How to write an IT cover letter: 8 tips

Before you can win that new IT job, you must get in the door. Here’s how to quickly and confidently make your case in an IT cover letter - and land an interview
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In an age of digital job boards, online applications, virtual interviews, and more, some IT pros and IT leaders might assume that the relatively old-fashioned cover letter is a trivial checklist item in landing their next jobs. Wrong.

“Some people may think that writing a cover letter is no longer relevant, especially in the IT industry. But it’s still an important part of a job application,” says Ryan Sutton, senior district director for Robert Half Technology. “This document is your introduction to the company and your chance to impress the hiring manager, as well as demonstrate your communication skills and professionalism.”

The cover letter is a sales letter, and a sales letter with one metric of success – get an interview.

“Up to 80 percent of all applications are dumped immediately,” says Dr. Iwan Jenkins, president of leadership and strategy consultancy The Riot Point. “Why? Because applicants don’t include a cover letter, or those that do don’t realize the cover letter is a sales letter, and a sales letter with one metric of success – get an interview.”

[ Crush that interview. Download: IT job searching in 2019: A practical guide. ]

However, writing a cover letter is a completely different art than writing a resume. IT professionals can take these steps to make sure the cover letter not only stands on its own as a distinct document but also stands out from the rest.

1. Don’t copy and paste

Many job applicants treat the cover letter as an afterthought, mindlessly duplicating information readily available in their resumes. Instead, they should “highlight specific skills or accomplishments that exemplify why you’d be great in this role,” Sutton says. “Explain why you’d like to have the job, how it would further your career, and how you’d help the business.”

2. Keep it contained

Limiting yourself to a couple hundred words is ideal. “You want to make sure it’s quick and holds [the reader’s] attention,” says Jessica Hernandez, president of executive resume writing service Great Resumes Fast.

3. Close the gaps

If your resume reveals an employment gap or a period of job hopping, the cover letter can be used to acknowledge them. “This is also a good opportunity to address anything amiss with your resume,” Sutton says.

4. Be original

Avoid overused language or restating the obvious, like opening with “I am applying for the position of IT director.” Jenkins advises applicants to think in terms of a “headline” for their cover letter and come up with an opening line that conveys it in a compelling way.

“Here’s one opening sentence that worked recently: ‘I can help you deliver the promise you made in page seven of your annual report: We aim to double sales in Asia in the next 5 years. Why am I confident I can help? Because I’ve done for others in a similar industry – twice.’

“This applicant got the interview, got the job, and went from VP Sales, Asia to VP Sales Global in two years,” Jenkins says.

5. Learn the pain points

“If there’s a common struggle that you know the organization is facing and you’ve successfully tackled it before, share briefly how you overcame the problem.”

“You have to know what the employer is looking for,” says Jenkins, who advises looking for intelligence in annual reports, press reports, or online presentations. “Address the major pain points of the employer within your cover letter,” Hernandez adds. “If there’s a common struggle that you know the organization is facing and you’ve successfully tackled it before, share briefly how you overcame the problem. Employers know if you’ve solved the problem before, you can do it again. Using stories of challenges, solutions, and results paints a clear picture and provides proof of your experience.”

6. Get personal

“Just like you’d customize your resume for a company, show that you’ve done your research by noting key things about the organization and addressing the hiring manager personally,” Sutton says. “If the job posting doesn’t tell you who that is, try to call the company and ask for the name and title of the hiring manager.”

7. End with a call to action

Consider what action you want the reader to take and ask for it, Jenkins says. “If you want an interview, ask for it – and make it easy for the person to contact you.”

8. Check and recheck

Always proofread your cover letter before shooting if off – and better yet, have a couple of other people review it as well. “Misspellings or sloppiness may be a deal-breaker for some IT leaders,” Sutton says.

[ Arm yourself for IT job interviews with winning tactics and relevant data. Get our new eBook: IT job searching in 2019: A practical guide. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.

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