Writing A Punchy Junior Software Developer Cover Letter: A Case Study.

How to play to your prospective employers emotions and write a junior developer cover letter that packs a punch.

Are you going through the job application process now? Have you been asked to write a cover letter as a junior software engineer?

Not to fear. Because how to write a punchy junior developer cover letter is what we’re covering today.

To help us, we’re going to go through a real world junior developer cover letter example.

By the end of this article you should be able to analyse your cover letter critically and make the important improvements you need to bag yourself a job!

The Fatal Mistake Juniors Developers Make

Before we dive into the case study, I want to take some time to set the scene. So, let me tell a short story, if you will. The story will be useful to see where a lot of junior engineers go wrong in the job application process.

It was an evening at summer camp. We were in the staff room by the table tennis table. Throughout my entire life I’d been pretty mediocre at skill sports. So there I was, just watching the game with a sense of quiet admiration for those that were playing.

boys playing table tennis

Stood beside me was the head of athletics.

He turned to me and asked whether I would play.

Naturally, I declined. I emphasised my lack of skill and let him know that I’d rather just spectate.

He smirked, “watch”.

We looked back over at the players as he started to play out a narrative on top.

“Did you see that?” He exclaimed.

“See what?” I thought to myself, puzzled.

He continued, “every time the ball lands on his weak hand, he struggles to return it. Now look! When played to his right side — he can apply LOTS of power and win the play!”.

What unfolded for the next half an hour was a harsh realisation. I realised that I’d struggled at sports, not because I was bad, but because I’d not recognised that to be exceptional you must: watch, read and play to your opponent.

Probably at this point you’re wondering what all this talk of table tennis has to do with writing a good cover letter? Let me explain…

The tale in the story is exactly the same fatal mistake that junior developers make in the job application process: focusing on themselves and their skills but failing to tailor their communications to the person opposite them, their prospective employer.

Let’s fix that.

Creating an emotive junior developer cover letter

emoji

Okay, so we want to understand our prospective employer and their needs so that we can tailor our communications to them. But how do we do that?

First, by listing the emotions that we want to address. When it comes to hiring you, we need to know your prospective employers:

  • Suspicions
  • Fears
  • Dreams

Okay, I admit, these are a little abstract.

Let’s strep through each emotion to detail what I mean.

Confirming their suspicions

First up, they are suspicious.

But what are they suspicious about? They’re suspicious that when you start work you won’t have the skills you said you did. They’re suspicious that you were great at talking in the interview but won’t back these up with hard skill when you start.

The bottom line is: they’re suspicious that it will transpire that your skill is not as good as you said it was.

They’ll want proof.

Allaying their fears

Up next, fear.

Your prospective employer will fear that when you start the job that you’ll take a long time to get up to speed. They’re fearful that your communication skills might make it difficult to work with you. They’re fearful that you might get paralysed with an ambiguous task and request pain-inducing explicit detail.

Ultimately they’re fearful that you’ll cost them more time, money and energy than you put back in.

Playing to their dreams

Lastly, what do they dream of?

Your prospective employers dream is that they can delegate work to you and you pick it up with ease. You ask the right questions, at the right time, at the right level. Their dream is that you teach, empower and help those around you. Their dream is that you delight them in your job in ways they didn’t even imagine.

Simply put: Your prospective employer dreams you alleviate pain and make their life easier.

Writing A Punchy Junior Developer Cover Letter

Okay, now we’ve started to paint a picture as our prospective employer see’s it we’re now in a good position to start to put together our cover letter. We’re going to go through an example cover letter and update the wording. We’ll refer back to our prospective employers emotions in order to give it some real punch.

hand written book

Part 1: The Intro

At the start of your cover letter, you’ll want to introduce yourself, stating who you are, your background and why you’re unique. The junior engineer in question kicked off their cover letter as follows:

I am a self-taught web developer since 2016. As you can see from my attached CV, I was a full-time student during that year. I was just focusing on my learning, practices and building my skills. Some of my skills includes HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, jQuery, Ruby, Bootstrap and I am on my way to add API and HTTP requests.

Let’s have a go re-writing this, and I’ll explain the changes I made and why.

I am a self-taught developer. I’ve delivered working application utilising HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, jQuery, Ruby, Bootstrap. I’m currently teaching myself back-end development, skills such as: RESTful API’s and HTTP requests.

Improvement 1: You ARE a developer (right now!)

If you’ve written code, you are a developer. Now. Today. Immediately. In the original intro was the additional detail of the year that this individual had been developing since (It was 2016, in this case). Go through each sentence on your cover letter and ask yourself: does this strengthen my argument? If it doesn’t, rip it out. Be ruthless.

Improvement 2: Emphasise delivery

I specifically reworded the intro from “I’ve learned” to “I’ve delivered”. Many workplaces let you learn on the job — but learning should always be geared towards delivering. Remember what your prospective employer will fear. They will fear that you’ll be slow to get up to speed and start delivering. If you’ve got examples, even better.

Part 2: Why You’re Different

In your cover letter you also get the opportunity to explain why you’re unique. The junior developer here had put:

Also, I can assist my fellow colleagues and mentor interns whenever I am ready. I have some work experience in mentorship and I was doing some design mentoring when I was a regular attendee with Codecademy’s Katathons and Hackathons.

Let’s do some word-smithery:

One of my favourite ways to learn is to teach. I find teaching others gratifying and I know that in order to teach we just have to be one chapter ahead. I work as a design mentor at Codecademy’s Katathons and Hackathons.

Improvement 1: Avoid Self Deprecation 

It can be tempting to add in words like some. As the original junior engineer put: “I have some experience”. As we said in the intro, if it doesn’t strengthen your argument, remove it. You have experience. Your prospective employer will be concerned about the amount of time they’ll need to invest in training you prior to you having impact. Be confident, you have skill.

Improvement 2: Favour Present Tense

When it comes to your cover letter, if it doesn’t help your case, remove it. In the original wording, the junior developer put: “I have been a mentor”. It’s much more succinct to say you are a mentor. Saying you have been a mentor also implies that you’re not anymore, which raises the question: why? If you have been a mentor, you ARE a mentor.

Improvement 3: Emphasise Teaching

Above I added a reference to only being one chapter ahead in order to teach. This is an important statement. Most junior engineers take a long time to build up the confidence to teach others. But they need not wait. If you know something that others do not, your employer would love for you to share. In technology learning is essential, and if you can up-skill their teams you’re playing to their dreams.

The Punchy Junior Developer Cover Letter

That concludes our look over this junior developer cover letter case study.

When it comes to influence, emotions are powerful. Don’t fall into the trap of focusing too much on your own skills. Put yourself in the shoes of your prospective employer and tailor your language to play to their dreams, allay their fears and confirm their suspicions. If you can do this, you’ll have a covering letter that really packs some punch.

Are you currently putting together a covering letter? Want feedback? Send it my way, I’d love to help you out.

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