13. It Starts with Your Cover Letter’s First Paragraph

You may recall in an earlier column I stated whether requested or not, not including a cover letter is lazy. Most hiring managers don’t hire lazy, thus the importance of including a cover letter.

A cover letter is a one-page letter (no more than 250 words) whose job is to get the reader to read your resume, as well as persuade why you should be interviewed. At this stage of your job search, focus on getting interviews, not on getting a job offer. Job hunting is a step-by-step process.

Warren Buffett gives the following advice in Gillian Zoe Segal’s book “Getting There: A Book of Mentors” — “Focus on your communication skills.” His reason, “What’s essential is being able to get others to follow your ideas.” Persuasive writing displays strong writing skills; a skill employers value. Above all hard skills, I value communication skills the highest. I gravitate to candidates who show such skills. 

Remember, the reader will not be reading; they’ll be skimming. It’s paramount you start with how you can add value to the employer.

TIP: Paste your cover letter into Hemingway App (www.hemingwayapp.com). This free app will assist you in making your writing concise and clear. As well, it’ll highlight lengthy, complex sentences and common errors. 

After you greet the hiring manager (by name), you’ll begin your cover letter’s first paragraph. This is where the rubber first meets the road — you’ll be introducing yourself. Either you’ll grab the reader’s attention, and they’ll keep reading and open your attached resume, or they’ll click on the trash icon. 

I’ve read more than my share of boring cookie cutter cover letters. Most didn’t inspire me to keep reading after the first sentence. 

Your opening paragraph doesn’t need to be extravagant. Keep it simple and straightforward. State why you’re writing, the position you’re applying for and how you found out about the job opening.

Almost all job seekers start their cover letter with, “I’m applying for X job I saw posted on Y place.” This is a waste of a cover letter’s most valuable real estate. Lead with a strong opening sentence! 

EXAMPLE 1 (simple, to the point):

“I’m an IT professional with more than 15 years of experience looking for an opportunity to apply my skills in new ways. I’d love to bring my expertise and high energy to your growing development team at Sirius Cybernetics Corp.”

EXAMPLE 2 (show enthusiasm):

“I’m excited to see Clampett Oil is hiring an event manager who’s skilled at increasing brand awareness and driving growth with high-traffic events. I’ve attended several of your company’s speaking events. Their high calibre impressed me. With five years of experience coordinating events in the corporate world, I’m confident I’d be a great fit for the role.”

EXAMPLE 3 (show your results):

“Last quarter, I increased Gringotts Instagram followers from 6,377 to 11,633. I also executed two successful ad campaigns that generated over $28,000 in revenue. I’d love to bring my social media expertise to Oscorp as your next social media manager and expand your social reach and deliver above-average ROI.”

EXAMPLE 4 (mutual connection):

“When Alex Johnson, a former colleague, told me you were hiring for a Director of PMO, I knew I had to apply. Alex and I have worked together for many years, most recently on a complex data analysis project at Oceanic Airlines. He believes I’d be a good match for this position on your team.” 

TIP: It’s worth the effort to find or create a connection within the company you’re applying to and bring it to the hiring manager’s attention. Mentioning a connection will set you apart from the other applicants. This is the reason why those who understand the value of networking land the plumb jobs. 

An eye-catching first paragraph will be descriptive and robust. Action words such as “generate,” “deliver,” and “execute” will make your opening stronger.

Next week I’ll discuss your cover letter’s second paragraph, which is your sales pitch. I like to start with, “Let me draw your attention to two reasons why I’d be a great addition to (your team, your department, ABC Inc.).” For now, list 5 – 6 reasons, qualified, why an employer should hire you.