Hey everyone! I cheated. Last week, I promised an article on customizing job applications would show up in this week's newsletter. Well, that deadline had passed and I still wasn't quite done with the article. So, what you're seeing below is a work-in-progress that still needs some fine tuning and editing. You'll know it's done when this message is removed. Apologies for the delay!

Should you customize your job applications? Yes, but only if you don’t want to be considered spam.

Do you ever get emails or LinkedIn messages or DMs that aren't specifically addressed to or particularly relevant to you? What do you do with those messages? You ignore, delete, and mark as spam. 

Spam • /spam/

noun

  1. irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the internet to a large number of recipients.
  2. a canned meat product made mainly from ham.

verb

  1. send the same message indiscriminately to (large numbers of recipients) on the internet.

If you’re submitting the same job application to each role, you are, by definition, spamming applications. There’s no in-between. Your application is either custom or it’s spam.

Don’t be spam.

Spam or “spray and pray” applicants are looking for any old job. Companies don't hire people that are interested in any job. They hire people that are excited to work at their company, with their team, and on their games.

Take this example from a job description found on Work With Indies:

“We’ll take notice of a well-written cover letter that shows you did your homework on our company and explains why you’re interested in joining our team.”

Or this public response to low-effort applications:

“Realize that you will be competing with a lot of people. Spelling mistakes, failing to include a cover letter, not addressing our company directly… no bueno! Show us your love of games. Show us your capabilities.

Above all, show us why you want to work AT [COMPANY] and why you should be the person we hire.

Don’t overdo it; there’s no need to write a 20-page missive about why you should join our team or design a fancy resume. But don’t just crap together an application and expect to make it through the first round of applicants!”

Or this conversation I had with a hiring manager: 

HM: I will say that every application we’ve received from Work With Indies has been a potential hire. Having a cover letter and personal touch makes a huge difference.

Me: I agree. But would you entertain me and tell me why? Everyone in our Discord is writing cover letters. Not everyone always understands why, or if and how those cover letters are adding value to their applications.

HM: Sending out your resume to a dozen companies via LinkedIn takes no effort and I know that. As someone looking to hire, I want people to want the specific role at my specific company. And I want them to demonstrate that by putting some effort into the application. I want people who have gone to our website, hopefully tried our beta, and can frame why they want the job at my company.

Writing a customized cover letter letting me know a bit about you and why you want to work at my company establishes the beginning of an actual relationship. Most importantly, it shows effort on the applicant's part. They've invested their time and energy in applying for this role and that means a lot by itself.

We're not a factory. We don't need cogs in the machine. We need amazing people who will be delightful to work with.

Recruiters and hiring managers receive hundreds of applications (if not more) for each role. They don’t read every application in full. They can’t. Instead, they skim. 

Their first order of business is to filter out the 25-50% of generic, low-effort applications so that they can spend more time going deep on high-value candidates in creation of an initial shortlist.

They know what spam applications look like. They’ve seen thousands. It’s a time-consuming process given the volume, but these applications are pretty easy to identify and discard.

It’s classic signal vs noise. Submit a generic application and you'll get generic results. 

So, how do we make it past this initial filter and into the shortlist?

Effort. But not as much as you might think.

You’re not recreating each new application from scratch. In fact, 80-90% of your content will remain the same for each application. You’ll want to create a reusable template for each of your resume and cover letter, as well as a list of bullet points and “blocks” of content that you can pull from, selecting only those items that are relevant to the role.

Remember, your resume (and cover letter) isn’t about you. It’s about the person-sized problem that the company has and how you’re the person-sized… er… person… that can help them solve it.

Think of the job description as a series of questions and your resume and cover letter as your answer to those questions. Remove any content that isn’t applicable to the job you’re applying for. Fill in that extra space with results and stories that tell the reader why you are the right person for this specific job.

What does customizing your resume look like in practice?

It starts with the job description. You might print it out and take notes. I usually copy and paste it into a document. Then I bold the “questions” and keywords– all of the requirements and responsibilities and language that I’m going to want to address in my resume. 

For example, I might have 8 well-crafted bullet points for my time in each role. But that is way too many to fit on a resume if you’re adding context and data to each of them (which you should be). My target is 3-5 bullet points per role.

Now, let's say this role isn’t a manager position. Suddenly, all of my content about leading teams is no longer relevant. In fact, it may turn someone off if they believe that I would desire or have a hard time transitioning away from a manager role. In this case, I’d replace (or significantly reduce) my management bullets with those that prove that I’m still a top performing individual contributor. 

For you, that might mean emphasizing your character work for Character Artist roles, or your ownership of the hiring process if that’s specifically spelled out as an area of responsibility in a Producer listing.

I would then look for keywords in their job description to “translate” my resume into their language. I might pick a bullet point for the simple reason that it already has and addresses a keyword. Or, a keyword might inspire an entirely new bullet point.

As a final touch of personalization, I’ll look for keywords that they use that I can swap out for my own. For example, Amazon’s job description used terms like “benchmarking” and “term negotiation” instead of “competitive analysis” and “contract negotiation”. So, I simply adapted my language to theirs.

What about cover letters?

At a minimum, specifically include their company name and job title in your cover letter. Failure to do so screams irrelevant “application spam”. Ideally, you’ll be able to address your cover letter to a person, if you have their name. Otherwise, address the company (if small) or team (if part of a large company). For example, "Hello Work With Indies". 

