It’s not uncommon for hiring managers to sift through a hundred applications for a single position — especially for in-demand, well-paid jobs in computer science. When competition is this high, every part of your application matters, including your cover letter. A good one can be the difference between no response and landing an interview.
Of course, writing a cover letter can be daunting, and it’s easy to put it off. So if the task “write cover letter” has been sitting on your to-do list for a while, here are some tips to get you started, including a fully written example.
A few things to keep in mind before you start writing
Some recruiters use software that leverages keywords to help them sift through applications. There are a number of different positions you may qualify for if you have a degree in computer science, like Data Scientist, Software Engineer, or Computer Science Engineer. And depending on the position you’re applying to, some of the keywords in your cover letter may change. That’s right — keywords aren’t just for resumes.
A quick way to tell which keywords you should focus on is by reviewing the responsibilities section of a job description. Oftentimes, you’ll find these listed with bullet points, but not always. If a specific programming language or technology is listed, that’s likely a keyword. You might also find certain skills listed that are keywords, like “information retrieval” or “knowledge of distribution systems.”
If you have these in mind before you start writing, they can help you pick out which details to discuss in your cover letter. And this can save you a lot of time and anguish when trying to decide which details to include in your letter. That said, you don’t have to stress too much about stuffing your application full of keywords. More than likely, if you’re a good fit for the role, you’ll end up including many of these keywords in your application without even thinking about it.
Length & tone
It’s easy to get overwhelmed before you even start writing your cover letter, but keep in mind that it’s a pretty short document. In fact, your cover letter shouldn’t be more than one page, so don’t be afraid to get to your point quickly.
As for the tone, keep it professional, but you also want your letter to sound like you — not a robot. Also, you’ll want to adjust the tone depending on the company you’re applying to. For example, if you’re applying to a casual startup, you can use a less formal tone than if you were applying to, say, an international bank.
Customization is important
Remember how hiring managers have tons of applications to go through? Well, one thing that’s sure to land your application in the “no” pile is a form letter, which is a generalized cover letter that’s submitted to each and every job you apply to. Since they aren’t customized to the job, this can be a dead giveaway that you didn’t take the time to learn about the company or the specifics of the role.
Tweaking the text in each cover letter you submit doesn’t have to take long — it could be as quick as a couple minutes. But these quick changes go a long way when applying to jobs.
How to write a computer science cover letter
There are five main sections in a cover letter: heading, greeting, introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, and closing. Here’s what to include in each of these sections.
The heading includes your name, email address, and phone number. Links to your portfolio and LinkedIn profile can also go here, but those are optional.
If the job description doesn’t say who to address your cover letter to, you can look on the company’s website or LinkedIn for the hiring manager’s name. But if you can’t easily find it, just use a general “Dear Hiring Manager.” You don’t need to spend too much time on this — the hiring manager would rather you spend time actually writing your cover letter than looking for their name.
If you’re wondering about the section on some cover letters with the date, applicant’s name and physical address, and the recipient’s name and physical address, you can skip this section. It was standard when applications were submitted by mail, but since they’re sent digitally now, this section isn’t necessary.
The opening paragraph doesn’t need to be more than a couple sentences. It simply let’s the hiring manager know who you are and the position you’re applying to. So your first sentence could be something like, “My name is Johnathan Scott, and I’m excited to apply for the Junior Software Engineer position at LC and Associates.”
And the next sentence could include another bit of information about you, like “My experience building apps for Android and iOS, as well as my proficiency in Python and Java, would make me a great addition to your team and company.”
The next two or three paragraphs are where you want to go into detail about why you’d be the best person for this specific job. But don’t just repeat details on your resume. This is your chance to tell the hiring manager something extra.
For example, are you a really fast coder? If so, this is a detail that’s likely not found on your resume but is something that the hiring team would be interested to know. Talk about a time when this skill had an impact on your work, like meeting a big deadline.
You can also pick one or two of your soft skills to highlight in these paragraphs, while also adding in specific results whenever possible. For example, let’s say your team worked to re-architect a multi-page web app to a single-page web app, and that resulted in boosting yearly revenue by $1.4 million. When it came time to present this work, you gave the presentation because you’re a great presenter and often the one on the team who takes on this task. So you’ll want to describe this, and add in that line about boosting revenue.
Another detail you can include here is your passion for the company’s mission. Many companies, particularly startups, are explicitly mission-driven, and you can find their mission on their website. If you’re specifically excited to join the company because of the work they’re doing on a larger scale, say so in your cover letter. It’s a great way to signal the enthusiasm you’d bring to the team.
If there’s an area in your application that might be seen as a red flag, you’ll want to address that in this section as well. This might be an employment gap or if you’re applying without a formal degree.
Your closing can be a sentence or two showing your excitement for the role, or simply, “Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to speaking with you soon.” Short and sweet is the name of the game here.
Computer science cover letter example
Here’s a sample of a computer science cover letter.
I am excited to submit my application for the Junior Software Engineer position at LC and Associates. My B.S. in Computer Science, two years of experience building apps for Windows, Android, and iOS, and proficiency in Python and C++ would make me a valuable addition to your team.
While working as a Software Engineer Intern at Microworks, I became the go-to engineer when one of my teammates needed help finding and fixing bugs in their code. They put their trust in me when something wasn’t working, and I took that responsibility seriously. As I developed this skill, I noticed that my own programming skills improved significantly. And by the end of my internship, I was coding in Python and C++ with ease.
With over a year of experience freelancing on web development projects, I’ve learned how to interact with clients from technical and non-technical backgrounds and meet tight deadlines, as well as how to work within budget constraints. These are also skills I’ll bring to your team working as a Junior Software Engineer.
I’m looking forward to discussing more about how my experience and skills can support the software engineering team at LC and Associates.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
One more thing: Don’t forget to edit
You’ve heard this before, but it’s worth mentioning again, because a poorly edited cover letter can land your application in the “no” pile. Read your cover letter multiple times to check for typos or sentences that are confusing. Read it out loud. Sleep on it, and then read it again. We even think it’s a great idea to call in a favor and have a friend or family member proofread your letter. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes is all you need.
After you’ve submitted your cover letter, it’s time to start prepping for your interview, which will include both technical and behavioral interview questions. If you’re looking for extra help, our Pass the Technical Interview Skill Paths can help you practice relevant technical skills.
If you want to brush up on other skills that you might be quizzed on during your interview, our courses can help. A few to consider are Discrete Math, Master Statistics with Python, Learn Python, and Learn Complex Data Structures.
And if you need a refresher on all things computer science, check out our Computer Science career path.