How to Start a Cover Letter - Example Openings

how to start a cover letter

Cover letters contain four main format components. Your contact information, your greeting, the body of the cover letter (cover letter opening) and your signature. Knowing how to start your cover letter or what to put within the body of the cover letter message is critical.

Cover letters should be short, impactful, and help you stand out. That’s why the first paragraph of your cover letter is the most important.

In this guide we’re going to cover:

Ready? Let’s jump right into this helpful guide on cover letters.

Are Cover Letters Important?

This is a big question. An important question in today’s modern workforce.

Studies have been performed that indicate nearly 70% of job seekers find successful employment through networking versus submitting their job application online.

So why are cover letters still important?

Two main reasons:

The reality is that you won’t be able to anticipate whether or not a cover letter is important to a team, a manager, or the human resources department.

And you my write your cover letter only to find out it was never read. But wait, before you get upset and decide not to write one. You still need one!

A cover letter is considered part of the basic paperwork for your job application. Even if you find a job through networking, you’ll be required to submit a cover letter along with references and a resume. It is what goes inside your Human Resources file and ensures that your employment becomes valid.

Does that mean you shouldn’t spend a lot of time on your cover letter? No. Remember, some managers will still read cover letters. And even if they know you well, they’ll use this opportunity to “grill” you. It is simply them doing their fiduciary duty (their job).

Expert Tip: When designing your cover letter, avoid using Microsoft Word or Google Doc’s header and footer for your contact information. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that scan cover letters and resumes for keywords often have a difficult time reading formal business letter headings and footings. Instead, place your contact information right into the body of the letter. That will make it easy for these systems to scan your cover letter and ensure it goes into the right hands.

So while cover letters may not be the deciding factor in what gets you a job. You’ll still need it. Because you can’t anticipate whether or not it will be used as part of your interview process.

This means:

Why is the First Paragraph So Important?

The first paragraph is important for precisely the reasons mentioned above. Primarily, the fact that your cover letter needs to be impactful and terse (short). Your cover letter should never be more than 500 words.

This means your first paragraph (or the start of your cover letter) is your entire cover letter body.

When you ask “how do you start a cover letter” it really means, what should you write about in your cover letter.

The first paragraph of your cover letter is the part of the cover letter that speaks to your prior achievements, merits, education, certifications, personal background, personal story, and much more.

The second paragraph of your cover letter should be focused around thanking your interviewer and showing enthusiasm for wanting to move forward in the interview process.

This means, in essence, your second paragraph is ending the letter itself.

How Can You Make an Impactful Starting Off Point

In order to make the start of your cover letter impactful, you need to make yourself standout. If you simply “beg” for the job, you won’t sound strong, professional, and ready for work.

“Begging” is absolutely a method than many people use. And it is the primary way of writing a cover letter. It looks like the following:

I’m eager to be applying for the position of Assistant Principal. I absolutely would love to be in the area and would love to work for your company. I’m attaching my resume for you to be able to see it.

That’s not very insightful, is it?

While it is language that is being put into a cover letter, it doesn’t make you stand out. And it doesn’t really explain anything about yourself to the reader.

The better way is to include your merits, include your certifications, include achievements and then stand strong in terms of your reasoning for being a high caliber candidate for the position.

Here is an example of what that might look like:

I’m applying for the position of Assistant Principal because I saw that this position requires leadership, people management, revenue management and more. In my prior work experience I was able to manage a team of 18 educators. Manage a P&L for the education system and meet with board members to set conservative guidance for the school system for more than 4 years.

See how that start to your cover letter is much stronger? You can use prior experiences and achievements to your advantage.

In order to use those, you may need to sit down and think about your prior achievements. Write them down on a piece of paper as simple bullet points. Then, use them as reference points when writing your introduction.

Here are acceptable types of data points you may want to use to make the start of your cover letter impactful:

Be sure that you only mention unique insights. Keep the focus of your introduction simple, but personalized to both yourself and the job you’re applying for.

What is a “Cover Letter Opening”?

If you read about a “cover letter opening” online, it simply means the statement that you make inside the body of your cover letter. This is also referred to as the cover letter body, the cover letter message, the cover letter introduction, or the cover letter first paragraph.

All of these are the same. And a cover letter opening is a way to describe the method for opening up this business letters intent to the reader.

The Methods of a Great Start to Your Cover Letter

There are a few simple methods to keep in mind when writing your cover letter introduction. They are as follows:

Below are examples where you can see each of these methods at work.

Prior Work Achievements

“I’m applying for the position as Software Engineer because I noticed you were looking for both an engineer as well as a team leader. In my prior positions I was able to hire more than 24 Software Engineers as well as develop the plans for our change from waterfall to agile development.”

Prior Work Awards

“I’m applying for the position of Graphic Designer because I noticed the position required world-class talent. And while I see myself still needing a lot of exposure to new work, I’ve been able to achieve awards for Top Graphic Designer Under 30 by Forbes. As well as Illinois Institute of Arts top upcoming digital designer. I feel these awards made me a high caliber candidate for this position.”

