Best Cover Letters For Startups

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For a long time, I dreaded seeing those five words at the end of an amazing job listing: “Please include a cover letter.”

I absolutely hated cover letters. I found them unnecessary, boring, and anxiety-inducing. After all, if I didn’t write them perfectly, wouldn’t that completely stop me from getting a job, even if everything else checked out?

As I began to write more and more cover letters, I realized something crucial: there’s an incredibly obvious pattern to writing these in a way that doesn’t come across as robotic or awkward. In fact, after I figured out the formula, cover letter writing became the easiest part of putting together a job application—yes, really!

At this point, I’ve written hundreds of cover letters and have helped dozens of people with their own, and I’ve got crafting them down to a science. Whether you’re writing a more casual cover email to a small tech startup or writing a formal cover letter to a huge tech corporation, here’s the step-by-step guide to writing a rockstar message that gets you hired.

Header: Keep in Line With the Industry

When starting your cover letter, the big question is, should you provide any information in your header? In a cover email, it’s not necessary (after all, it’d look awkward to have random personal contact information at the top of a post), but with formal cover letters, it becomes trickier.

A general rule of thumb: Usually larger companies or those in more formal industries require a header for your cover letter; smaller companies or startups usually don’t.

What should go into your header if you need one? First, put the date you’re writing the letter, followed by your name, address, phone number, and email address. Then, skip a line on the page and include the name of the person your cover letter is addressing, that person’s title within the company, and the company’s address.

If you’ve tried to find the name of the person who will be reviewing your application and have had no luck, or if you know that a non-descript group will be looking at it (for example the “Tech Fellowship Selection Committee”), feel free to put that in the header instead of the name of the person.

“To” Line: Establish a Rapport

As noted above, figuring out to whom you should address your cover email or letter is tricky business, especially if the company you’re applying to gives zero indication of who that could be.

If you really want to dazzle a company by personally addressing someone, feel free to shoot a quick email to the company’s support line, or if you know someone who’s definitely involved in the hiring person, reach out to a specific employee within the company. Didn’t get a clear response or just got radio silence? There are other approaches you can take.

If you’re sending a cover email, you have the ability to be a little more informal. Drop the “To Whom It May Concern” entirely, and opt for a simple “Hi there…” or “Hi [Company] team…”

If you’re writing a more formal cover letter, you can still avoid the dreaded “To Whom It May Concern.” If you want to keep it broad, feel free to address it “To [Company’s] Tech Fellowship Panel” or “Dear [Company] team.”

Sentence 1: Introduce Yourself in an Interesting Way

Regardless of if you’re using a cover email or cover letter, the first sentence of your email should have more oomph than using the tired “I’m applying for X role…” or “My name is…”

Why should you avoid these situations? First, chances are the hiring manager already knows what you’re applying for from all of your other application materials. Additionally, you name is elsewhere in your message (for instance, your header or in the sender line of the email), so including that information is redundant.

So how can you open with something that’ll grab someone’s attention and take your message seriously? Here are some of my favorites (that have helped me get hired!):

  • Use a quote that best describes you. There’s a reason why so many great speeches and messages start off with quotes from others: They’re effective.
  • Include your personal tagline. Some professionals have created a tagline or personal motto for themselves. If you’ve thought of one and it shows why you would be great at the job you’re applying for, use it.
  • Write a (very) short anecdote. If there’s a striking way to show your most important professional attribute in a sentence or two, use it!

 

Paragraph 1: Explain Why You’re Excited About This Role

Once you’ve caught a hiring manager’s attention, it’s time to finish up your first paragraph by explaining why you’re excited about the role.

This “paragraph” should be short (only two or three sentences) to briefly explain who you are (what’s your education background and current role?) and why you love the company and want to work there.

Regardless of if you’re writing a cover email or formal cover letter, be sure that your reasons relate back to the job listing in some way. Steer clear of vague language that isn’t descriptive or thought-provoking (“I’m excited to work with a cool team!”).

Think of it this way: If you could swap out the name of the company for another organization and your reasons for loving the company still make sense, you need to get more specific.

Paragraph 2: Hone in on the Company’s Pain Point

Once you’ve briefly but effectively established why you love that specific company and your potential role, it’s time to turn your attention to the second paragraph.

The biggest question you need to ask yourself: What is this company’s pain point? In other words, what is the main objective for the company to be hiring this role? Obviously, they wouldn’t create a listing and find money in the budget unless they needed someone, so focus on the main problem they would solve by hiring you.

Once you’ve established that you understand a company’s pain point, it’s time for you to shine by answering this crucial question: Why are you uniquely qualified to take on that position and fix that pain point over other people?

