By now, you probably know that recruiters and hiring managers won’t read the rest of your cover letter if you’re unable to grab their attention immediately. That’s why it’s critical to make that first paragraph count, compelling them to read further. You only have a small amount of space to do it, but it is possible to pack a huge punch in 50 words.
So, what belongs in that critical first paragraph? Here are key elements to include.
To hook the reader immediately, start out with a compelling anecdote or a phrase that will make your reader sit up and take notice. You might, for example, tell a very short story about what got you interested in the field in the first place. For example, if you’re applying for a job in publishing, you might discuss how you’ve been an avid reader since you were a child and mention some of your favorite books. Or, connect your interest in the position to something that’s going on in the news.
Make sure you convey how passionate you are about the company and the specific position. Show, don’t tell. You want to express enthusiasm that comes across as genuine, so the hiring manager can see that you’re truly interested in the role and have done research on the company to determine that you’re a good fit. You might discuss values you share with the organization, for example, and attributes that you admire.
Briefly mention key qualifications — two or three will do the trick. You don’t need to elaborate in the first paragraph — you’ll be able to go into detail in the next couple of paragraphs. Instead, simply list the skills or experience, so the hiring manager will know upfront that you have the qualifications to back up your enthusiasm.
There’s only a short paragraph available to help you introduce yourself via your cover letter, but if you keep it concise, you’ll be able to express yourself and present yourself as an exemplary candidate — and get the hiring manager to notice you immediately.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.
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