3 Better Ways to Start Your Cover Letter, According to a Recruiter Who's Read a Lot of Bad Ones
I’m going to let you in on a little secret—one of my least favorite things about being a recruiter was reading cover letters. As important as this part of the process is, I despised the task because most of them were just incredibly boring and cliche. In fact, I read so many that on a few occasions, I actually referred to people in real-life conversations as “Dear Hiring Manager.” Which is only slightly more acceptable than addressing your friends as, “To Whom it May Concern.”
However, I’m not suggesting that you should throw in the towel and stop submitting them. But I am suggesting that you should take advantage of the fact that hiring managers are looking to read one that’s actually interesting. Seriously, put a little time and effort in and you’ll hook the very person you need to hook.
To help you get started, here are three openings that’ll grab attention—without making you look like a crazy person.
1. The “I Re-Wrote My Entire Cover Letter Just to Apply for This Job” Opening
There’s nothing that makes a person roll her eyes more than reading this introductory sentence: “I am very excited to be applying for the opening at The Dailymuse.” There are three things wrong with this: One, I know, that’s not how dailymuse is written; two, I’m not confident that you’re actually excited about writing this cover letter; and three, I have no idea what position you’re applying for.
So when you’re really thrilled about a job, don’t keep it a secret—instead try something like this.
I was so excited to apply for [position] that I [an activity related to the job and the cover letter].
It will look like this:
I was so excited to apply for the opening on your editorial team that I agonized over every single word to make sure that was clear.
I was so excited to apply for the accounting manager position that I read the company’s financial report on the site to make sure I knew as much as possible before reaching out.
You’ll need to adjust the content and tone of this opening based on the culture of company you’re applying to work for. But the idea behind it should remain the same: This is a customized message. Once you have that down, you can use the momentum of the opening line to show the hiring manager why you’re the right person for the role.
2. The “I Didn’t Just Learn About Your Company Five Minutes Ago” Opening
You might not know this, but it’s actually really obvious when someone simply regurgitates a few details from an “About Us” page to try and prove that he or she understands what the company stands for. Even if you’ve just learned about its existence, try opening with something more personal about why the organization’s work resonates with you and why you are just so excited to be applying.
Go with this:
[Something you love about the company] has [positive impact it’s had on you], and [reason it made you excited to apply].
It’ll look like this:
The content on The Muse has made my job search so much easier, and I’m thrilled to be using your advice to apply for your opening for a new writer.
I can’t remember the last time I left home without a Samsung mobile device, and I am so excited to be writing this cover letter on one of your tablets.
Just like the first example, you can and should tweak this one based on tone. As long as you make it clear you’ve used the company’s product before (whatever it may be), you’re probably going to win yourself a full cover letter read-through.
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3. The “I Know You Probably Have a Lot of These to Read” Opening
Hiring managers aren’t asking for a pity party, but again—they read a lot of cover letters. So if you notice that a certain company has a laidback culture, take a risk.
I’m sure you’ve read a lot of these today, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make it clear that I’m the right person for [job title here] [without putting you to sleep/making you yawn/before you feel tempted to X out].
Yes, this one is controversial and should be used with caution. If you’re applying to work at an investment bank, this is probably not the opening you should choose. But, if you figure out that the company you’re applying to work for has a sense of humor, don’t be afraid to match it wit for wit.
Writing a cover letter can be a really stressful exercise for even the most experienced job seekers. However, you can make it a lot easier on you and the hiring managers who you’re sending them to if you try something a little fresh to open with. While these might not work for all audiences, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how responsive people will be when they realize they’re considering something who’s willing to step outside the box.
Photo of hiring manager courtesy of Shutterstock.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author