When you apply for any job, the very first tool you will use to grab the attention of employers is your cover letter. (Yes, there are of course companies that are so big they don’t have time for cover letters. But plenty of hiring managers at small and mid-sized companies do read them, myself included.) A cover letter highlights the reasons you are the best person for the job and how you will benefit the company. It also demonstrates your ability to effectively communicate your objective. That’s why the opening lines of your cover letter are so important. You need to hook the employer so they want to continue reading and learn more about you.
There’s no one right way to open your cover letter, but there are a few techniques you can try to make your letter stand out. Here are five ways to write the opening lines of your next cover letter:
1. Job Title & Accomplishments. This is a very common and effective way to start out a cover letter. The idea is to get straight to the point and impress the employer with your background. Use your most impressive and most relevant accomplishment stories to explain your worth.
Example: As a social media coordinator for Company X, I manage many digital media outlets. By implementing new social media marketing tactics, in the past year, I have doubled our audience on Facebook and tripled our followers on Twitter.
2. Excitement Means Dedication. Another approach is to begin your letter by expressing your excitement for the job opportunity. If there’s a job or company you’re particularly enthusiastic about, it’s great to say so. When a potential employer sees you’re excited, this translates into how motivated and dedicated an employee you would be. This makes them want to find out if you’re as qualified as you are eager.
Example: I was excited to find an opening in human resources with Company Y because your work with y (be specific) has been important to me for a long time. I am the perfect candidate for this position because it combines my experience with human resources and y.
3. Keywords, Keywords, Keywords. When applying for a larger company where you know an applicant tracking system will be used, a smart idea is to make your opening lines keyword-heavy. The right keywords will make sure your cover letter gets read, and will immediately highlight many of your most relevant skills.
Example: Written and verbal communications are two of my strongest areas of expertise. Through my years of experience in public relations, I have perfected my skills in social media, media relations, community engagement, and leading a team. It is the combination of these skills that makes me the best candidate for your public relations manager.
4. Network Ties. If someone in your professional network is refers you to a position, company, or specific hiring manager, the best approach is to use this right away in your cover letter. Name-dropping your mutual contact will provide the employer with a point of reference to go from. They’ll be interested to see why your referrer thought you’d be a good fit for the job.
Example: My name is Jane Doe and recently I spoke to your communications coordinator John Smith, who informed me about the opening in your IT staff. He recommended I contact you about the job because of my strong interest in the field.
5. What’s in the News? Another unique option to impress employers is to demonstrate your knowledge of current events in your opening lines. Look for recent news about the company you’re applying for and tie it into the job opening. Explain why the news item makes you think you’d be best for the job.
Example: Recently, your company has been highlighted on The Huffington Post and Forbes because of your partnership with Charity Z. After reading those articles, I became inspired to seek employment opportunities with your company and was happy to see an opening for an administrative assistant. As someone with vast experience in that area, I would be the perfect candidate for the job.
With all of these options, it’s important to tailor your entire cover letter to your specific experience and each individual job description. A personalized cover letter is essential to prove your qualifications and will be more likely to result in an interview. Start making changes to your next cover letter.
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As a networking speaker and networking coach, my clients often ask me to review their cover letter.
Whether YOU are a professional considering your next career step, changing to a new area, in an insular or foreign environment, or you simply want a better LinkedIn profile – your cover letter is one of your most powerful tools to steer your prospective employer’s perception of you.
Writing an effective and compelling cover letter is difficult. The first few words can catch the reader or lose them. So I’ll focus here.
How to best start a cover letter is a sticking point for many people. I personally avoid cold cover letters like the plague because I find them soul-destroying to do.
4 reasons why:
- It puts all your eggs in that basket if that is your only channel in
- There is no one-size-fits all cover letter. Unless you know the reader, often it is “spray and pray”
- It takes forever to write
If you are not great at writing cover letters, you risk sabotaging yourself
There are far more effective tactics than this to get in, in my experience. As we talk about throughout the program, building relationships and then using those to get in is just one tactic that is far superior and effective.
Still, sometimes there seems no other way (if everyone’s on holiday, for example).
