Writing a Cover Letter – Part 1: Grab'em From the Start: Killer Starts to a Cover Letter

by Cathie Ericson

Writing a Cover Letter

Whether you’re trying to connect with someone you met on  LinkedIn, through a job search board or a blind outreach to a company that interests you, your cover letter is the first glimpse of you that most potential interviewers will see.

And, they are likely getting a lot of them so it is key to make sure that yours stands out! Here are some tips on how to start a cover letter to entice them to read on:

  • Send it to the right person. One of the most important parts of a cover letter is to whom it is addressed. And here’s why: if your letter doesn’t go to the right person then it  doesn’t matter what the rest of it says. If you are answering an ad, it may tell you whom to send it to, but it also may give you a generic address, such as “Human Resources”.  Sending your letter there guarantees it winds up with the hundreds of other job applicants. A better bet is to find out the name of the hiring manager, if you can. This is where LinkedIn or even the company’s website can be a really valuable resource. You can also just call, although they might not tell you.
  • If you are using LinkedIn, search the company name and then the function you are looking for, whether it’s human resources, accounting, and so on. If you know anyone at the company, see if they can find out the name of the person you should address it to. Of course, it’s always wise to also send it to the “generic” address listed in the ad, just to ensure that it doesn’t go to the wrong person.
  • Grab their attention. You want your opening statement and paragraph to be strong. Ideally you are communicating three things:
    • You want this position.
    • You are perfect for this position.
    • They want to learn more about you.

How do you do that?

  • Use the opening sentence to mention where you found the job just to provide some context (i.e. read about your position on a job board, follow your company on LinkedIn, know someone who works there). Make sure you mention the job you are interested in. Just in case they are hiring for several positions simultaneously, you want to make clear which one you are applying for.

  • Then add in your top qualifications that make you ideally suited for the job. This might be different for each letter and position. If you are switching industries, don’t mention your company right away. Instead, key in on a core skill they cited in the ad. If you are staying within the same industry, mention your current company and/or longevity in that field. If you were recommended by someone prominent in their organization, mention that right away.

  • Finally, make sure that it’s compelling enough that they want to read on. First and foremost, you want to make sure that you have spelled everything correctly, including, of course, most importantly, their name. It sounds silly, but if you spell their name wrong, they may be immediately inclined to forgo reading the rest.

Here are some examples of cover letter opening statements that incorporate these three best practices:

Good morning, Sheryl. I was delighted to read about the open position of communication and marketing assistant on a LinkedIn group to which we mutually belong. As a recent college graduate, I earned a 3.5 as a communication major and have completed two internships with leading PR firms where I handled a wide variety of marketing assistant duties, from developing media lists to assembling new business presentations. I am eager to put my skills to work for Statewide Insurance.

* * *

To: Randy McCall, Human Resources Vice-President, Qualpharm

I wanted to respond to your posting for a pharmaceutical sales representative that I saw on Monster.com. I readily possess all the skills and qualities that would make me a success in this position, including: strong organizational skills, proven sales skills, mobile computing skills, an ability to quickly come up to speed on diverse product lines, and a passion to succeed.

Although my sales success has been in the real estate industry, I believe the qualities are transferable and am eager to explain why I would be a perfect fit.

* * *

Hi Shawn,

It was a pleasure meeting you at the American Accountants Convention yesterday, and I was delighted to hear that you will soon be posting a manager position. As we discussed, I have a solid background in the field having worked in both external firm and corporate positions. Most recently, I worked at Harvard Tech overseeing five professionals in their accounts receivable area,  ensuring timely payment of vendor invoices, maintaining files and reports, and assisting with the preparation of audit requests.

The opening to your cover letter can be the make-or-break point for whether a hiring manager decides to pursue your application. Make it hard-hitting to ensure your materials pass through to the interview stage.

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