Here’s a small post culled from a question I received in an email. This is by no means an all-inclusive guide or a how-to, but just a couple thoughts on the subject of cover letters.
Small disclaimer: The game industry is WAY more loose and laid-back than other industries, and it’s the only one I’m used to, so your mileage may vary if you’re in a different industry. Take this with a grain of salt and do what’s most industry-appropriate.
I was asked whether I have a standard, boilerplate cover letter or if I customize it for each company. Well, both, actually. :) I always had two templates I worked from: one casual, one businesslike. When I make a cover letter, I always tailor it to each company to a point, but not so much that I can’t produce as many letters as possible in a reasonable amount of time.
If I was emailing someone I knew at that company, I’d go for the casually styled template and keep it slightly more conversational and loose. Leverage any rapport you can if you have it. Being completely businesslike has its place, certainly. But in a more casual industry like games, sometimes it’s better to be casual and approachable but professional. My own writing style could be an example of that.
However, if the cover letter is for a company I don’t have an “in” with, I’d use the more formal template and err on the side of being businesslike and professional.
In either case, this is how I approach customization-per-company. I’d include perhaps half a paragraph to one full paragraph about that company and their products. Always something honest and sincere, and never sucking up. It shouldn’t seem like it’s contrived or just a part of a template, and show some care and knowledge about the company. Pasting in their Wikipedia entry is not a good move. ;)
In terms of how to integrate that into the cover letter, instead of simply pasting in a full paragraph at the beginning or end, I’d try to weave at least one or two references specific to that company into the middle of one of your template paragraphs. It’ll seem more organic and less like it was simply copy-pasted. Be artful about it.
Finally, be *DAMNED* sure you’re not leaving in a reference to another company! ALWAYS work from the clean template when you write a new cover letter. Make the “fill in the blanks” portions of it BRIGHT red, bolded and underlined! Why?
a) you can’t miss them when you’re filling them in,
b) you won’t accidentally leave a part of your template exposed when you send it off.
Leaving parts of a template exposed or mentioning a different company name or product is extremely unprofessional, embarrassing and it’s almost always a deal-killer. Worse still, it’s funny, and your cover letter might be forwarded around to other game developers to laugh at. I’ve seen this. :) Don’t be that guy.
Hope that helps!