Ah! The dreaded cover letter. It’s tempting not to submit one, particularly if it is not specified in the application instructions. However, the cover letter is an opportunity to sell your unique skill set and to spell out exactly what you can do for the hiring company.
Here’s how to properly address your cover letter, how to write the salutation, and how to compose a dynamic opening paragraph.
Also, because everyone is at a different place on their career path, we also provide some cover letter examples of opening paragraphs and some general cover letter tips.
It’s worth spending time on a cover letter. Not submitting a cover letter can be interpreted as meaning one of two things. Either it’s too much of an investment timewise, or you just don’t see the need. Either way, it’s not a great reflection of your enthusiasm for the job. Your resume may be impressive, but why not seal the deal with a stellar cover letter also?
First, here's how to write the heading.
At the top of your letter, put your contact information, including your email, phone number, your LinkedIn profile, and a website address if you have an online portfolio.
Next, address the cover letter to the appropriate person. Rather than just addressing the letter to “The Hiring Manager,” always try to find out the name of the hiring manager.
Check the job information page. Is there an email address? Try inputting the email address into a Google search to see if the full name comes up. Also, try looking on the company website or searching the company’s LinkedIn page for the head of HR or another specific person. If all else fails, try calling the company directly.
If you are sending an email cover letter, here’s what to write in the header.
Subject Line: Job Application for [position you’re applying to].
At the top of the cover letter, underneath your contact information, address the cover letter as you would with a normal cover letter format:
Hiring Manager’s Name
Company City, State, ZIP Code
The salutation comes next. Use the hiring manager's first and last name.
“Dear [First Name Last Name].”
If you cannot find the person's name, don’t use a generic greeting like “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Both of these terms are outdated. Instead, just use the company name both in the address at the top and in the greeting. For example, “Dear Amazon.” As a last resort, you could use "Dear Hiring Manager," or one of the following:
Dear Software Engineer Hiring Team,
Dear Human Resources,
To the IT Recruitment Team,
You can use the person's first name only if they sign off with their first name in a response to you. Otherwise, use their full name, and if a person has a title, for example, Prof. or Dr., use it because it shows respect. Lastly, be sure to use the right spelling.
It’s vital that your first paragraph be bold and impactful. Now is not the time to be modest. Aim for a strong hook, some humor, a statement about what makes you a great candidate, and provide some supporting evidence for your claim! Here’s an example:
“Dear Dr. Atkins,
A current employee of your company suggested that I apply for the role of product manager because I have long been a fan of your recent innovations. I recently brought one product to market from the concept stage in eight months, which was record time, and I would hope to have a similar impact on your new product development of cutting-edge customer solutions."
This paragraph not only implies that a trusted employee has referred you, but you have also done your research on the company and are truly a fan. This letter would be even more powerful if the employee mentioned actually delivers a referral directly to the hiring manager.
You’ll have to research the company to really nail the opening paragraph and find a specific topic to reference. Just reading the job description probably won’t give you enough information to really wow the hiring manager. If you read up on the company's website, you might find out some news or information about the company's business activities or strategy that you can refer to in your opening paragraph. Even better, find a contact person in the company who can give you the latest scoop.
When you are composing your opening paragraph, think about your most important selling points—your competitive advantage. Does your competitive advantage align with the company’s needs? Read the job description carefully and use align what you choose as your greatest selling point with what the company is seeking.
For example, if you are early in your career without much experience, your biggest selling point might be that you have the most current knowledge of technology or theory. If you are mid-level, your biggest selling point might be that you are an experienced collaborator or manager. If you are advanced in your career, your biggest selling point might be that you have extensive knowledge and experience in a field directly related to the company's current work.
Here are some examples of opening paragraphs for different career stages.
"Dear Mr. Watkins,
I was elated when I learned that I had won first prize in an online coding contest because it has prompted me to apply for the position of software engineer. My proven technology skills match your company's needs, and I would be excited to apply them in developing cutting edge solutions with your tech team."
"Dear Mr. Watkins,
In reading your job posting for a PR strategist, I realize that my recent work with local and national media outlets is directly related to your marketing needs. Over the past five years, my press releases and PR strategy have consistently improved my company’s client approvals, bringing in 30 percent more business this past year. I have wanted to apply my PR and networking acumen in a more challenging context for a long time. Filling this role would be the perfect opportunity."
"Dear Mr. Watkins,
For the last eight years, I have dedicated my career as a financial advisor to helping my clients build wealth progressively with a measured yet aggressive approach to investments. My clients express 100% satisfaction with my strategy, and I am confident that my approach is closely aligned with that of your esteemed financial team. I would be honored to join that team and continue to uphold the fine reputation that your company has established."
All of these examples do three things.
They focus on what the candidate can do for the hiring company.
Each example uses a measurable achievement to support the candidate’s claim that they are suitable for the job.
They express why the job seeker wants the position.
Expert Tip: It’s important to use keywords in your letter. Use words and phrases that you find in the job description that applicant tracking systems will pick up.
Compose an opener that covers these points and you'll have made an excellent first impression. Plus, the hiring manager will be keen to hear more in a job interview. To complete your cover letter, for cover letter templates, and for how to end a cover letter, check out these guides for writing and formatting your cover letter.