How to Write Silicon Valley-Worthy Cover Letters
Covers letters are rough. There are arguments that cover letters are unnecessary because hiring managers don’t read them; others swear that cover letters enhance your application. So what do you do?
Try to include a cover letter for as many applications as you can. However, your cover letter will hurt your application if there are spelling or formatting mistakes, it’s too long, not customized for each position, rehashes what is in your resumé, or isn’t addressed to an individual. If you don’t spend time on a quality cover letter, then I wouldn’t bother including one.
In Silicon Valley, hiring managers review 1000s of resumés/cover letters for each position. Most likely, this hiring manager will look at your resumé first to determine if they even want to read your cover letter. Your cover letter can either enhance the impression of your resumé and qualifications or detract from it.
Here’s what will make your cover letter more impactful:
1) Make it short. I would recommend two paragraphs maximum, with an additional two-liner stating that you have attached your resume and would love the opportunity to discuss your qualifications. Hiring managers don’t have time to read lengthy letters. Keep it concise and powerful (more on that next). It’s more likely to be read if it’s short.
It also shows that you’re capable of expressing your accomplishments in a succinct way, a very rare but valuable trait.
2) Focus on your highlighted achievements. Don’t rehash what’s already in your resumé verbatim. Instead, note your accomplishments that directly relate to the skills needed in the job you’re applying for. For example, DO NOT write: “At the Attorney General’s Office, I wrote a memorandum regarding medicaid fraud and assisted the supervising prosecutor in research.” Focus on what the hiring manager would be impressed by and note your overarching achievements over tasks.
Instead write: “As an intern in the Attorney General’s Office, I wrote a memorandum detailing that a doctor could be charged with medicaid fraud using existing circumstantial evidence, an argument that contributed to the ongoing prosecution against a fraudulent prescription provider.” It shows that you are capable of: doing research, writing a persuasive and fact-based memorandum, and that your work actually contributed to the work of your supervisors.
3) Use lists, but keep it short. I’ve seen cover letters that contain a long list of bullet points, which makes me think they the candidate has regurgitated their resumé. Lists are not bad, but keep them accomplishment-heavy and limited to no more than 3-4 accomplishments. Like, “I have worked within every aspect of the software development lifecycle. Notably, I’ve (1) [enter something incredible you achieved]; (2) [enter a huge responsibility you had]; (3) …
4) Customize it. This includes adding the name of the hiring manager to the initial address, but also that you would love to work for X Company for X Position. One of the biggest errors I see is candidates reusing the same cover letter and forgetting to supplant the name of the company within the text. This will immediately remove you from the applicant pool. Be diligent. Highlight the areas that need to be customized to avoid errors.
5) Be bold. No one wants to hire a cookie cutter employee in Silicon Valley, so depart from the norm and be intelligent and funny, witty, or quirky. Make sure you have a strong opening line (a “grab”). This should take into account what type of person you want and what the role is really looking for. For example, if you wear many hats and you support a lot of different departments, you could state it in your first line, for example: “Among my colleagues, I’m known as a jack-of-all-trades with a knack for finding innovative solutions to unique, complex problems…” etc.
Consider something quirky like: “I’m your purple squirrel account manager,” or even something meaningful: “I knew I was cut out for a fast-paced, high-stress job when I kept a cool head while delivering my sister’s baby in the back of a taxi cab on our way to the hospital.”