As a networking speaker and networking coach, my clients often ask me to review their cover letter.
Whether YOU are a professional considering your next career step, changing to a new area, in an insular or foreign environment, or you simply want a better LinkedIn profile – your cover letter is one of your most powerful tools to steer your prospective employer’s perception of you.
Writing an effective and compelling cover letter is difficult. The first few words can catch the reader or lose them. So I’ll focus here.
How to best start a cover letter is a sticking point for many people. I personally avoid cold cover letters like the plague because I find them soul-destroying to do.
4 reasons why:
- It puts all your eggs in that basket if that is your only channel in
- There is no one-size-fits all cover letter. Unless you know the reader, often it is “spray and pray”
- It takes forever to write
If you are not great at writing cover letters, you risk sabotaging yourself
There are far more effective tactics than this to get in, in my experience. As we talk about throughout the program, building relationships and then using those to get in is just one tactic that is far superior and effective.
Still, sometimes there seems no other way (if everyone’s on holiday, for example).
Here are 5 quick ideas:
[I will pretend that you are entering a technical or conservative field.]
1. Start with “Like you,…”
The most powerful word when promoting yourself is YOU. Starting the cover letter with “Like you,…” is highly unusual and grabs the reader, especially in technical and conservative fields.
- Like you, as a health tech expert I have seen the word health re-defined recently.
PRO TIP: Add a question after the first sentence:
- Like you, as a health tech expert I have seen the word health re-defined recently. Is it wellness? Number of medical products sold? Or, is there a different story?
2. Label yourself in the first 10 words (ideally the first 5-7 words).
Prospects scan quickly to see if you are RELEVANT. They need to know your expertise upfront and you have 2 seconds to position yourself. Put “_______ expert” in the first 10 words of your bio.
Visualise their conversation with others:
Q. “So, who is Ann?”
A. “Ann is a _________ expert.”
- As a neurotransmitter expert,…
- As a networking speaker and networking coach, my clients often ask me to review their cover letters.
- As an analytical project manager, I excel at extracting data to understand where we should focus in our business.
PRO TIP: Add your accomplishments upfront too.
- As an event coordinator for Company X, I ensure seamless communication and marketing between all involved parties. By implementing new social media marketing tactics in the past year, I have doubled our attendance.
3. Differentiate yourself from the competition
- Unlike many other project managers, I ensure all parties know who is responsible for what, and when each component is due. I do this using my own system that I’ve used for 10+ years, because it works. At any time, I can see the status of all activities. This ensures every event is on time and on budget, plus we clearly see when we’ve succeeded, and what needs to be developed next time.
- Unlike many event organisers, I show you exactly what to do and how to do it, what to say and when to say it. With 10+ years in research, and — importantly — real-life innovation business experience, my view is radically different. I appreciate that…
- “10+” and “—“ catch the eye
- “innovation” is a keyword
- “radically” catches the eye. That alone might get you called to interview.
- “plus” feels like you get more than “and”
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4. Try the word “fusion”
This is a great way to bridge a transition between fields, countries or cultures, or you don’t have much track record for the role you are applying for. It differentiates you, framed to benefit the audience. (Nifty!)
- My fusion of Mediterranean friendliness and structured analysis ensures useful AND memorable events because they are inclusive.
- My fusion of Mediterranean background and analytical thinking connects all parties involved in the event with friendly, clear communication while everyone knows what they need to do and who is responsible for what.
Capitalise and italicise words where you want to draw the eye. Use only once or so.
5. Meet their needs upfront. Keywords!
Mirror the exact phrasing in the ad/email.
- Multi-departmental collaboration for innovation events is what I do best.
- Written and verbal communication are two of my strongest areas of expertise. In my 5+ years of experience in coordinating teams and EU meetings, I have perfected my skills in multidisciplinary relations, collaboration, and leading a team. These skills combined makes me the best candidate for your Senior Coordinator.
To help you even more, I have designed these opening lines so that you can also use them for:
- your LinkedIn Profile (there are at least 4 excellent places to put them)
- personal introductions
- over the phone
This is also a great way to see how people respond “live”. Test them fast, don’t over-think. Test them verbally when you speak to people and answer the question “What do you do?”. You will see quickly what works for you. This is a great way to get back into job searching after a break.
These are just a few options to inspire you now – I help you choose ones that work for you specifically.
