As you’re plotting your job hunt strategy, you’re wondering, “Are cover letters really dead?” But the question you should really be asking is: “Is my cover letter dead?”
Spotting a bad one’s actually pretty simple. Do you see dry, boilerplate language in its first few lines? No matter how engaging the content to follow might be, you haven’t caught your reader’s attention—so she might not even keep reading to learn why you’re perfect for the open position.
Don’t worry, there’s good news, too: Every awful, formulaic cover letter opener can be reinvented to impress the hiring manager (and land interviews). Check out these four common offenders, and how to make them better in no time:
1. “I’m Excited to Apply for [Job Title].”
“I am excited,” “I am pleased,” “I read with interest”—we get it, we get it. You’re pumped about this opportunity. The thing is, the butterflies accompanying your search are common knowledge, and talking about them is a waste of precious cover letter real estate.
Let your enthusiasm shine through in the information you include. Imagine this opener instead:
“I am constantly checking my LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds—and not because of FOMO. I stream a new TED talk every day, and as someone who wholeheartedly believes in the power of sharing ideas, I’m positive that I can help spark meaningful conversations as your next Social Media Assistant.”
This new opener conveys excitement by showing, not telling—and as a result, it’s much more engaging.
For bonus points, dial down any formal language. Think about it: When was the last time you said “I am pleased to eat this sandwich?” Write the way you would speak if you were being interviewed for the job. As someone who has read hundreds of applications, I can promise you the person looking at this will be refreshed by your spunky, yet professional voice.
2. “John Smith Informed Me About the Opening on Your Team, and I Would Like to Apply...”
So, you know someone at the company and you want the hiring manager to know about it right away when reading your letter. Your sense of urgency is wise, but the problem is, I’ll bet John Smith also mentioned the job to a few other people, and they’re all starting their cover letters this way, too.
Use your opener to dive deeper into what you know about the company.
Surely, John told you something about what’s going on behind the curtains, right? Use that information to create a unique opener for your message. It might look something like this:
“When I heard that your team was facing the challenge of finding product-market fit, I wanted to get involved as soon as possible. John Smith recommended that I reach out about…”
Whatever you talk about, demonstrate a motivation that stems from more than just knowing someone on the team. It’s easy to stand out from other candidates when you immediately hit on the company’s pain points in your opener. From there, go on to explain how you can help with those pain points in the body of your message.
3. “As a Professional With 5 Years’ Experience in [Industry]…”
While it’s 100% true that you should drop details about your core qualifications in the first few sentences of your cover letter, you shouldn’t squander the opportunity to show some personality.
Pair brass tacks details with a glimpse into how your mind works.
"Be flexible in figuring out the solution” is my mantra, and after 10+ years in fashion photography, it still rings true. Hearst Media Services needs a resourceful Digital Sales Director, shoes I can easily fill because of my background with…”
Think of this opener as a chance to go beyond the details of your resume. Other personality-rich anecdotes might include your approach to certain project types, or feedback you frequently get about your work. The idea is to provide unique context around standard information so that whoever reads your message says “Ah! A real person!” and emails you right away.
4. “Your Job Ad on [Site] Prompted Me…”
This opener gives some backstory, but actually says zip-zap-nada to the reader.
HR departments are well aware of which sites they’ve posted ads on (trust me). And in reality, what prompted you? My guess is that it wasn’t just the ad. You probably did your homework on the company before pulling the trigger on your application.
Draw on your research and outline factors that appealed to you.
Maybe you love the types of clients you’d be working with or the company’s overall mission, reputation, and history of success in a certain industry. Choose factors that genuinely interest you and then talk about them:
Boom! You’ve converted your opener from a total bore to one that shows the hiring manager that you have a passionate understanding of what the company does.
If your cover letter were a meal, your opener would be a plate of appetizers. Want hiring managers to ask for more (i.e., a meeting with you)? Then don’t put out what everyone else is serving. Start your letter off with flavor in the form of an opener that’s unique to you!