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Writing the Perfect Startup Cover Letter: Research & Customize

Do Hiring Managers Even Read Cover Letters? 

Yes, hiring managers read cover letters! 83% of hiring managers say they frequently or always read cover letters, and 59% say they look to an applicant’s cover letter to get a glimpse into their personality and determine if they’d be a good cultural fit for the startup.

On average, companies receive upwards of 200 applications per open role. This number can be several times higher for roles at high-growth startups.

Writing a cover letter is one of the most common things job-seekers overlook or completely neglect. This means that getting great at crafting a cover letter is one of the highest-leverage ways to stand out for a competitive role.

How Does a Cover Letter Help You Land an Interview? 

It shows you're serious about the role 

Taking the time to write a thoughtful, well-researched, customized cover letter shows the recruiter how much you want the role. Although writing a stand-out cover letter for each role you apply to is time-consuming, a great cover letter can often be the deciding factor between multiple qualified candidates. 

It's a great way to showcase your personality 

A cover letter allows you to show your understanding of the business and prove why you’d be a great cultural fit. This is especially true for early-stage startups that are still forming their culture.

While resumes are typically backward-looking, with a focus on what you've done in the past, your cover letter is your chance to look forward and show the hiring manager how you'd contribute to the team in the role you're applying for. 

It can explain employment gaps and career changes

Since resumes are often technical and limited to one or two pages, you don’t have much room to explain nuances in your career, like gaps in unemployment or big changes in roles or industries.

A great cover letter can be the difference between the hiring manager tossing your resume and giving you a chance at a screening interview.

A cover letter will amplify your other efforts 

A great cover letter will help you stand out, but remember that you still need to nail the other important components of your outreach strategy for maximum impact, especially when applying to a startup.

Since you'll take the time to thoroughly research the company when crafting your customized cover letter, you'll have the opportunity to repurpose your knowledge when networking with people within the startup you're applying to. 

How to Write a Great Startup Cover Letter 

Invest the Time in Writing a Cover Letter Template 

Creating a great cover letter template will require 1-2 hours of time investment upfront, but it will save you a ton of time in the long run. There are many resources online that can help you craft a great cover letter template, so we won’t spend much time covering that here.

If you need some help or inspiration with putting your cover letter template, check out these resources from Indeed, HubSpot, and Harvard Business Review.

Research the Company and the Role 

Now that you have your cover letter template locked and loaded, you can focus all your energy on customizing your cover letter for each company you apply to.

Research the company, its culture, and its values

The first step to customizing your cover letter is to research the startup you’re applying to. In the research stage, your objective should be to gather as much information as possible about the company and take notes that you’ll eventually use when customizing your cover letter.

The more unique information you can gather about the company, the easier it will be to stand out from other applicants when you customize your cover letter.

Here are some ideas for places to look when doing your initial research … 

  • Visit the company’s career page and take note of its values and culture
  • Browse the company’s social media and bookmark posts that stand out to you
  • Read articles and blog posts written about the startup 
  • Research the founders, read anything they've written, and listen to any podcasts they've appeared on 
  • Use the company's products/services and take note of anything you like or anything you think can be improved 

Take detailed notes on the things that you resonate with most about the company’s founders, mission, values, culture, etc. Remember that you'll have plenty of time to condense your thoughts when customizing your cover letter, so the more that you can get down in this step, the better. 

Think about why you want the role you're applying for

Use the same strategy for this step as you did when researching the company.

Use the following prompts to brainstorm and write down anything that comes to mind. You’ll condense and package these thoughts into a few sentences later on when you’re customizing your cover letter.

  • Read through the job description and answer the question, “What excites me about this specific role?”
  • What would you like to achieve in the role?
  • What gaps do you see within the function you’re applying to? 
  • What initiatives would you focus on in your role, and what would you like to deliver? 
  • What about your skills, background, and experience sets you apart from other candidates? 
  • Who is the hiring manager for the role?
    • Addressing your cover letter to the hiring manager and reaching out to them through LinkedIn, email, etc., after you’ve applied will increase the likelihood that your application (and cover letter) get into the hands of the correct person within the startup.

The idea here is to reflect on your experience and motivation for applying to the startup. Explain how your background and skills can contribute to the startup’s success.

Go through your previous roles and find a few key experiences you’d like to highlight in your cover letter. Be as specific as possible, and focus on giving life to the experience. Use data to tell a story about how your past experiences make you uniquely positioned to add value to the team.

Tips for Customizing Your Cover Letter 

Now that you’ve composed your template cover letter and done research on your target companies, it’s time to customize your cover letter.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when using the information from your research to customize your cover letter template.

Keep it short

Your cover letter should fit on one page, which is about 250 - 400 words. You should have a strong intro with a hook that will attract the reader’s attention, a strong closing that reiterates the key points from your cover letter, and 1 to 2 body paragraphs that condense your research from the previous step.

Remember that recruiters and hiring managers will likely read through hundreds of resumes and cover letters, so they only have a minute or two to review each. Every sentence in your cover letter should provide the reader with specific information about why you’re the best candidate for the role.

Always proofread and get feedback

Make sure you don't have any formatting or grammar issues in your cover letter. Using a tool like Grammarly to find any errors is always recommended and worth the investment. It's best to edit your cover letter a day or two after you customize it so you can review it with fresh eyes. 

If you have any friends or colleagues who'd be willing to proofread and peer review, they'll likely provide you with valuable feedback. 

Network, network, network

If you have any personal connections within the startup, mention this in the first sentence or two of the cover letter. And always address the cover letter to someone directly. If you don’t know the name of the recruiter or hiring manager for the role, use social media to find the person who’ll most likely be reviewing your resume and cover letter.

After you submit your application, reach out to a few people on the team you’re applying to on LinkedIn, Twitter, or through email to let them know you’ve submitted an application and see if they’d be willing to hop on a 15-minute call to discuss the startup and the role.

In Conclusion

A well-crafted startup cover letter is your chance to make a memorable impression when applying to a competitive role. If you're up against a bunch of other qualified candidates, a well-researched and customized cover letter can be the reason you get an interview over other candidates. 

By investing the time to research the startup and demonstrate how your background and skills align with the company’s culture and mission, you’ll increase your chances of standing out and securing an interview.

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