How to Start a Cover Letter

In Career Advice
June 28, 2016

How to Start a Cover Letter

The most difficult part of the job application can be figuring out how to start a cover letter on the right note so that you get the call back. 

Applying for new positions can be a very stressful process, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing or where to begin. To streamline the process, we’ve put together a little guide to writing the first few sentences of the letter that will guarantee to make you stand out from the pack.

How to Start a Cover Letter:

1. Think Like the Employer

Writing to a targeted audience is one of the first things you need to get down when learning how to start a cover letter. As with advertising, you get the best results from your efforts when you tailor your message to a specific person, employer, demographic, or interest. Start the writing process by brainstorming about the position and take note of the values and qualities that you believe the employer is looking for in a good fit for the position.

The job listing itself can be particularly useful for finding these types of qualities to include. For example, if the employer is searching for someone who’s team-oriented and can work in a fast-paced environment, you don’t want to make yourself come off as too independent and incapable of working with others, or too used to working at a snail’s pace.

2. Introduce Yourself & Explain Why You’re Writing

This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of cover letters employers receive that don’t include this information in the first paragraph. Don’t just jump into your qualifications and why you should be offered the job immediately. Instead, let the employer know who you are, why you’re interested in their organization or the position, and put an emphasis on any accomplishments that would lead them to believe that you are actually a great fit for the job.

Another important element to include in the first paragraph of you’re letter is any personal references you may have at the company. Many more hires are made through networking than through cold applications these days, so don’t hesitate to let them know that your friend or family member has referred you!

3. Practice Concise Writing

It was Thomas Jefferson who said “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” The concept of brevity or concision is very important when learning how to start a cover letter. On average, employers receive 200 applications per job opening, and its the recruiter’s job to decide which to move forward with to the interviewing stage.

Don’t be the applicant who writes a novel explaining each and every element of their work history and why they deserve the position. Highlight the most important accomplishments that you’ve undertaken as they relate to the position you’re applying for and let your resume do the rest of the talking.

4. Grab the Reader’s Attention & Interest

Another big part of learning how to start a cover letter is figuring out how to create a literary hook that will grab the attention of the reader and make them want to keep reading. Your letter is generally supposed to highlight the ways in which you are the best “fit” for the position, relative to the other applicants you’re competing against. Recruiters generally scan through resumes and cover letters very quickly due to the number they have to go through for a given position.

Elements that can serve as great attention-grabbers include mentioning an accomplishment that highly-relates to the job you’re applying for, indicating your excitement for the new opportunity, including relevant keywords that will stand out to the recruiter, any networking ties you have to the company, and personal items about yourself that could possibly impress or inspire interest in the employer.

What Not to Do:

1. Don’t Start With Telling Them Your Name

The only sentence you are sure that the employer is going to read is the first one of your cover letter, so be sure not to waste it simply telling them your name. Your name is littered throughout the application process, on your resume, in your email, and at the end of your cover letter itself. Make sure that your first sentence is engaging and grabs their attention, making them want to read the rest of what you’ve written.

2. Avoid “To Whom it May Concern”

This is a long-past formality that employers and hiring managers are just sick of seeing. If you want to stand out from the crowd, and you do, then avoid this mistake. Instead, do your best to find the name of the hiring manager using either the company website or social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

3. Avoid the “Enclosed Resume” Statement

Here is another easy mistake to make when learning how to start a cover letter. Just like “to whom it may concern,” the time-worn statement of “I’ve enclosed a copy of my resume for your consideration…” falls flat, lacks emotion, and consists of no further hook that will engage the reader.

4. Avoid Low Confidence

Your cover letter is meant to put a spotlight on why you are the best fit for the position you’re applying for, so don’t be scared of highlighting your accomplishments and downplaying your weaknesses. However, you should also avoid going too far with it as you can easily be led into flat-out lies. This is a sure-fire way to lose the job quickly after you’ve gotten it. Stay confident and give them great reasons to contact you!

For a more complete overview, head over to our comprehensive cover letter guide!

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