an entry-level or intern role, you will no doubt have little or no practical work experience, so you should use any hobby or volunteer examples as well as anything you believe is relevant from your education.
For more senior roles, your cover letter should showcase that you have the expertise, experience and understanding to be the right person for the role and company. You should therefore be prepared to give specific details of not just your skills but the results that you have obtained when using them.
In contrast to an entry-level position, for more experienced roles, you would usually leave the recruiter to seek further details of your education from your resume.
Look at the tone and level of formality, which will give you a good guide as to the tone and formality you should adopt in your cover letter.
Remember that no matter how informal the tone, you should always keep it professional, whilst letting your personality shine through.
Research the company, check out any relevant news, product launches, notable current staff members and so on, and see whether there is anything you could mention in your letter, or draw attention to from your own comparable experience.
You could find out whether the company supports any pro-bono initiatives, or look at their values. Make notes on these.
Then look at the job description, which is often divided up into essential and desirable criteria.
In short, you will need to demonstrate all of the essential skills or qualifications using your resume and cover letter, and ideally address a decent proportion of the desirable skills too.
If you don’t have everything on the job description, don’t let that put you off making an application. It is always worth applying (unless you are underqualified), but whilst you may have to explain if you lack something very specific, you can always make what experience you do have count.
Against every point on the job description, make notes as to your experience and the results you delivered. Highlight the keywords to use in your software engineer cover letter.
Only when you have done all this are you ready to start writing your letter.
How you address your letter sets the immediate tone for how formal or informal your letter will be. It will also be the first place that you will be judged. Make it count.
Make sure you have read up on the ethos of the company and how formal they may expect you to be.
In an ideal application, you will have found the name of the recruiter or person reviewing the applications. Do not underestimate how off-putting the wrong salutation is.
You may choose to call up the company or locate the correct LinkedIn profile to check the correct addressee, the spelling of their name, or to ensure you know their preferred pronouns.
Consider the following:
Spell their name correctly
Consider whether to use ‘Dear Ms Doe’ (super formal), ‘Dear Jane’ (very informal) or whether the middle ground ‘Dear Jane Doe’ is more appropriate. Or, is the uber informal ‘Hi Jane’ better? You can make a call from the tone of the job description/advert.
Do not use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ as it is considered very old-fashioned.
Use ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ if you really can't find their name, but try and avoid this where possible.
The first paragraph of your software engineer cover letter will set out the purpose of your letter.
The company may be recruiting for more than one role, so make it clear for which role you are applying.
You should introduce yourself in the context of the company and role.
You could expand this first paragraph to include some detail about the company or your understanding of the role and the desired candidate, relating this to you and your experience.
It might look something like this:
I saw the advertised Software Engineer position on LinkedIn, and I have coding and programming experience that I think would make a real difference to Acorn.com’s 2021 strategy.
Use the next paragraph to explain how you are a good fit for the role, drawing on your background and specific experience, as well as demonstrating your results.
Consider how your previous roles have equipped you with the relevant capabilities. If you delivered an impressive result, be it financially or otherwise, this is the place to mention it. Make sure that it is relevant to the role in question.
It might look something like this:
At Chestnut, I was responsible for the team that built the technology that sat behind the new go-to-market offering. By improving the consumer’s user experience, usage increased 300% leading to a revenue improvement of 22% YOY.
The next paragraph will depend on the role. If software engineer qualifications are key to the role, you will set them out here.
You may perhaps need to demonstrate that you understand and have experience working in relevant scripting/programming languages, or can demonstrate cross-platform proficiencies.
You may also want to mention knowledge of specific tools, applications or methodologies, but again, make sure to relate these back to the requirements in the job description.
Lastly, you may want to mention your experience and results concerning budgets, financials or user experience.
It might look something like this:
I studied for my bachelor’s degree at [xx school], funded by [big tech co], during which my Hackathon-winning student reporting app reduced campus crime by 20%. Using a similar strategy, I applied this to a wider consumer-driven audience at Chestnut, working pro-bono with [big charity] to deliver a cross-platform app where users were able to report medical symptoms, allowing stock-levels of local [xx] pharmacies to be 25% more accurate.
You should then turn your attention to the company or business; what you know about the business and the role that mirrors your own experience or values, what you can offer to the business and how you can help deliver results.
This paragraph should show passion and enthusiasm for the specific organization, what it does and what it stands for, and make it clear that it is not a generic letter sent to all software engineering roles available.
It might look something like this:
Acorn.com has consistently been the market leader in wearable tech solutions and I’m delighted at the chance to work with such a high-caliber team. As the current global lead on championing diversity in tech at Chestnut, I actively seek to work with (and for) businesses who stand out in the industry and was therefore delighted to see the team at Acorn winning the [big tech sponsored] Women in Tech prize for the 2nd year running.
