8 Tips for Writing a Commanding Cover Letter Opening
September 5, 2018
Some would argue that it’s easier to write a novel than it is to craft an effective cover letter opening. In a cover letter, so much hinges on one paragraph: your intro needs to successfully hook the viewer and compel them to keep reading, market you as a brilliant hire right off the bat, and be original enough to make you stand out. And yet, you only have a few lines to achieve all of this, and you know little about the addressee and what appeals to them.
It’s no wonder that the mere mention of the task tends to paralyze job seekers. But we’re here to help you out of your frozen state. Below are our eight tips for writing a cover letter opening that’ll definitely get you noticed.
1. Avoid generic introductions
Whatever you do, don’t open your cover letter with a line like, “I’m writing to apply for the position of [job title], which I saw advertised on [job board name] on [date]”. It’s dull, it’s uninspiring, and every recruiter has already seen it far too many times. Yes, it’s important to cover key details, like the position you’re interested in and the company name, at the start of your letter, but try do so in a more original way. You could even consider putting these basics in the subject line of your email (if you’re applying digitally) or in a “RE:” header (if you’re sending a hard copy) so you can use your introductory element to get straight to the meaty details that’ll win recruiters over.
2. Let your personality shine through
Naturally, you want to come across as a professional, but don’t open your letter in a manner that’s so excessively formal and dry that you sound robotic. Right from the get-go, you should give hiring managers a sense of who you are—after all, the point is to convince them that you’re a person worth meeting. So, use the first person “I”, inject charisma, showcase your quirks (if appropriate), and generally make it clear that there’s a unique human being behind the words.
3. Express enthusiasm
Enthusiasm is a good predictor of a strong work ethic, so recruiters will be looking for signs of it from sentence one. For this reason, you can’t go wrong if you start your letter by communicating your passion for the field and/or your affection for this company, above all others. Just make sure your declaration of love sounds genuine. You could, for example, include an anecdote (more below) that captures your long-standing devotion to the industry or reference a recent development at the company (like a ground-breaking study they just published) that reaffirms your desire to work for them.
4. Tell a story
Stories tend to make a much bigger impression on people than dry facts do. To make your cover letter opening memorable, start with a short narrative that ties into your love for the subject area or relationship with the brand. For instance, maybe you liked the company’s advertising jingle so much as a child that you once performed it in your school’s talent show. Or perhaps you’re so passionate about sport that you used to fall asleep with a football in your hands when you were young. Or maybe there’s a story worth telling around how you first came across the company as a customer. Whatever the tale, tell it as succinctly and authentically as you can, and it should also help you achieve points 2 and 3 above.
5. Be bold (but first, know your audience)
The best way to make your opening paragraph stand out? Do or say something no one else is doing or saying. Of course, getting a little creative with your opening can be a risky move, so first consider the kind of business you’re dealing with, research the company culture, and take note of the tone of voice used in the job ad. If you’re applying for a job at a startup that’s turning tradition on its head, then there’s room for you to be a bit daring and irreverent, to prove that you, too, can think outside the box. If, however, you’re expressing interest in a position at a large corporate company, like a banking firm, and the job posting uses formal language, then it’s probably safer to go the more conventional route.
6. Lead with an impressive skill or accomplishment
If you possess a relevant ability that few others do or have a major career accomplishment under your belt, then absolutely do open your cover letter with a mention of this fact. Details like these set you apart from other candidates, so you want hiring managers to be aware of them from the outset.
7. Name a mutual contact
One sure way to grab attention in your first paragraph is to mention the name of a common acquaintance, especially if this person recommended that you apply for the role. By associating yourself with someone who’s respected at the company, you automatically improve your chances of getting an interview.
8. Keep it short, sharp, and clean
The job of a cover letter is to sell you and your skills to a prospective employer. So, approach your introduction like an advertiser would approach ad copy—keep it concise, get straight to the point, and try to capture readers in as few words as possible. One tight paragraph will do – after all, the whole letter should be no longer than a page. Also make sure that it’s free of spelling and grammatical errors—typos are the enemy of a successful cover letter opening.
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