Career

Engineering the Perfect Cover Letter

January 19, 2018

As an engineer, you spend most of your day constructing, problem-solving and building.  Whether it’s residential homes or complex circuit boards, engineers tend to have a heightened appreciation for scenarios when form meets function.  

When it comes to advancing your career, having a resume and cover letter in your back pocket that not only communicate your skills but are reflections of your personality and style, can prove valuable assets.  Whether you’re on the hunt for a new job or are just looking to be prepared, here are a few tips for sprucing up or constructing that perfect, streamlined cover letter.

Functional Goals

No job was ever awarded on the basis of a cover letter alone.  This does not, however, mean that you should dismiss, ignore or put off drafting the document until the last minute.  A good, interest-garnering cover letter follows a standard form while remaining unique enough to create interest in hiring managers.  A cover letter helps weed out unqualified candidates and allows recruiters and decision-makers insight into just who they should bring in to meet in person.

The most effective cover letters follow a given format.  Since we’re engineers, we’ll call this a schematic. This standard form of a cover letter is both efficient in its method for communicating information and instantly recognizable for those who have spent some time in the hiring game.  The cover letter schematic helps achieve the three main goals of a cover letter:

  1. Expression of Interest in Position
  2. Brief Narrative of Qualifications for Position
  3. An indication of Willingness to Communicate Further

These cover letter goals may seem a bit simplistic for a dedicated blog how-to post, but it’s the execution that often trips up many candidates.

Technical Requirements for Utmost Attention

Hiring managers are often devoting a good deal of time to their day jobs, limiting the number of resources they can afford to devote to finding the candidate of their dreams.  With this in mind, the technical and formatting aspects of your resume should be designed to make it easy to identify your perfection for that engineering position.

Keep your cover letter short and to the point.  A maximum of 300 words is all you’ll have to let your skills and experience shine.  With this in mind, eliminate the excess fluff and get right to the point in the body of your cover letter, specifically stating how your qualifications match the job description or the company’s greater needs.  

Similarly, time constraints on the person reviewing your resume make it critical that you format your cover letter in an expected, tried and true approach.  Hiring managers will expect to see “x” information in “y” paragraph. If they don’t, chances are greater that your application will end up in the circular filing bin rather than on the desk waiting for a callback to be scheduled.

Research for Added Insight

Preparatory research of the prospective employer isn’t just a good pre-interview exercise.  Getting a general feel for company culture, values and their overall approach can help with your cover letter structure.

If the company website is professional, dry and matter of fact, you’ll probably want to avoid colloquialisms, humor or sarcasm in that cover letter.  Instead, check and double check your formatting to ensure your strict adherence to guidelines, a skill they’ll probably be looking for further down the line in your candidacy.  

If on the other hand, the business has a fun, quirky or modern vibe, a little bit of creativity in your cover letter may be much appreciated.  While you should always strive for professionalism, consider inserting a quote that sums up your experience or work style or an engineering-themed one-liner as an opening gambit.  Research on the job description and company peculiarities will help you identify when these types of insertions may be appropriate and when it’s probably best to stick with the normal routine.

The Cover Letter Schematic

Now that we’ve discussed the what, why and acceptable variations, its time to get down to brass tacks.  Below we’ve prepared a helpful cover letter “schematic” that will help you formulate that perfect introductory email or a physical letter.  Consider this schematic your guide to engineering cover letter glory. The nuts and bolts should be as follows:

Name (Yours of Course)

Mailing Address

City, State Zip Code

Telephone Number

E-mail Address

 

Date

Mr./Ms./Dr. Full Name (The Hiring Manager or Other Contact)

Title

Company

Mailing Address

City, State Zip Code

 

Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Full Name:

  1. Express interest in a specific position (maximum one sentence each):
    • List the title of the position to which you are applying.
    • Explain how you heard of the positions position.
    • State (briefly) how you believe your skills will fit well with the job.
  2. Provide details regarding your relevant experience, applicable to the job:
    • Summarize your relevant professional background and years of experience.
    • Describe key responsibilities in your current or past position.
    • List skills that directly apply to requirements pulled out of the job listing.
    • Also be sure to spend a sentence on soft skills such as management or team working that are more generic but still applicable to the role.
  3. Encourage further communication (maximum one sentence each):
    • Express excitement in the position and that you’re interested in learning about the next steps in the hiring process.  
    • Mention that your resume is enclosed and that you’re happy to provide additional information.  
    • Thank them for their consideration.

Sincerely,

[Sign Here]

Your Name

The Wrap Up

A few brief points to consider when applying for open positions and submitting a cover letter:

When applying via email you should feel free to remove the letterhead type formatting, instead replacing this with a signature that lists your vital contact information.  When you’ve typed up a good first draft, ask one or more trusted friends or family members to review for any grammatical errors and overall readability. Finally, stick to the schematic and modify to fit your individual style and the specific job you may be applying for.  Approaching the cover letter in an engineer-friendly manner can help take the stress and worry out of crafting your document and can help you focus on what you’re going to do to celebrate when you successfully land that job offer.

If you’ve worked out your own process hacks for job applications and cover letters, why not share them with fellow engineers? You can tweet us @EngineerJobs, or leave a comment with your suggestions.