When you apply for any job, the very first tool you will use to grab the attention of employers is your cover letter. (Yes, there are of course companies that are so big they don’t have time for cover letters. But plenty of hiring managers at small and mid-sized companies do read them, myself included.) A cover letter highlights the reasons you are the best person for the job and how you will benefit the company. It also demonstrates your ability to effectively communicate your objective. That’s why the opening lines of your cover letter are so important. You need to hook the employer so they want to continue reading and learn more about you.
There’s no one right way to open your cover letter, but there are a few techniques you can try to make your letter stand out. Here are five ways to write the opening lines of your next cover letter:
1. Job Title & Accomplishments. This is a very common and effective way to start out a cover letter. The idea is to get straight to the point and impress the employer with your background. Use your most impressive and most relevant accomplishment stories to explain your worth.
Example: As a social media coordinator for Company X, I manage many digital media outlets. By implementing new social media marketing tactics, in the past year, I have doubled our audience on Facebook and tripled our followers on Twitter.
2. Excitement Means Dedication. Another approach is to begin your letter by expressing your excitement for the job opportunity. If there’s a job or company you’re particularly enthusiastic about, it’s great to say so. When a potential employer sees you’re excited, this translates into how motivated and dedicated an employee you would be. This makes them want to find out if you’re as qualified as you are eager.
Example: I was excited to find an opening in human resources with Company Y because your work with y (be specific) has been important to me for a long time. I am the perfect candidate for this position because it combines my experience with human resources and y.
3. Keywords, Keywords, Keywords. When applying for a larger company where you know an applicant tracking system will be used, a smart idea is to make your opening lines keyword-heavy. The right keywords will make sure your cover letter gets read, and will immediately highlight many of your most relevant skills.
Example: Written and verbal communications are two of my strongest areas of expertise. Through my years of experience in public relations, I have perfected my skills in social media, media relations, community engagement, and leading a team. It is the combination of these skills that makes me the best candidate for your public relations manager.
4. Network Ties. If someone in your professional network is refers you to a position, company, or specific hiring manager, the best approach is to use this right away in your cover letter. Name-dropping your mutual contact will provide the employer with a point of reference to go from. They’ll be interested to see why your referrer thought you’d be a good fit for the job.
Example: My name is Jane Doe and recently I spoke to your communications coordinator John Smith, who informed me about the opening in your IT staff. He recommended I contact you about the job because of my strong interest in the field.
5. What’s in the News? Another unique option to impress employers is to demonstrate your knowledge of current events in your opening lines. Look for recent news about the company you’re applying for and tie it into the job opening. Explain why the news item makes you think you’d be best for the job.
Example: Recently, your company has been highlighted on The Huffington Post and Forbes because of your partnership with Charity Z. After reading those articles, I became inspired to seek employment opportunities with your company and was happy to see an opening for an administrative assistant. As someone with vast experience in that area, I would be the perfect candidate for the job.
With all of these options, it’s important to tailor your entire cover letter to your specific experience and each individual job description. A personalized cover letter is essential to prove your qualifications and will be more likely to result in an interview. Start making changes to your next cover letter.
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You know that friend or acquaintance who can’t seem to get a sentence out without mentioning some Instagram-famous person he knows? Or the founder/CEO/owner of the current hot company? The incessant name-dropper doesn’t know when to call it quits.
Name dropping isn’t all bad though, especially when you’re on the hunt for a new job. In fact, it can actually be a deciding factor in helping you get an interview and then, if your skills and experience match up, an offer.
Much like having a solid connection at a company you’re dying to work for, doing this can give you an edge and set you apart from the rest—if you go about it the right way.
Jenny Foss, Muse Master Coach and columnist, has some smart advice for how you can navigate the murky situation when it comes to applying for a position that catches your eye.
If your connection is “lukewarm,” meaning the person doesn’t have a direct tie to the department you’re interested in and/or you’re not close pals, here’s what you do: “Strike up a conversation and, at the end, ask the person this question: ‘I noticed that you guys are looking for a new [name of position you want]. Do you know who I might contact to get a few more details about the job?’”
If you get a name, then you’re ready to do the drop. Foss advises that you reach out to the person your contact mentioned (fingers crossed it’s the hiring manager) and say the following:
“I was talking to [name of the lukewarm connection]. He said you may be able to provide me with a bit more information about the [position you want]—may I ask you a couple of quick questions?”
At this point, you’ve accomplished your goal, indicating that “you know someone on the inside of the company, which may be quite advantageous. And you’ve done so without blatantly (or dishonestly) suggesting that he’s endorsing you or referring you for the job,” concludes Foss.
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Because hiring managers field hundreds or even thousands of resumes , being contacted by a candidate who knows an employee on the inside can be the thing that makes you stand out. And, as Foss says “the nice part about this strategy is that it makes it look like your lukewarm contact is vouching for you.”
Just note that it’s important you don’t come across as ostentatious. Lynn Berger a NYC-based career coach, stresses the importance of “mutual interest.” If, for example, you’re applying to a job where your connection isn’t even lukewarm (say, you’ve never met the person, but you admire his or her work and follow his industry moves to a T), you can still bring him up, you just need to do so carefully. In an early conversation with a hiring manager, if there’s a way to mention the person in a way that would help you connect with the recruiter or the role you’re interested in, then go for it.
You might say something like this:
“I was recently at a lecture [be specific and say where you were] and had the opportunity to hear [name of person] speak, and it left such an impression on me.”
The key is to not simply rattle off a bunch of names unless there’s clear relevance. Making mention of one person at the company and stating your admiration is an appropriate way to name drop.
One final note: You obviously wouldn’t want to mention somebody who you’re not sure remembers meeting you (unless you specifically state that), or who might potentially be uncomfortable learning that you used him as leverage to get your foot in the door. When in doubt, reach out to the person first and ask if it’s OK if you mention his or her name. People generally appreciate a heads-up when it comes to these things.
Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to do it! Just be smart about your approach. Oh, and make sure it’s not the only thing you’ve got going for you (i.e., you need to be qualified for the job).