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How To Start A Cover Letter: 5 Powerful Tips For Cover Letter Openers

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How To Start A Cover Letter: 5 Powerful Tips For Cover Letter Openers

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A strong cover letter encourages further consideration. A strong cover letter opener encourages further reading of your cover letter, so it has a chance to do its magic. The magic of cover letters provides multiple advantages:

  • A strong cover letter encourages the reader to read your application.
  • A well-written cover letter unfolds like a story, unlike a resume which is structured like a list, so the cover letter is perfect for telling your sales story about why you’re perfect for the job.
  • If you have a prominent employment gap or you’re changing careers and need to highlight transferable skills, a cover letter can make the compelling case for why you should still be considered.

The best cover letters are clear and concise. At the opening, you also want to grab the reader’s attention right away. Here are five powerful ways to quickly grab attention (you can also attention-grabbing openers to vary your follow-up correspondence and stay front-of-mind during a long hiring process):

1 – Introduce yourself as the solution to the employer’s most pressing problem

Too many job seekers open with a general summary – e.g., professional with X years of experience, recent graduate with THIS degree. However, the potential employer is hiring to solve a specific problem, not find a specific background, even though job postings are often written to highlight background info, like qualifications, skills and experience.

For example, the job posting for a digital marketing manager may emphasize ideal degrees or certifications, specific software skills and desired experience in areas like social media or email marketing. However, you have to dig deeper for what this particular marketing role at this particular company in this particular moment is supposed to accomplish – e.g., grow website traffic, attract qualified prospects for the sales team. Then your cover letter opener would pull something from your background that addresses that critical need: In my last job, I designed a landing page that grew website traffic by 400%. I’m interested in your digital marketing manager role, so I can get similar results for you…

2 — Emphasize your passion for the role

Employers want people who want to be there and who will demonstrate a positive attitude and passion for the work. Still, too many job seekers point to generic reasons for their interest in a role – e.g., company culture, challenge of the role, strong brand, YAWN! If you have a unique, specific story about why you’re interested in this role, company and/or industry, then that can be your compelling opener.

For example, one of the strongest openers I’ve seen in my 25+ years of recruiting came from a college student at a university where you have to bid points to get on the different company recruiting schedules. Her cover letter opened with: I bid all of my points to get on your schedule. This candidate quantified her strong desire in a simple statement. (I received this letter over 15 years ago but still remember it – it was that good. FYI, the student, who at first didn’t get an interview, ultimately worked her way into an interview due in large part to her compelling cover letter, and ultimately got into that company.)

3 — Name-drop someone at the company

Employee referrals often get further consideration during the screening process as a courtesy to the staff and also because referrals are a reliable source for good candidates. If someone at the company encourages you to apply, mention that upfront in the cover letter: John Smith raves about his workplace and suggested I contact you about the digital marketing manager role.

Even if the employee name you have is someone who can’t refer you – for example, they don’t know you well enough – you still can reference their name as someone you have spoken to about the role. It shows that you are doing your research on the company and going above and beyond the easy steps that everyone else takes, such as looking at the website or simply reading the job posting.

4 — Quote someone at the company

If you haven’t spoken directly to someone at the company, but you have been following the company closely, let them know about your serious interest and dedication by highlighting something you have read or learned. Many companies publish white papers about trends and insights in their field. Sometimes, senior leaders will publish books, give talks or speak to the media. Reference one of the white paper findings, or quote from a published talk. Point out how you can continue that work in this role.

5 — Write in the style of the company culture, brand or product

If you’re creative and the company has a strong brand, culture or product, you may be able to structure your cover letter so that it matches the company. For example, if you’re applying for a role at TED Conferences, you could submit your cover letter as a TED Talk, with the opener introducing the link: I created a TED talk to explain why I’m perfect for this role.


Remember, the cover letter is but one of many important factors in your job search

A strong cover letter helps, but you have to get recruiters to read your cover letter in the first place, and some will just skip it. This means that, in addition to the cover letter, you want to have other factors working in your favor – e.g., your online profile and activity, resume, networking. Do not rely on any one tool (or any one opening) to be a magic bullet.

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