How to showcase soft skills in your tech cover letter

To get the best industry jobs, you don't just need to have the right skills, you also need to advertise your skills effectively to employers.

Unlocking tech talent stories

March 29, 2023

The tech industry might be going through a particularly rough patch right now, but the tech job market remains strong — as does the competition.

To get the best industry jobs, you don’t just need to have the right skills, you also need to advertise your skills effectively to employers.

The thing is, impressing employers with a great tech CV or cover letter is an artform. Of course, you’ll need the right hard skills (read: job-specific technical skills) for the position you’re applying for. But employers also want to know if you have the right personality traits and work ethic to work well with their team.

They want to know if you have the right soft skills to succeed in the job.

Soft skills might seem like they’d be a secondary consideration for a Technical Lead, but they’re crucial to the health of any team.

Let’s say you’re a data scientist. You need to be proficient in SQL, but your programming skills will have limited value to employers if you aren’t able to communicate your findings clearly for non-technical team members and clients.

And yes — communication is a soft skill. 

These are some of the most desirable soft skills in the tech industry right now: 

  • Time management
  • Problem-solving 
  • Organisation 
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Critical-thinking
  • Innovation
  • Creativity

To make your soft skills shine on your job application, demonstrate them on your cover letter.

And yes, you do want to write a cover letter — 83% of employers read them and over half of tech SMEs require them.

Your cover letter is normally the only part of your application with the wiggle room to outline the value of your soft skills to the hiring team. Here are four tips to help you do exactly that.

1. Understand what employers want

One of the most common missteps people make with cover letters is writing a generic self introduction that summarises their CV skills and experience.

That might sound appropriate, but it’s not what employers are looking for.

Your cover letter is essentially a self marketing effort. Like all marketing efforts, it should identify a consumer need and explain how you (the product) can satisfy that need. The first step to successfully showcase soft skills on your cover letter is to find out which specific soft skills your potential employer is looking for.

Begin by checking the following resources carefully: 

Job description

Look for keywords that illustrate the employer’s ideal hire. Non-technical requirements like ‘helping and supporting team members’ and ‘organising day-to-day tasks’ can hint at the ways in which they want you to apply your skill set in the role.

Company work culture and the job location (in office, hybrid, or remote) are other important indicators of desired soft skills. For example, the best remote remote tech jobs all demand highly developed oral and written communication skills, even if the employer doesn’t spell it out in the list of job requirements.  

Company’s about page

A company’s mission, vision, and history reveal a lot about its culture and structure, both of which are key determiners of valuable soft skills. Consider the word choice used when describing the company and its values. Are they ‘dynamic’? ‘Professional’? ‘Results-oriented’? Use the profile to guide how you present your soft skills. 

Internal media

The company’s own blog, social media handles, and press releases can help you identify topic areas of interest and stay abreast of company developments that might impact the position you’re applying for.

For example, let’s say you’re applying for a job at a digital engineering firm and see that they blog frequently about digital disruption. This is a strong indicator that the company values soft skills like adaptability, innovation, and creativity. If they position themselves as experts in disruption, they’re going to want to hire workers who can adjust and recalibrate as their sector changes.

2. Show, don’t tell

Having the right soft skills is crucial to success in any job. But soft skills are also abstract concepts, so just name-dropping them in your cover letter doesn’t tell the employer much.

For example, ‘I’m a team player’ sounds positive, but it doesn’t specify what collaborative experience you have, nor the benefits your teamwork skills offer the employer.

A more compelling way to highlight your soft skills is to use the STAR approach. STAR (Situation, Task, Action, and Results) is a technique for answering job interview questions, but it works just as well for illustrating conceptual traits — like your people skills for example.

Here’s how you talk about a soft skill using STAR:

  • Situation — describe a challenge you faced in the past
  • Task — say what your role was when the situation arose 
  • Action — explain what you did to address the challenge and the skill you used 
  • Results — state and quantify the outcome of your action 

Remember, as cover letters should be fairly brief (250–400 words), you should limit your explanation to 1–2 sentences. 

3. Emphasise a vital soft skill in your opening statement

Your opening statement introduces you to the employer, outlines your key attributes, and states your interest in the job. As the first thing the employer reads, it sets the tone for your cover letter and can encourage or dissuade the employer from reading your cover letter in full.

Obviously, it’s important to include any essential technical skills that you possess in your opening statement:

As an experienced programmer with 5 years of experience working in Unreal C++ and Blueprints, I was thrilled to learn of the opening at GibWorks.

However, you can tailor your opening statement even more closely to the employer’s needs by including language that indicates key soft skills as well as your technical knowledge.

As an analytical and results-driven programmer with 5 years of experience working in Unreal C++ and Blueprints, I’m thrilled by the opportunity to join your close-knit team at GibWorks.

Both versions of this opening statement are strong self introductions. But in the second, the applicant shows awareness of the company culture and showcases their eagerness to collaborate on projects. They could describe their teamwork skills in more detail in one of the following paragraphs.

4. Write in plain, scannable English

Plain English doesn’t just make your cover letter easier to read. It also demonstrates crucial soft skills for working in tech:

  • Written communication — your writing is clear and easy to follow
  • Organisation skills — your letter is well structured and logical
  • Resourcefulness — you’ve related your experience to the needs of the company

A well-written letter won’t instantly erase any questions the employer has about your soft skills, but it will give them a great first impression of you. If your writing is relevant, fluent, and well-presented (a template is a great hack for that last one), you’re likely an easy person to communicate with, even for coworkers who don’t have your technical background.

Additionally, use the active voice and action-oriented language to make your writing more engaging and enthusiastic. As you’re looking for work in the tech industry, limited use of industry jargon is acceptable if the terms are widely used by professionals in your desired position.

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