Job seekers can tell their career stories in a multitude of ways.
The key is to ensure that the hiring manager is listening.
That is why the start of a cover letter is so important. Choosing what to highlight in those first few lines will set the tone for the rest of the cover letter (and maybe the whole job search). What angle do you pick first? What do you think matters the most?
There is a lot more to creating a compelling start of a cover letter than simply listing your achievements or parroting the responsibilities of the job description. Start your cover letter with something that will grab the recruiter’s attention. The hiring manager will possibly read through hundreds of cover letters – you need to stand out.
In this blog, we look at 14 different approaches to start a cover letter. It is unlikely that you will be able to do all of them in one paragraph, but you will certainly be able to combine a couple. What would work best for each specific role? We look at:
- Why is the start of a cover letter important?
- 14 ways to start a cover letter and why they work
- How to choose the correct cover letter greeting
Resume.io has many cover letter examples to choose from – each will start in a subtly different way. They may be worth a read if you are seeking inspiration.
Tailor the cover letter start for each role. Do not cling on to a “perfect” cover letter start that you use for every application. How you begin a cover letter should depend on the fit of your experience with the role in question. Job demands will differ, so your cover letter beginning should flex as appropriate.
Why is the start of a cover letter important?
In a sales pitch that will likely last several weeks, your opening salvo sets the tone.
While a resume is a highly structured and factual document, job seekers have far more freedom to share whatever they wish in a cover letter.
That is why the first couple of sentences need to pack a punch.
Starting with a formal “I am writing in response to your job description that I found on LinkedIn” or something similar is a huge waste of time. You need to get straight into your sales pitch. The hiring manager knows the job that you are applying for, so dispense with the formalities.
Start your cover letter by spelling out why you would be perfect for the role.
How to start a cover letter + adaptable examples
Here are fourteen different ways to start a cover letter. See which ones fit for each particular role that you are considering.
1. “Compelling story” cover letter start
The career stories that you choose to tell will determine the success of your job search. Where you come from is a reliable sign of where you are going. Starting a cover letter with a compelling and passionate story will draw a hiring manager into a conversation about which stories you could make together in the future.
Growing up in the shadow of my parents’ Italian restaurant has taught me that a visit to a restaurant is about the service as well as the food. The food might be amazing, but if served late or with a surly attitude, the customer experience is vastly diminished.
2. “Promise” cover letter beginning
A thread of promises runs through any job search conversation. You can back up your promises to a future employer with evidence from your past that you have what it takes, but they are promises, nonetheless. Start a cover letter with a promise and you will give something for your future boss to think about for the rest of the recruitment process.
I can promise you that there will be nothing virtual about my assistance. I am currently looking for a third client to fill my schedule and my other two clients can attest to how I make a very real difference. We might not sit at the same desk, but I will seek to make your working process smoother and ensure that your clients are blissfully happy.
3. “Exploratory” start of a cover letter
No job search has a fixed ending. Sometimes you need to set out your stall, give a hiring manager an idea of where you would like to get to and then you can work out whether it is the right thing that you venture along the path together. No job seeker can know that they are meant for the role at the cover letter stage – that requires some serious exploration.
As I approach my second year of my accounting major at UCLA, I am looking for the opportunity of an accounting internship within the financial services sector. I have a special interest in accounting information systems and with a minor in computer science I am especially involved in software design. I understand that your interns are closely involved with the operational aspects of your business and feel that I would have much to offer.
4. “Got the skills” cover letter start
Your hard and soft skills are the currency of a job search, so the beginning of a cover letter should contain an example of exactly what you can bring to the table. Anyone can conjure up meaningless adjectives. It is your skills that will set you apart from the competition and form the basis of further discussions regarding your suitability.
Having worked for the Langdon Credit Union as a loan processor for the past four years, I would like to bring my financial acumen and customer care skills to Oakmount. My customers had the lowest levels of bad debt (from a team of 17 loan processors) because we worked together in terms of affordability and repayment terms. A record 23% were repeat borrowers.
5. “My why” cover letter first paragraph
We all have deeply held beliefs that guide our decisions and strengthen our relationships. Going to work every day is a tough ask, so understanding these motivations at the start of a cover letter is a great way of connecting with a candidate on the level that matters most. If your future boss understands your “why” they will know that you will fit in fine.
As an experienced prison and probation officer, having worked both with inmates in the prison and helping to decide on who should be released, I have a deep understanding of when offenders are ready to return to society. Following these individuals through their time in the prison system has prepared me to then help offenders reintegrate back into society.
6. “Industry expert” cover letter start
Positioning yourself as an industry expert at the start of any job search story is an excellent way to get the hiring manager to listen to what you have to say. So long as you have the successes to back up your claims, that self-designated title will stick in their minds. Experts get things done and help their bosses to achieve their wider objectives.
With 12 years of insurance industry experience, I have the pedigree and client list to take your start-up business to a whole new level. Your FinTech platform is incredibly intuitive, but it needs to be linked to real-world personal financial advice. Your dual approach will rest on finding the right financial advisors to manage the most complex transactions.
7. “International expertise” cover letter start
Very few candidates will have international experience, but for some roles it could be what sets you apart. Experiencing different cultures and working with different nationalities can give you a unique outlook on life. Tell your future employer about your international experience in the cover letter and let them know why it matters.
