It looked something like this: Become extremely knowledgeable in a given programming language until eventually you become a senior programmer.
Once you’re a senior programmer, you ride out the rest of your career as a programmer. Or you make a leap out of the technical world and into a strategy- or management-focused role.
For many programmers, this is a hard decision. Programming is what we love and we don’t want to lose our hard-earned skills. As programmers, we’re often very aware of how quickly our skills fade when we’re not in the business of putting out code anymore.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is another option that allows you to straddle both areas of the so-called softer and technical side of the profession.
Only a few months into my first job I remember telling my boss that I felt like I was teaching a lot. I’d like to say it was a natural inclination towards teaching, but I don’t think that’s it. Because of the nature of the field of technology, teaching and coaching others is an inherent part of what we do. Even if we’re really new to the field.
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.
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…
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:
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.
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.
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:
Let’s have a go re-writing this, and I’ll explain the changes I made and why.
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.
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.
A list of my favourite apps from productivity and mindfulness to budgeting and finance.
I’m always getting asked “wait, what is that app?” when someones peering over my shoulder as I work. So I figured it was about time to unleash them all. A list of my favourite apps from productivity and mindfulness to budgeting and finance.
Here is a list of my current apps that I use in my day-to-day life. They cover pretty much everything from productivity to finance. You should come away with at least one hidden gem in here I’m sure!