Follow that up with a few sentences that show you’ve researched the company, are paying attention to who they are and what they’re looking for, and are truly interested in their specific role. Be sure to reference the job requirements, responsibilities, values, and/or what excites you about opportunity.

As for how to write a cover letter, we have an entire article for that. But also, Rich from Clever Endeavour Games shares a simple template while recapping a prior round of hiring:

My favourite email and CV format was as follows:



Hey Rich (or Gen, but not “dear hiring manager”),

One or two sentences that introduce themselves and explain why we should be interested in them—”I have experience in (insert topic)”, and explain why they’re interested in us—”I saw your job posting and find it interesting because…”

• Bullet points listing the most relevant experience and skills
• Bullet points listing the most relevant experience and skills
• Bullet points listing the most relevant experience and skills

Sentence with links to portfolio and work samples

Attached CV and cover letter



This format allowed me to pretty much copy paste their bullet notes into my own notes about all of the applicants, which means that this applicant basically determined what I was going to say about them to the hiring committee, and didn’t need to depend on my biased and potentially hurried judgment. Another top format pick that I liked was the same, but the whole cover letter was in the email itself after the links to portfolio and work samples.

Also, from our friend Lucy:

Don’t be afraid to break the mold and personalise your application.

Probably my most contentious point! Again, this is just my personal preference, but I’d much rather see character come through in an application than common conventions or a cover letter template. I like to see the person’s voice come through, appreciate a solid (context appropriate meme), and get to know them a little bit. If you have an idea of something weird (but professional/appropriate) to do, there’s no harm in trying it — worst case scenario, you’re memorable, which isn’t a bad thing.

Do you have any examples?

Well, you’ve already seen my resume. So, here’s a cover letter that works (I got the interview):

Hi FIRST NAME and FIRST NAME!

I’m Nate! You might know me as A MUTUAL’s pal. Or as the guy behind Work With Indies. I’m also an accomplished business and team leader with over 20 years of experience in the game industry, and after a recent trip to COMPANY’S COUNTRY, an aspiring COUNTRY-IAN.

Thus, this letter to express my profound interest in your JOB TITLE position at COMPANY NAME.

With a proven track record of building and leading high-performing teams, and a deep understanding of business development, partnerships, and strategic growth, I am confident that I possess the diverse set of skills and experience necessary to excel in what promises to be a uniquely exciting and challenging role.

During my career, I’ve led two $1B businesses and debuted seven new $100M product lines while launching various consoles, games, digital stores, accessories, and a long list of multi-million dollar content, marketing, and distribution partnerships.

I’ve been a video game platform, a publisher, a retailer, and a developer. I have experience in game consoles, virtual reality, handheld and mobile, physical and digital games, accessories, free-to-play, augmented reality, and cloud gaming. I’ve also dabbled in crowd-funding, merchandise, streaming video, productivity software, and more.

And in my role at PRIOR COMPANY NAME, I was able to learn from one of the best JOB TITLEs in the business in MUTUALLY RESPECTED PERSON.

If my superpowers are leadership, business development, account management, and negotiations, they are complemented by a skill-set that extends into operations, product development, sales, marketing, legal, finance, and beyond.

Like you, I value employee health and happiness, as well as the long term gains in retention, productivity, and capital that they produce. I believe in leading by example and from the front, through positive reinforcement and celebrating wins.

I’m deeply impressed by COMPANY NAME's dedication to creating beautifully simple and accessible games, fostering a wholesome work environment, and valuing diversity. My values strongly align with these principles, and I’m confident that we would compliment one another and grow better together.

I’m eager to learn more about COMPANY NAME and culture and how I may be able to add value to you and the team. I've attached my resume for your review and welcome the opportunity to discuss my fit for the role.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Nathan Bosia
7507 Melrose Avenue
Beverly Hills, CA. 90210
email@peachpit.com

P.S. My apologies for not applying sooner. I would have done so if I had not spent most of my spare time this week revisiting COMPANY’S GAME and watching STREAMER OF COMPANY’S GAME on YouTube.

What did you notice in the above example? If it was that the cover letter was way, way too long, you're right! This was an entire page, which is 25-50% more than anyone wants to read in a cover letter (please don't do this). To be fair, it was a really big and complex role with a lot of questions and keywords to address. 😆

What else did you see?

Here's how each word earned it's place, added value, and made it a no-brainer to give me an interview:

  • I went heavy on personalization (in ALL CAPS); there's no doubt who I'm talking to and what job I am applying for
  • I mention a mutual friend that we both know and like so that their fondness for that person may rub off on me
  • I note that we've worked with each other through Work With Indies
  • I answer the question of experience right at the top
  • I squash any concern they may have about my willingness to relocate
  • I borrowed quite a bit from my LinkedIn profile and personal website, choosing content (and making slight language adjustments) to directly address their job description
  • "Like you" = we're alike
  • I take language from their website and repeat the parts that resonate with me
  • I've played their game(s) and even found their top YouTube creator


There's no mistaking this for a spray and pray application. I was obviously invested in them and this specific role. I sent a clear signal that a conversation would be well-worth their time.

And if you're looking at this and thinking it looks like a lot of work, remember that if you're not putting in this type of effort, someone else is. That's who you're competing with. For every job.