Your resume and cover letter are, perhaps, the two most important pieces of your job search puzzle. Sure, your experience, skills, networking abilities, and how you perform in the interview (if you land one) will all play huge parts, but those two important documents you submit with your application can, and often do, make all the difference.
The cover letter is particularly crucial, because it’s essentially the hiring manager’s first introduction to you as a candidate. In other words, it is the very first impression you’ll make on an employer—so you’ll want it to be a good one.
When writing the cover letter introduction (meaning: the first paragraph of your cover letter), know that getting it right is what can make or break your chances of landing a job. If the interviewer is immediately turned off or disinterested or unimpressed, they’ll likely toss your application into the “no” pile without further consideration. But if you manage to write a captivating first paragraph that really grabs their attention and quickly paints a positive picture of who you are, you’ll position yourself as a strong candidate who has a much better chance of landing an interview.
Need help learning how to write a cover letter (in particular, the opening paragraph)? Here are a few tips to consider when writing that first paragraph of your cover letter:
Prove you did your homework
If you can help it, never ever start your cover letter with a generic “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir.” Instead, personalize the letter. Do some digging to find out the name of the HR manager who will most likely be reviewing your application—or your would-be boss. If you can’t figure it out, a simple “Dear Hiring Manager” will work just fine. Personalizing the salutation shows the hiring manager that you care enough about this job to have done your homework. They may also feel more connected to you if they are addressed directly.
Introduce yourself with some enthusiasm
After you greet the hiring manager (by name, hopefully) you’ll want to briefly introduce yourself. But infuse some personality into it! Yes, you’ll want to be professional and not stand out for the wrong reasons—but you don’t want to bore the employer to death or have your cover letter look like everyone else’s.
So, instead of starting off with a dull “I’m Jane and I’m interested in the marketing role.” Try something more exciting, like, “I firmly believe I’m the passionate, hardworking candidate you’ve been looking for.”
Follow up the brief introduction with a few words on why you’re interested in the job, why you’re perfect for it, and the value you’d bring to the table. You can elaborate on those thoughts later in the cover letter—but at least touch on them in this first paragraph, with some enthusiasm and passion. Remember—the opening of your letter must be an eye-opener, and not a sleep aid!
Keep it short and to the point
We know it can be hard to cram all of the above into a few short sentences, but you’ll want to do your best to keep things clear and concise. Being long-winded will cause the reader to lose interest quickly, and if that happens, the rest of the cover letter will all be for nothing. So, keep things brief and light (but professional!) and don’t dwell on any one thought for too long. Remember: you can use the interview to elaborate on any points you make here!
Keep it clean
Okay, we mean typo-free! Have someone else read your cover letter for typos, grammatical errors, or clarity issues, or consider using a service like Grammarly. Get as much feedback as possible. Submitting a sloppy cover letter sends a message that you’d be a sloppy employee—and that’s not the message you want to send. This tip goes for the entire cover letter, and all application materials, for that matter—not just this first paragraph!
Here’s a sample of a strong first paragraph:
“Dear Mr. Henry Potter, My name is Jane Doe and I’m thrilled to be applying for the position of Properties Manager that was advertised in the September edition of the Bedford Falls Times. I’m confident I am the passionate and hardworking candidate you’ve been looking for, as my skills and interests—such as x, y, and z—perfectly align with what you’re looking for. I know I can make a significant contribution to your growing organization, and hope you’ll consider for me this incredible opportunity.”
The LiveCareer website has a cover letter builder you can use to create the ideal cover letter introduction, one that will really help you get noticed by employers. You can also use our cover letter examples to see how the first paragraph of your cover letter should look.
Your resume is not the only thing that needs to be rock-solid when you're hunting for a job. Before a hiring manager looks over the details of your education and work history, it's customary for you to introduce yourself in a more conversational manner. This sometimes means crafting a cover letter. In other cases, it means crafting a letter of introduction. Each has its place, depending on the situation.
Letter of Introduction
The letter of introduction is appropriate when you have your heart set on working in a certain field or at a certain company, and want to make your availability known to hiring managers in that field, or at a specific company. The purpose of the letter is to let the hiring managers know a little about your skills, qualifications and education, and to offer your services as an opportunity arises. Often, you'll send a letter of introduction "cold," meaning you are not responding to a specific job advertisement or posting.
At the top of your introduction letter, let the addressee know you're interested in working with the company as opportunities arise, and then name the field, department or specific job you would like to pursue. In the second paragraph, tell the addressee what makes you a great candidate for any future positions. Making yourself relevant to the company's workforce takes some research and educated guessing, since you won't have a job posting with specific skills to address. Instead, you'll have to check out former postings or research the company website, blogs, and newspaper articles to get a feel for what types of people the company typically hires. Base the description of yourself on what you've learned about the company. In the third paragraph, ask for a follow-up action; ask to have your resume -- which you'll attach -- added to the company's human resources file, ask to come in for an initial meeting, or tell the addressee you'll be contacting her to discuss future opportunities.
The Cover Letter
A cover letter, meanwhile, is similar to a letter of introduction, but it's different in one important way: The cover letter is typically written in response to a specific job or internship posting. Like the letter of introduction, the cover letter is meant to give hiring managers an idea of why you're the best person for the job. But unlike the "cold" letter, you'll be able to address details or requirements that the hiring managers have specified as necessary for the position.
When you write a cover letter, start off the first paragraph by stating the job for which you're applying and how you found out about the position. Then, like a letter of introduction, you'll use the second paragraph to outline what makes you a great candidate. In this instance you can look to the job posting as well as research in the company -- via websites, blogs, newspaper articles and connections you make on LinkedIn -- to detail the reasons why you're a great candidate. Like the letter of introduction, the third paragraph is used to talk about next steps. Slightly different than the letter of introduction though, here you can mention how you're looking forward to an interview, or how you'll call on a specific date to check on the status of your application.
About the Author
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.
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