It is easy to think of the cover letter as just a generic document that you pop in front of your all-important resume. That it tells people what role you are applying for and that’s about it.
But imagine you are the hiring manager or HR department sorting through hundreds of cover letters that are all pretty much the same – if one is different, would that grab your attention?
That’s why considering how to start a cover letter and what to include in it should be a big part of the resume creation process.
The cover letter is the very first impression you make on someone and while generic will be okay, it can be a chance to stand out from the competition. And that start of the cover letter is the most key element.
How to start a cover letter
There are loads of different ways to start a cover letter and the key is to find one that suits your style and your personality while also being suitable for the role.
When you read cover letter examples, many of them will keep it fairly basic and to the point, but this is the chance to add a little something different to show your personality and grab their attention.
Humor or creativity
If the company you are applying to come across as having a cool, quirky and modern vibe then there’s no reason why you can’t use a bit of humor in your opening.
You could start with a joke about how you found the role or even a joke about the application that would make the hiring manager smile. That creates an instant positive impression that will continue as they read your resume.
Share a surprising fact
Show you have done your research and open with a surprising fact or interesting statistic relevant to the job.
You can also use a surprising fact about yourself or a quality you have that makes you particularly perfect for the role.
Quantify this with numbers where you can because who doesn’t love to see some proof to back up a claim.
Begin with an accomplishment
By stating at the outset an accomplishment you are proud of that is relevant to the job, you have a better chance of hooking the attention of the hiring manager.
You are immediately giving them a reason to read on because you have told them about something you have done that will attract their attention.
Add some relevant news
Let’s say that you are applying for a position at a tech company. You could share some fresh information sourced from news sources within the industry.
No doubt they may have already heard the information, but it shows them that you are involved in the industry, understand it and are already checking out things that could be useful to your new employer.
Plus quoting relevant news shows you have done your research on the company and really understand what they about.
More traditional cover letter openings
In other situations, the company may be more traditional or formal and you feel that some of the quirkier, cheekier and more modern approaches to cover letter writing might not work.
In that case, putting a spin on some of the more traditional openings can still work.
1. Show enthusiasm for the company
Every company wants you to want to work for them – that enthusiasm helps with productivity and staff happiness. So you can show this in the cover letter without gushing or false flattery.
Simply mentioning you were excited to see a role for their company can be a great way to start in the industry and also drop any positive interactions or experiences you have had with the company.
Even following their Facebook and other social media pages and mentioning a recent post can help.
2. Highlight any connections
If you were referred to the role by someone within the company or a former employee who still has good standing, then definitely name drop at the start of the cover letter. This will stand out for the hiring manager and may increase your chances of them reading on.
3. Be passionate about the role
Just like being too enthusiastic, you don’t want to overdo it and come across as being false. However, being passionate about the role, the industry or the work you do will make a positive mark with hiring managers.
Being motivated and passionate because you believe in what you will be doing is definitely a quality they will be looking for.
4. Start with a belief statement
A belief statement is a short, impactful statement that aligns your own beliefs and aims with the values and goals of the company – assuming they do match up.
If you can write something like this genuinely, it can have a good impact on a hiring manager. But only if you are wholeheartedly convinced – don’t just do a copy and paste job from the website.
How to address a cover letter with no name
One of the trickier situations when writing a cover letter is if you are writing it to someone and have no idea who they are, no name to refer to at the start of the letter.
You can always do some research to see if you can find the name of the hiring manager or the person that you need to address the letter to – LinkedIn can be a good resource for this.
But if you definitely can’t find who to address the letter to, there are a few tips on what to do.
Whatever approach you choose to use, always have your own information in the top left corner of the letter then add the date.
You can use a general title based on what you know or the email address of the person you are sending the resume to.
Always use ‘dear’ before the title and address it the same way. Examples of these include:
- The hiring manager
- Human resources department
- Vice president of sales
- Recruitment representative
If you are completely blind as to who you are writing to in terms of position and gender, the ‘To Whom It May Concern’ greeting is the best option. This is better than writing ‘dear sir’ or ‘dear madam’ as odds are you will luck out and choose the wrong one.
General cover writing tips
The start of the cover letter is one of the most important parts of sending a resume because of that first impression factor. But let’s not ignore the rest of the letter because a great intro is just that – the start of the letter.
1. Always send one
For starters, always send a cover letter, even if you are sending an email – that email body is your cover letter and you then attach the resume.
It is a socially acceptable way to introduce yourself but also contains practical information about which role you are applying for and offers a quick and easy means to gather your contact information.
2. Keep it on point
While you might want to use an opening paragraph to tell them a little about yourself or use one of the tips above, keep the cover letter short and on point – don’t be tempted to tell them half of the content of your resume in it.
The aim of the letter is a polite introduction; the resume will do the bulk of the work.
3. Include a call to action
A call to action or CTA is a marketing term that means you prompt someone to take action.
With a cover letter this should be polite and something like:
- ‘I look forward to hearing from you’
- ‘please let me know if you need further information’
Either of the above two examples could work.
Use a CTA that suits the next step of the process such as waiting for a phone call for a phone interview, arranging to meet or have a video interview or anything else stipulated in the job advertisement.
4. Allow your personality into it
Unless the job is extremely formal, it is often good to have a little of your personality in the cover letter.
You need to judge this by the situation, the language in the advert and other materials. But if the company seems casual, relaxed and friendly, don’t be afraid to make your cover letter similar.
5. Spell check and proofread
There’s nothing worse than a cover letter with a typo because this makes it seem as if you didn’t care enough to spell check and proofread.
So make sure you go through these vital last steps – even get someone else to read it for you to see if they spot anything you might have missed.
Remember, computer spell checks aren’t always infallible, and the human eye is the best checker.
Once you know what you want to say, the final step is to do a little formatting.
Use a clear, easy to read font, don’t add loads of embellishments or other fancy elements to make it look pretty. A simple, modern sans serif font is a safe bet.
Also, formatting means paragraphs. Make sure you have them, that they are a good length but not too long.
The ideal length for a cover letter is around one half of a sheet of A4 paper, a page at the most if you need to include extra information.