Resumes tend to steal much of the limelight when you are preparing to apply for a new job, but in many cases, the cover letter is the first thing a manager will read. Or worse, the dreaded scanning software — also known as the ATS — will decide if you make it to the shortlist of candidates based on how well you wrote your cover letter.
Before we get to the examples, there are a few key components to your first sentence that you need to keep in mind:
When you’re the expert, you need to make that clear. The first sentence of your cover letter is like your initial handshake and a snapshot of your professional ability all in one.
So carefully add details indicating your skills that match the job posting. You also want to mention the name of the position (even shorthand) in the first sentence.
“Make sure the letter is targeted and specific. You can’t just say ‘I’d be a great team member.’ You have to let the hiring manager know what specific skills you have that would make you a great marketing manager or office assistant,” Anita Bruzzese, author of Take This Job and Thrive, wrote.
“I have been preparing to become a Director of Surgery for the last 12 years at Mt. Sinai Hospital, where I’ve worked beneath Dr. Benson to learn the best leadership practices.”
If an executive at the company you are interviewing for suggested you apply, be sure to state that connection and endorsement upfront. You have the backing of an MVP at the new company, and that means something. But you’ll want to use that information to share your connection and to show that you are the right candidate by also stating you have the experience, education, or drive. You also want to make sure you put that name in the opening paragraph of your cover letter.
Example first sentence:
“When Sarah Sidle called me to recommend I apply for the Lead Software Engineer job, I knew that it would be the right company and challenge to suit my technical education.”
Do not use the tired “I was so excited to come across the job posting for XYZ…” first sentence. It shows that you’ve likely just copied a cover letter template and not put much effort into customizing it for this new opportunity. “Start with the punch line — why this job is exciting to you and what you bring to the table,” Jodi Glickman, author of Great on the Job, suggests.
The key to a stellar first sentence that grabs the recruiter’s attention is to show you really want this job, but not to be overly excited (read: unprofessional) or underwhelming (using a boring opener).
Example excitement explanation:
“I have been avidly following the release of your new digital platform over the last year, and when the Marketing Director position was flagged by a Google Alert this week, I immediately rearranged my schedule to apply for the position.”
You’ve likely read all about how scanning software will read through your resume and cover letter to identify if you’re a good fit. For those programs, it’s all about the keywords. Here’s how you find them.
Go through the job posting and read it once. Any repeated words, highlight them. Any key skills, highlight them. Then strategically place these words in your material to indicate you have those exact skills for the job.
Here’s one example opening sentence with keywords:
“I’m applying for the Operations Manager position because I have a decade of experience in the same industry, but I also have the unique combination of logistics, negotiations, and budget-creation skills you seek.”
Lastly, you can (and should) lead with your best skill. If the job you’re applying for is looking for a very specific set of skills or education that only you and a select few have, you need to state that.
Even more impressive is backing up your proficiency with proof. Just like your resume needs data to support its claims, your cover letter should lead with data too.
Keep in mind that you want to keep your cover letter concise, in general. Getting straight to the point in the first sentence will help make your cover letter stand out, and it’ll be easy for a busy hiring manager to scan quickly. “Most cover letters I see are too long,” John Lees, author of Knockout CV, says.
Example sentence with supporting evidence:
“I’m applying for the Motorsport Engineering Analyst position because I am one of the few graduate engineers with a racing pedigree, which has been proven by designing and optimizing race-winning vehicles using my own coding and analysis systems.”
The strength of this sentence will determine if you make it to the shortlist of candidates based on how well you wrote your cover letter.
— Kattie Thorndyke
This article originally appeared on Ladders.
© 2022 Fairygodboss