Do you have a simple, effective system to track your contacts and job search?
This is the exact system I use to track ALL of my contacts and work-finding with all employers and clients, pharma companies, universities, NGOs.
It is an excellent resource that you still refer to years after the last contact, which gives you a massive competitive advantage.It is very systematic and simple. I have used it for 10+ years with the same structure.
I give it to you for free, because I promise it will help you. Get this simple tracker here.
Would you like to put an end to ineffective LinkedIn profiles, resumes and networking?Please share this post with those who may benefit. They’ll thank you because YOU are useful and informative.
Dr. Mary-Rose Hoja helps professionals successfully promote and position themselves, especially to take their next career step. More information plus useful and informative tips await you at www.maryrosehoja.com.
Start looking for jobs
The first couple of sentences in any cover letter have a loaded task: they are supposed to grab the attention of a recruiter who has already reviewed hundreds of applications. Then they need to convince a hiring manager to dive deeper into your background to find out whether your skills and personality match the position they need to fill.
Conveying all this in a few lines is by no means easy. After all, the beginning of an application letter should be catchy, but not overselling (especially when you are a student or graduate who doesn’t have years of experience to refer to). It should be professional sounding, but not boring. And the border between those extremes is sometimes blurry.
Therefore, it is a good idea to have a couple of cover letter examples you can fall back on, when you are desperate for inspiration. We have picked a few examples for first sentences in cover letters. (We have also included a brief explanation when to choose a certain sentence and what pitfalls to avoid in connection with it.)
1) The ‘better safe than sorry’ example
“I have read your advertisement of the junior research assistant position with great interest and would like to use this opportunity to apply for said position. What has particularly sparked my interest in this job is…”
Works well when...
...you do not consider yourself a great writer and the job you have set out to apply for does not require you to be one. In that case, just keep the start of your letter simple and straight to the point.
- Referring to the position with a generic or downright wrong term. Stick to the exact one mentioned in the job description.
- Forgetting to mention a specific reason why you found the job description interesting.
2) The ‘extra confident’ example
“The sales rep position advertised by you sounds like a great match with the skills and qualifications that I have been able to acquire during [relevant study programme or employment]:…”
Works well when...
...the job you are applying for requires a certain amount of self-confidence and sales abilities - and you actually have the skills and experience to back up your claims. You just have to be aware that you are using an element of provocation here that not every recruiter finds charming.
- Using phrases like “perfect match”, “no one better for the position” etc. Remember there is a fine line between confidence and douchebag.
- Making claims that you already know you can’t deliver on - after an opening line like this, you will be subject to extra scrutiny and tough questions in any interview.
3) The ‘enthusiast’ example
“Having finished my education in international business, I’m in search of an opportunity to combine my passion for exploring cultures with my professional career. Your advertisement of the position as business development manager for the French market, therefore, appears very intriguing to me. …”
Works well when…
...you don’t have that much practical experience in the field that you are applying for and you want to convey that you are eager and willing to learn.
- Coming across as uninformed. You have to rely on the information available to you to deduct what you can possibly learn from this job. For example, writing that you are passionate to learn about auditing when you are applying for a marketing position can raise some question marks on the recruiter’s side.
- Using too many buzzwords - enthusiasm is cool, but there is such a thing as an overkill.
4) The ‘creative quote’ example
“As economist Hal Varian has observed: ‘A billion hours ago, modern homo sapiens emerged. A billion minutes ago, Christianity began. A billion seconds ago, the IBM PC was released. A billion Google searches ago ... was this morning.’ I have chosen this quote as an introduction to my application as a digital marketing manager because…”
Works well when…
...you are applying for a position or to a company where you know a certain amount of creativity is appreciated in your communication - and you actually find a relevant quote.
- Attributing a quote to the wrong person. (Double-check! Only because you’ve read Ryan Reynolds saying it in an interview, doesn’t mean that he actually came up with it... maybe he was quoting Albert Einstein? Extra points, though, when a Ryan Reynolds quote gets you an interview invitation...)
- Using generic quotes. It’s great that you “seize the day”, but no hiring manager cares. As a rule of thumb: any quote that can be found on a greeting card that features a beach, footprints in the sand and a very pink sunset are not cover letter material.
Have you decided on your opening lines? Great, now you only have to write the rest of the application. Check out our cover letter guide for more tips.