Create a Strong Start for Your Cover Letter

A cover letter is more than a one-page electronic document to accompany your resume. It’s your chance to jump into the spotlight and steal the show. Like an overture, your opening paragraph sets the mood for the audience and provides a preview of what’s to come.

The Opening Paragraph

A generic or flimsy opening statement won’t cut it. Capture the reviewer’s attention right off the bat by briefly mentioning the company or manager’s needs.

The hook could be something you read in the job description or the news, or if someone referred you, mention their name. The idea is to show the reviewer that you know something about his company and his challenges.

Then in that same sentence, introduce yourself and set the tone by expressing confidence in your ability to do the job or solve the manager’s problems.

Support the claims in your opening line and encourage the reviewer to read on by offering examples of your key skills and accomplishments in the second and third sentences. Just hit one or two highlights and save the details for the body of your cover letter. Remember, the first paragraph shouldn’t exceed two to three sentences.

Here are some samples:

Dear Mr. Jones:

I just finished reading about your company in Forbes, and I’m convinced that I can help your firm attract more customers. I’m an awesome user-experience architect, who has a knack for seamlessly integrating design and creativity into content-rich applications. And I’m known for embracing a customer-focused approach and creating great documentation.

Dear Mr. Black:

Bob Jones suggested I contact you about the open position on your development team. After hearing about your recent challenges, I’m certain that my extensive experience designing, coding, testing and implementing applications, as well as performing diagnosis and troubleshooting, can help you deliver projects on time and on budget.

Dear Mr. Smith:

I understand that ABC’s sales and marketing team has some very aggressive goals, so I thought you could use a data analyst like me on your team. I’ve helped XYZ Company increase revenue by 35 percent over the past three years by consolidating and analyzing data from a variety of internal and external sources, and turning what seems like dry information into actionable goals.

Once you’ve set the stage in your opening paragraph, you’re ready to write the body of your letter. We’ll tell you about that soon.

16 Responses to “Create a Strong Start for Your Cover Letter”

  1. Job Seeker

    The cover letter is effectively meaningless in the cases where:

    * The company hides the name and position title of the person to address the cover letter. Or even worse, they hide the company their job listing represents.

    * The company wants a salary history in addition to the cover letter. More games played on the job seeker, judging that candidate by their past salary rather than specifying the salary range. The cover letter still doesn’t get them in the door to getting job with that company.

    * The company hides there salary range by asking for salary requirements instead of clearly stating them. Again, yet another game played on the job seeker.

    Really, I’m trired of these games being played on job seekers–as if this was a game of poker. If companies want a thoughtful cover letter, why not specify a name (e.g., the example used Mr. Jones and the position title of the person to (for example, Director of Customer Support).

    Otherwise, expect nothing but a generic cover letter, because hiding information but asking for a cover letter anyway to the job seekers–is just plain insulting to the job seeker, as if they were being played as a fool.

  2. It’s a nice article and a good point as far as putting some meaning behind your cover letter. But, I have found that cover letters really don’t matter and are more or less, a waste of time.

    If you really want to stand out as a job seeker, do something different than the rest. Send LinkedIn messages (connections) to the hiring managers or to HR. Find out what the email structure of that company is and send a couple emails with a quick note on you, why you’re interested in the company and why they should consider you for the position. Stand out!!

    Applying to a position that’s posted online with a cover letter is simply not effective. A resume is generally filtered into a company’s ATS and then a recruiter takes 20-25 seconds to skim the resume once it’s received to decide if they should “move on” the candidate. That 25 seconds is industry standard.

    As a recruiter, I’ve never read one cover letter that was sent in attached to an application.

  3. I was reading your topic on cover letter my problem is creating a cover letter that is attractive for someone with no experience I do I get someone to give me that chance when I only have a bachelor’s in accounting I do have some tax experience for this is my second year working for block and I would not mind paying for something if I it will work in my favor such as these head hunters and websites that say they will exposed my resume to many different companies please advice me on how I can break into the accounting field I have out of school since 2011 and I have even been successful in landing an interview.

    • I was reading your topic on cover letters. My problem is creating a cover letter that is eye-catching for someone who lacks working experience. How can I persuade someone in offering me this opportunity, when I only have my educational experience in accounting? I have been working for HR Block for 2 years and have mastered the level of a tax specialist 3 in the company. I often receive offers from head hunters who declare they can render my resume to several different companies; however, I am just uncertain about paying for such service. I have been out of school since 2011 and have been unable to achieve an interview. Can someone please advise me on how I can make a way into the accounting field as an entry level employee?

      • Leslie Stevens-Huffman

        Dear Deneen,

        I’m confused, if you’ve been working for H&R Block, it would seem that you have hands-on experience, at least in the tax field. Also, newbies can highlight coursework, internships and class projects to demonstrate their understanding of accounting principles. Be sure to note your involvement with the student accounting society or other organizations to demonstrate your involvement in the accounting profession and point out transferable skills that you acquired working part-time jobs. And by the way, head hunters don’t charge the applicant (or should not) so don’t be afraid to enlist their help.

        Good luck.

        • Hi Leslie, thank you for your input on cover letters, may I ask if you would review my resume I have highlighted my course work and my time at HR Block. I must still be missing something for I still have not gotten an interview. Thanks alot for your time and input.

          • Leslie Stevens-Huffman

            Hi Deneen,

            I would be happy to review your resume. Remove personal info like your name, address, specific employer names etc. and post it in the resume section of the Discussion Board.


  4. Lester Jensen

    As a hiring manager these “HR Professionals” bore me to tears. All the posturing, posing, and buzzword positioning to meet their expectations actually just gets in the way and amounts to candy when I am actually looking for meat. I have had to suffer thru spars candidate referrals from HR that come at a dribbles pace and then finally demand they send me ALL applicant submissions unfiltered. When I then take the time and go thru them I find MANY qualified candidates that have exhibited the aptitude I am looking for in parallel past experience. Example: the candidate has 5 years developing DB applications for a number of RDB’s but they don’t mention Oracle. HR wants all the keywords so that the automated resume scanner can grade submissions, and since they are looking for Oracle experience (the RDB we use) they reject this candidate. I would much rather speak to this person with actual DB application development experience than the recent college grad with a head full of theory who happens to slip Oracle experience into their resume because they did 2 Lab exercises in school that used Oracle. In short, I want HR out of my way until I’ve qualified they candidates – THEN I want to see the results of background checks and have them schedule the interviewers that I pick. From my experience, HR professionals largely get in the way and work hard to justify their profession, when most of the things that matter to them don’t matter to me and the new hire will be part of MY team. We have become too specialized/segmented and when it comes to the hiring process, we over-delegate. The hiring manager needs to be deeply involved and not just sign-off on all the work done by automation and HR.