The Doctor Assistant role at the International Medical Center is an ideal role on my return from working with Médecins Sans Frontieres in South America. I have assisted patients of over 20 nationalities over the past 6 years. My cultural appreciation and linguistic ability (I speak fluent Spanish and Portuguese) will complement my medical expertise.
8. “Internal move” cover letter intro
When you work for a large organization, cover letters are often used as introductory notes for an internal move. Explaining where you worked and with whom will set the scene for your application. Internal applicants have a significant advantage over external candidates, so make your advantage clear in your cover letter intro.
Having worked in a part-time weekend crew member role at your McDonalds Hillingdon Avenue branch, I would like to apply for the summer holiday crew member position at Latchwell Beach. I am in my second year of a hospitality degree, and I have found that my work at McDonalds has provided many insights into my studies.
9. “Mutual connection” cover letter start
When you are trying to make a connection with a total stranger, a mutual acquaintance can often help to smooth the path and help you to find common ground. Mentioning that you know someone who works at the company will make you seem that bit more like one of them. If they can also put in a good word, then even better.
When I heard from Mark Hewer about the role, it was immediately clear that it would be of interest. I worked with Mark at Crowne Estates and we both felt that we could replicate the successes that we enjoyed. There is significant overlap in the potential client base.
10. “Enthusiastic” cover letter intro
The impression that you convey with the opening of a cover letter will echo through the whole letter. Start with a confident and enthusiastic tone. The hiring manager needs to feel that this is the only job for you. They do not only want to hire a great employee – they want to hire a great employee who will be happy and stay with the company for the long term.
Having completed my doctorate in Slavonic Studies last semester, I am applying to continue my Postdoc research in the area of the Old Church Slavonic language. Researching the homeland and language of the Slavs has always been a passion and I have undertaken many translation projects that have contributed to the modern understanding of how language influenced the early Slavonic church in the Moravian Empire.
11. “Attention grabbing” cover letter start
Your cover letter might be the 26th that the hiring manager has read in the last hour. That amount of reading can send anyone to sleep, especially if they have many other work matters on their mind. The cover letter start needs to grab their attention and make them interested in what might come next. Wake them up. You are the one they want, after all.
As a leading retail copywriter, I understand that the right words can make the products fly off the shelves. As the daughter of a shopkeeper, explaining features and benefits is in my DNA. Two degrees in English and over ten years of copywriting experience give me the confidence to hone the messages.
12. “Keyword ticking” intro to a cover letter
If you know that a large volume of applicants will be going for the job, the first step is to get past the ATS software . A fantastic cover letter is useless if it doesn’t get to a human reader. Sprinkling a couple of keywords into the intro can satisfy the ATS and also catch the attention of the hiring manager. Make it sound like you belong.
As construction manager for Jenkins, I led integrated teams of 30+ employees including supervisors, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers, steel workers and wall and floor specialists. Managing budgets between $2m and $40m, I ensured 94% compliance with critical paths and maintained a customer satisfaction rate of 98%.
13. “Did my research” cover letter start
Do you really know what you are getting yourself into? So many cover letters are cut / paste efforts with the same content being sent to every employer. A cover letter opening that is tailored for the role and shows that you have done your research will therefore stand out. Share something that only someone with an intimate knowledge of the role could know.
I have completed four months of clinical work on neonatal wards prior to graduation and I wish to find a hospital with a strong track record of supporting RNs on their way to CNM certification. Your hospital stands out as a leader in the field, and I believe that I am a strong candidate for your current year’s graduate intake. My experience of infant intensive care showed me that this is the difference that I wish to make.
14. “Cultural fit” cover letter beginning
Culture fit is one of those intangible judgement calls that a hiring manager makes after only a short few hours with a candidate. It is hard to judge the culture fit purely based on the cover letter and resume, but if you hint at an understanding of the culture and argue why you would be a great fit, you are starting the conversation in the right direction.
Having worked as a retail consultant with Delta for sixteen years, on moving to New York I would like to bring my wealth of boutique retail consultancy experience to McKinsey. My specialty lies in helping boutique retailers take their in-store offer online, without losing the sense of exclusivity and luxury.
How to write a greeting in a cover letter
The standard greeting of “Dear” and then the surname of the recipient is the optimal way to start a cover letter. If you are not sure which greeting to use, it is the safest option. Even if you are applying to a casual startup where everyone is on first-name terms, using “Dear” at the start of any formal business correspondence will not be frowned upon.
If you do not know to whom the cover letter should be addressed, writing “Dear (Company Name) Hiring Team” is preferable to the colder “To Whom It May Concern.” The name of the hiring manager or HR contact should really be on the job description, so do your research. Not noticing this will be an immediate black mark against your application.
If you know someone well, you can use “Hi” with their first name, but you should remember that many other people will likely be reading the cover letter. Keep it professional.
Cover letters are a candidate’s way of introducing themselves without being in the room.
Which of these fourteen approaches for a cover letter beginning would work best for you?
- Compelling story
- Got the skills
- My why
- Industry expert
- International expertise
- Internal move
- Mutual connection
- Attention grabbing
- Keyword ticking
- Did research
- Cultural fit
That might seem like a long list, but if you start a cover letter with the right combination of the above, you will have the hiring manager wondering what comes next.