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Developer Careers Guide 4: Responding to job adverts

One of the best pieces of advice is that it’s important to stand out when applying for jobs.  It’s much easier than you may think to stand out when you apply – and to stand out for the right reasons.

Here at RecWorks, we recently advertised a job and received 150 responses… only one application stood out. Why? It was the only one with a personally written, concise cover note. It was the only application that compelled us to open the CV immediately and consequently, we were on the phone to the candidate within minutes!

The problem with Internet job boards is that they can make it very easy to be lazy. It’s easy to set up a profile, click a few buttons and automatically send 20 applications or more. The problem is that while you are doing this so are hundreds of other candidates: a recruiter can routinely receive 50-200 job applications a day.

With the job market being so competitive, the best way to get a head start is to write a brief cover note with the single purpose of motivating the recruiter to read your CV. While it’s easy to write an effective cover note, it’s also an easy thing to get wrong. Many people make the mistake of cutting and pasting things from their CV, including lengthy descriptions of their attributes, experience or qualities, and this isn’t what works at all.

How to write a cover note

Keep things brief and relevant – here;s a great format to follow:

  • Address the email to the recruiter by their first name. NEVER write Dear sir/madam or Whomever it may concern.
  • Make a point of saying that you wanted to write personally to apply.
  • Point out that you believe the position sounds like a great fit, then start by writing what you can offer the company rather than what you want. This should be based on the advert.
  • Follow this with a sentence to say why you feel the role is a good fit for you and give a real reason for why you may want to work there.
  • Add something about your commitment to software or your career.
  • Make sure the tone of the note is friendly, positive and polite, to get your relationship with the recruiter off to a good start.
  • Say that you will be following up and give contact details.

Feel free to use the following example as a template to follow.

Hi Dave,

I wanted to write a personal email to apply for the Java developer position ref: 2362 advertised on JobServe.

I believe I am a good fit for the role, as I am a Java developer passionate about working on server side development. You mention in the ad you are looking for someone with an interest in Spring and Hibernate – I have extensive Spring/Hibernate experience, having worked on five projects across two market-leading companies.

I am ideally looking for a position working as part of a dynamic project team on a highly transactional web-based application.

It is worth noting I am an active member of the technical community and have started to contribute to an Open Source project called Ikasan.

I’ll be in touch soon to see if you think my CV matches the post as well as I think it does. If you would prefer to get in touch at your convenience please call me on (your mobile number)

Kind regards,


If you write a cover note like this you should guarantee that your CV is at the very least looked at. If it’s a good CV that follows the other advice given in the blogs that make up out RecWorks Developer Careers guide, then you should ensure that you get the interview.

Top 2% tips

Here are a few tips that the top 2% of candidates follow to help improve their ratio of applications to interviews:

Consider it your responsibility to follow up. The recruiter may have missed your first email as it could be one of 200, but if you follow up a day later, with a second email that is personally written and just a few lines long (e.g. did you get my CV? What did you think?) you will be far more likely to get a response.

Write each note personally. At the very least change the section that says “I read in the ad that you were looking for a…”

Make sure the note is seen. Write the same note in the body of the email and include the note as the first page of your CV. This has the added benefit of personalising your application for the specific role you are applying for.

If you feel that you are generally right for the position but not a perfect fit, for example, you have only two years experience and the position states that you need four years, write a short email to say you are truly interested in the role and have all of the other skills, but you only have two years experience. Stress any aspects of your experience that make up for the lack of years – any additional skills or responsibilities for example.

If applying directly then do some research on the company before applying. If you can include details about a report you’ve read on them or an award the company has recently won, you’ll be almost guaranteed an interview.

In blogs coming soon, we’ll cover all aspects of writing a CV.

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