The final paragraph should bring the letter to a conclusion with a call to action.
Experts are divided as to whether cliche phrases like ‘Thank you for your time’ are to be embraced or avoided; but generally, candidates offer their contact details, draw attention to their resume and end with a call to action that is personable and friendly, inviting the reader to contact them to discuss the position further.
The tone of the job description will indicate how bold you can be with the call to action.
The last few lines should be something such as:
I welcome a call to arrange a meeting with you about the next steps; you can reach me on [number].
As with the opening salutation, the sign off is worth careful consideration. Make sure that it mirrors your introduction.
‘Sincerely’, or a variant thereof, is fine but ‘Best regards’ is usually considered too informal for a job application.
You should conclude using both your first and last names.
Software Engineer Cover Letter Top Tips
Understand the role and its position within the company.
- What does the company do
- Where does the role for which you are applying sit within the business?
- What is their press coverage like – what have they done recently that you should know about?
Some things to consider:
- Is a software engineer an integral role in the business, or a support role (for example, is it specifically a tech firm, or a company who wants to use technology to deliver a better user experience?)
- How big is the department or team?
- Who will you report to? What can you find out about them?
- Are they the hiring manager? If not, who is, and what can you find out about them?
- Who will be your direct reports, if any?
- Is this role to fulfill a specific purpose?
- Is that purpose internal or customer-facing?
When detailing your software engineering experience and results, mirror the language of the job description and be as specific as possible.
Use examples that you think are relevant and interesting to the hiring manager, and that will make your application stand out from the others.
While work-based experience is useful, you can also mention relevant experience in your hobby or spare time. Perhaps you have created an app, program or game. If you can match that to a specific outcome, so much the better.
Don’t just say you did something, show what the result was.
Try applying the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results) technique to describe your example.
Perhaps the game that you created to help your niece learn to code was downloaded a vast number of times. Or maybe the company you worked for needed to drive sales of a specific product and the solution you built that included a cross-platform app raised revenue by 500%.
Don’t lie or exaggerate, but make it an ‘I’ win rather than a ‘we’ win if you can take ownership of specific parts or the leadership of that team.
Take time to understand the business challenges and what they need from the role you are applying for. Are there specific challenges in the industry or sector that you can help overcome?
Find out the focus of the business, work out how a software engineer could affect driving that change or direction (you may find mention on the website, or even in the job description of the business’s particular technology aims and aspirations). Relate this to your relevant software engineering experience and the value that you can bring.
For larger organizations especially – who will usually set out their values on their website or other literature – it is worth making sure you include the keywords used by the company in your cover letter.
For example, you may find out that the company favors using and building open-source software.
Or you might find that the company has a specific project to bring more women and those from minority backgrounds into STEM-related careers, and you might have worked with a similar initiative in your previous organization.
For smaller organizations, look at their company pages on LinkedIn or their company information to glean information as to how you can show that your values are aligned with theirs.
Example Software Engineer Cover Letter
592 Jackson Ave
Oakland, CA 94607
VP Technical Services
Dear Jane Doe,
I am writing to apply for the Software Engineer Lead role at Triangle. As an experienced engineer with more than 10 years in the consumer electronics field, including most recently as platform lead at Rectangle, I am excited to have the opportunity to work with the team at Triangle to continue to deliver groundbreaking solutions to bring aid to displaced citizens.
Creating and developing solutions to consumer issues across a variety of software platforms has been my main focus during my current role at Rectangle, and before that, StrawberryIT. I developed a mobile-ready GPS and tracking solution for a global boating client, leading to a 27% rise in sales YOY, as well as leading the development of a proprietary system for online retail clients, including managing the successful migration of all client data. I was responsible for the team that managed the full lifecycle development of this software, including design, coding, testing, documentation and implementation.
Outside of the office, I led a team of engineers at pro-bono law unit LawAid to create a free solution to assist victims of domestic abuse. The app, disguised as a game, allowed confidential reporting, leading to a 50% increase in YOY reported abuse. Marrying thoughtful solutions for consumers in need of aid has been a fulfilling use of my skills.
Triangle has an impressive roster of success stories in global aid. I’m delighted at the chance to bring my creative strategies and consumer understanding to join a team in continuing to deliver award-winning and world-class unique solutions to those in need.
I appreciate your consideration of my application and have enclosed my resume.
Your cover letter for a software engineer role is your sales pitch. It must be unique, to both you and the company to which you are applying. It should be professional, painting your skills and knowledge in the best light.
It should stand separately from your resume, drawing attention to your relevant career highlights and knowledge of the company, and ultimately leave the hiring manager wanting to progress your application to the next stage.