Here are 5 quick ideas:
[I will pretend that you are entering a technical or conservative field.]
1. Start with “Like you,…”
The most powerful word when promoting yourself is YOU. Starting the cover letter with “Like you,…” is highly unusual and grabs the reader, especially in technical and conservative fields.
- Like you, as a health tech expert I have seen the word health re-defined recently.
PRO TIP: Add a question after the first sentence:
- Like you, as a health tech expert I have seen the word health re-defined recently. Is it wellness? Number of medical products sold? Or, is there a different story?
2. Label yourself in the first 10 words (ideally the first 5-7 words).
Prospects scan quickly to see if you are RELEVANT. They need to know your expertise upfront and you have 2 seconds to position yourself. Put “_______ expert” in the first 10 words of your bio.
Visualise their conversation with others:
Q. “So, who is Ann?”
A. “Ann is a _________ expert.”
- As a neurotransmitter expert,…
- As a networking speaker and networking coach, my clients often ask me to review their cover letters.
- As an analytical project manager, I excel at extracting data to understand where we should focus in our business.
PRO TIP: Add your accomplishments upfront too.
- As an event coordinator for Company X, I ensure seamless communication and marketing between all involved parties. By implementing new social media marketing tactics in the past year, I have doubled our attendance.
3. Differentiate yourself from the competition
- Unlike many other project managers, I ensure all parties know who is responsible for what, and when each component is due. I do this using my own system that I’ve used for 10+ years, because it works. At any time, I can see the status of all activities. This ensures every event is on time and on budget, plus we clearly see when we’ve succeeded, and what needs to be developed next time.
- Unlike many event organisers, I show you exactly what to do and how to do it, what to say and when to say it. With 10+ years in research, and — importantly — real-life innovation business experience, my view is radically different. I appreciate that…
- “10+” and “—“ catch the eye
- “innovation” is a keyword
- “radically” catches the eye. That alone might get you called to interview.
- “plus” feels like you get more than “and”
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4. Try the word “fusion”
This is a great way to bridge a transition between fields, countries or cultures, or you don’t have much track record for the role you are applying for. It differentiates you, framed to benefit the audience. (Nifty!)
- My fusion of Mediterranean friendliness and structured analysis ensures useful AND memorable events because they are inclusive.
- My fusion of Mediterranean background and analytical thinking connects all parties involved in the event with friendly, clear communication while everyone knows what they need to do and who is responsible for what.
Capitalise and italicise words where you want to draw the eye. Use only once or so.
5. Meet their needs upfront. Keywords!
Mirror the exact phrasing in the ad/email.
- Multi-departmental collaboration for innovation events is what I do best.
- Written and verbal communication are two of my strongest areas of expertise. In my 5+ years of experience in coordinating teams and EU meetings, I have perfected my skills in multidisciplinary relations, collaboration, and leading a team. These skills combined makes me the best candidate for your Senior Coordinator.
To help you even more, I have designed these opening lines so that you can also use them for:
- your LinkedIn Profile (there are at least 4 excellent places to put them)
- personal introductions
- over the phone
This is also a great way to see how people respond “live”. Test them fast, don’t over-think. Test them verbally when you speak to people and answer the question “What do you do?”. You will see quickly what works for you. This is a great way to get back into job searching after a break.
These are just a few options to inspire you now – I help you choose ones that work for you specifically.
Do you have a simple, effective system to track your contacts and job search?
This is the exact system I use to track ALL of my contacts and work-finding with all employers and clients, pharma companies, universities, NGOs.
It is an excellent resource that you still refer to years after the last contact, which gives you a massive competitive advantage.It is very systematic and simple. I have used it for 10+ years with the same structure.
I give it to you for free, because I promise it will help you. Get this simple tracker here.
Would you like to put an end to ineffective LinkedIn profiles, resumes and networking?Please share this post with those who may benefit. They’ll thank you because YOU are useful and informative.
Dr. Mary-Rose Hoja helps professionals successfully promote and position themselves, especially to take their next career step. More information plus useful and informative tips await you at www.maryrosehoja.com.