Prior Education Achievements

“I’m applying for the position as Research Assistant because I noticed the job requires a significant amount of adaptability and research skills. During my tenure at Stanford University I was awarded top student to achieve research and development honors. This award is given to students who show incredible abilities to generate new thesis and hypothesis about existing sciences.”

Prior Personal Stories

“I’m applying for the position of Customer Service Agent because I noticed the position requires a great deal of personable skills. Or social skills. Growing up, I was an orphan. And while this may sound like a sad story, it isn’t. Being an orphan taught me how to be self-motivated and independent. And how to interact with others in a way that brought happiness, empathy, and guidance to our world. I can bring that to this position. This makes me uniquely qualified to be able to provide incredible customer service and empathize with each person who calls in.

The Methods Explained

Using these methods are your best angles towards having a great introduction or start to your cover letter. Any other methods that you might read online are not advised to use.

The primary method that you might read about is being slightly arrogant towards the reader and telling them that you deserve the position.

While this is a fine method for some, a vast majority of job seekers are not in the position to be able to execute this type of introduction.

It is much better to stay personable, relatable, and tell your story in a humble way. That will always come across to the reader as honest and kind. There are very little negative effects that can happen from that.

What You Shouldn’t Say

This can be a whole article of itself. Most cover letter introductions are simply lack-luster and don’t contain information that is helpful to the reader.

Remember, the interviewer, hiring manger or human resources representative who is reading your cover letter only wants to know that you have the qualifications required for the job.

That’s their major goal.

Provide that to them if you can. Read through the job description and try to figure out what qualifications, skills, qualities, and achievements they are looking for in a candidate.

Everything else, needs to remain off your cover letter, cover letter introduction and cover letter first paragraph.

Avoid telling stories about yourself. Unless they are unique and applicable to why it makes you uniquely positioned to do the job well.

Avoid telling work experiences that don’t put yourself in a positive light.

Avoid telling the reader that you left your job because you didn’t like the environment. And are seeking a new more collaborative environment.

Avoid telling the reader that you are desperately seeking a position, having a hard time finding a job, or were just laid off from your prior position.

Remember, the goal with your cover letter is to sound strong, uniquely qualified, and a high-caliber candidate. That’s it!

The Tone of Your Cover Letter Opening

At all costs, keep the tone of your cover letter opening enthusiastic. If you can, relate to the company leadership or ethics. You can find that information corporate “About” pages.

Design the tone of your writing towards those ethics and sound excitable. Even if you were laid off from your prior position, don’t let that slow you down.

You want the tone of your writing to sound as though the reader needs to interview you.

Don’t be afraid to show your friends or family members your cover letter opening. Ask them what they felt or thought of the introduction. If they are reading your letter, ask them to copy edit it as well.

Having your cover letter opening be written tersely and with good grammar can go a long way. Avoid stringing together sentences in informal ways. For example using the word “really” more frequently than you need to. Or using the word “just”.

Make your statement, make it strong, make it bold, and let that be your cover letter opening.

Does the Ending of the Cover Letter Matter?

The ending of your cover letter should be simple. Ideally, all you really need to do is close out the impactful statements that you made using the methods and examples from above.

If your cover letter opening was impactful, the ending of your cover letter can be simple.

Here’s what it should look like:

“I look forward to speaking with you regarding this position. And learning more about the job requirements and how I can be a uniquely valuable addition to your company and team.”

That’s all you need to say.

You can modify the ending if you’d like, using your own language or personal tone. But your ending should be met with gratitude and excitement towards meeting with the reader.

Keep your ending formal and short as well. The ending of your cover letter should never be more than 200-300 words. Making the entire length of your cover letter never extending 600 words.

Full Example Cover Letter Using Our Openings and Closings

Here is a full cover letter example using the cover letter opening examples from above as well as using the cover letter closing example.

Nick Smith
nick@smith.com
630-555-4754
Software Engineer

May 1st, 2014

Dear Hiring Manager —

I’m applying for the position of Software Engineer because I noticed you were looking for both an engineer as well as a team leader. In my prior positions, I was able to hire more than 24 Software Engineers as well as develop the plans for our change from waterfall to agile development.

I look forward to speaking with you regarding this position. And learning more about the job requirements and how I can be a uniquely valuable addition to your company and team.

Thank you so much,
Nick Smith
(Your written signature)

Research has shown that using the Hiring Managers first name can drastically increase the chances that you'll receive the job as well as get your cover letter read. In fact, 19% of job seekers who reached out directly to Hiring Managers via LinkedIn or through the company email address landed their job. If you aren't sure how to find the Hiring Managers name for your cover letter, read this guide.

Expert Tip: Be sure to send your cover letter in a PDF format. While Word Documents might seem like the best file format to use, the reader may not have Microsoft Office installed on their computer. And this could make it impossible for the reader to digest your cover letter. Instead, use a PDF format, which is universally read by all Mac and Windows computers.

Key Takeaways

When writing your cover letter opening, remember some of these key takeaways from this write up:

Additional Cover Letter Resources

Related Hiring Resources

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How to Start a Resume (4+ Examples)
author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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