To do that, give one or two short and specific examples based on your past experience. Want to keep your anecdotes from dragging on? Here’s my favorite formula for keeping it short, sweet, and effective:

  • Sentence 1: Briefly introduce the skill or ability.
  • Sentence 2: Explain a scenario where you showcased this skill.
  • Sentence 3: Give the result. If you can do so with numbers or other tangible data, that’s ideal.

This section is also a good time to quickly mention (in one or two sentences) anything that a hiring manager may have questions about after reading your resume and other materials (for instance, an obvious two-year employment gap). Feel free to explain you’re willing to further elaborate in an interview or through any follow-up.

Paragraph 3: Wrap It Up

Your wrap-up should be short (only two or three sentences) to reiterate the following:

  • Your excitement about this role.
  • Your appreciation for the company taking the time to read your materials.
  • Where the company can contact you with any further questions.
  • Call-outs to any attachments (if you include them in a cover email) or relevant links (if you include them in a cover letter).

That’s it! Don’t drag on the end of your email or letter.

The Sign-Off

Your sign-off may differ based on if you’re writing a cover email or cover letter, so here’s how to tackle each of those.

For your cover email, feel free to sign off with “Best” or “Thank you” and then your name. You can add your email address, phone number, personal website, or portfolio below if you want, but definitely steer clear of having too many links after your name.

For your cover letter, it’s fine to sign off with just your name, especially since all of your contact information is at the beginning of your message. If you really want to add something, feel free to include the easiest mode of contact (like an email address).

Armed with this formula, you’ll never spend hours tearing your hair out over cover letters again. Trust me!

Get Our FREE Guide to the Perfect Email Cover Letter

Learn how to write a cover letter that gets you interviews with our FREE 30+ page ebook.

You can unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. We won't use your email address for anything else, promise!

First things first: the best startup cover letter is usually not a traditional cover letter at all. It’s a warm introduction to someone important, at your startup of choice, by someone important to that important person. A word of confidence from someone a company trusts is the very best conversation-opener in business. As companies grow, though, they’ll inevitably need more good people than can be mined from the networks of their few employees – my employer, H.Bloom, hired over 25 full-time employees in 2011 alone.

Whoever is reading your application at a startup is inevitably pressed for time, and probably doesn’t even have “hiring” in their job description – at a growing company, everyone pitches in where help is needed most, regardless of whether it’s part of the definition of their job.

To make sure you shine in the few seconds your cover letter spends with the startup, three points are paramount:

1. Highlight results

Startups want doers. There’s so much to be done at a growing company, that vague expertise like “building relationships” and “being proactive” may not prove you’ve got the chops.

Did you snag a client’s national business by servicing his local branch meticulously? That tells us you’ve built a strong relationship. Did you create a new well-received ad product based upon trends you saw in the market? Fantastic – now we know you’re proactive.

When it comes to results, show, don’t tell.

2. Talk normally

Perhaps second only to results, startups look for culture fit. Most startup companies have small, tight-knit teams who spend lots of time together, and that time is more productive – and more fun – when employees actually enjoy being around one another.

Your cover letter is the best place to demonstrate that you’ll be a great culture fit. Trash the stilted corporate-speak for something that sounds more like a conversation – use everyday language and relaxed syntax to describe why you’ll do a good job. If the person reading your cover letter can imagine having a good conversation with you, you’re well on your way.

Don’t know where to start? Sit a friend down and describe to her why you’d be a fantastic hire. Get really into it. Don’t hold back. Have her type out what you’ve said, remove any “like”s or “I mean”s, and you’ll have the beginnings of an eye-catching cover letter.

3. Love the company

Startup employees have to truly believe in the vision and the mission of the company. If you’re the startup type, you’ll likely find something to love in a lot of different startups – most are doing something cool, unique, industry-changing, or all of the above. Tell us in your cover letter what it is that you love about our company. Start the conversation (think of your cover letter as your startup pickup line) by letting us know you’re on board with what our company, specifically, is doing. Everyone at the company is already a big believer in the product or service – and they want to work with other people who believe it in it too.

Why, you might ask, is one cover letter worth all this work? If you’re not the startup type, then it’s probably not. But if you like to bite off more than you can chew (and chew it anyway), can’t wait to work hard, and are always chomping at the bit for more responsibility, the work you’ve put into a great application will pay off several-hundred-fold with a wildly rewarding startup experience – surrounded by results-oriented, conversation-making, passionate-beyond-belief-about-this-company colleagues. Don’t those sound like fun people to work with?


Rebekah Rombom joined H.Bloom, the luxury subscription flower service with studios across the U.S., in 2010. She currently manages H.Bloom’s Customer Experience and Talent initiatives. Prior to H.Bloom, Rebekah worked in content marketing and monetization at SHEfinds Media. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and lives in Manhattan.

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