Cover letters have the (incorrect) reputation nowadays of being a formality. Like saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, or ending an email with “best.” Frequently, people write a cover letter “just in case” the hiring manager feels the urge to look at it. Which is the wrong move, considering that it’s capable of making or breaking a candidate’s chances.
You probably get where I’m going with this. In the same way that it’s really obvious when an actor is phoning in a performance, the person reading your cover letter can tell when you fill it with generic and meaningless filler.
With the beginning of the cover letter dictating whether the rest will be read or not, let’s focus on the very first line. Here are five phrases you need to ax now.
1. “To Whom it May Concern”
Would you read a letter addressed like this? You’d probably toss it thinking it was junk mail, right? Hiring managers, who are living, breathing human beings, have similar reactions. Make your cover letter more personal by trying your best to address it to the right person. Here’s more on how to do that.
2. “My Name Is…”
Assuming the hiring manager looks over your letter, your first sentence is the only one you can guarantee he or she reads. Is the most engaging or important thing to start with really your name? Give some serious thought to what your first line should be. (Also, give the reader credit for being able to figure out your name.) If you were in an elevator with your potential manager and had about 15 seconds to make an impression and convince him or her to keep the conversation going, what would you say? Use that.
3. “I Am Writing to Express my Interest…”
This probably won’t get your application tossed, but it’s such a wasted opportunity. The cover letter is legitimately the place to “express interest,” so do it. Make a compelling case for why you’re so thrilled to see the job posting, and offer how you’ve been following the company’s latest initiatives. Write something that shows you really are enthusiastic about this specific opportunity, and that you’re not just sending in some form letter.
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4. “I Have Enclosed for Your Consideration my Resume, Outlining my Qualifications...”
Your cover letter is not the place to rehash your resume, and honestly, it’s silly to mention it at all when you’ve presumably sent the document the same way you sent the cover letter. This is your chance to share your story, motivation, or excitement in a way that would be impossible to convey in your resume (i.e., let your personality shine!). The goal for your cover letter is for it to add something important to your application, not to be redundant.
5. “I’m Probably Not the Best Candidate, But...”
All of these phrases have been bad, but in my opinion this is the worst of the bunch. If you think about it, including this in your cover letter is literally giving the hiring manager a reason not to hire you. It’s one thing to be humble, but’s another to set yourself up for failure. Focus on all the reasons why you should be hired, and let the search committee decide whether or not you’re the best candidate. Hiring managers are reading tons of cover letters, and if you give them a reason to dismiss yours, they will.
So, now you know what not to say. Here are 31 examples of really excellent ways to start off your cover letter. Each one is unique and grabs the reader’s attention. While you won’t be able to copy any of them directly (being unique and all), they should offer you plenty of inspiration to write your own clever opening paragraphs.
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The first couple of sentences in any cover letter have a loaded task: they are supposed to grab the attention of a recruiter who has already reviewed hundreds of applications. Then they need to convince a hiring manager to dive deeper into your background to find out whether your skills and personality match the position they need to fill.
Conveying all this in a few lines is by no means easy. After all, the beginning of an application letter should be catchy, but not overselling (especially when you are a student or graduate who doesn’t have years of experience to refer to). It should be professional sounding, but not boring. And the border between those extremes is sometimes blurry.
Therefore, it is a good idea to have a couple of cover letter examples you can fall back on, when you are desperate for inspiration. We have picked a few examples for first sentences in cover letters. (We have also included a brief explanation when to choose a certain sentence and what pitfalls to avoid in connection with it.)
1) The ‘better safe than sorry’ example
“I have read your advertisement of the junior research assistant position with great interest and would like to use this opportunity to apply for said position. What has particularly sparked my interest in this job is…”
Works well when...
...you do not consider yourself a great writer and the job you have set out to apply for does not require you to be one. In that case, just keep the start of your letter simple and straight to the point.
- Referring to the position with a generic or downright wrong term. Stick to the exact one mentioned in the job description.
- Forgetting to mention a specific reason why you found the job description interesting.
2) The ‘extra confident’ example
“The sales rep position advertised by you sounds like a great match with the skills and qualifications that I have been able to acquire during [relevant study programme or employment]:…”
Works well when...
...the job you are applying for requires a certain amount of self-confidence and sales abilities - and you actually have the skills and experience to back up your claims. You just have to be aware that you are using an element of provocation here that not every recruiter finds charming.
- Using phrases like “perfect match”, “no one better for the position” etc. Remember there is a fine line between confidence and douchebag.
- Making claims that you already know you can’t deliver on - after an opening line like this, you will be subject to extra scrutiny and tough questions in any interview.
3) The ‘enthusiast’ example
“Having finished my education in international business, I’m in search of an opportunity to combine my passion for exploring cultures with my professional career. Your advertisement of the position as business development manager for the French market, therefore, appears very intriguing to me. …”
Works well when…
...you don’t have that much practical experience in the field that you are applying for and you want to convey that you are eager and willing to learn.
- Coming across as uninformed. You have to rely on the information available to you to deduct what you can possibly learn from this job. For example, writing that you are passionate to learn about auditing when you are applying for a marketing position can raise some question marks on the recruiter’s side.
- Using too many buzzwords - enthusiasm is cool, but there is such a thing as an overkill.
4) The ‘creative quote’ example
“As economist Hal Varian has observed: ‘A billion hours ago, modern homo sapiens emerged. A billion minutes ago, Christianity began. A billion seconds ago, the IBM PC was released. A billion Google searches ago ... was this morning.’ I have chosen this quote as an introduction to my application as a digital marketing manager because…”
Works well when…
...you are applying for a position or to a company where you know a certain amount of creativity is appreciated in your communication - and you actually find a relevant quote.
- Attributing a quote to the wrong person. (Double-check! Only because you’ve read Ryan Reynolds saying it in an interview, doesn’t mean that he actually came up with it... maybe he was quoting Albert Einstein? Extra points, though, when a Ryan Reynolds quote gets you an interview invitation...)
- Using generic quotes. It’s great that you “seize the day”, but no hiring manager cares. As a rule of thumb: any quote that can be found on a greeting card that features a beach, footprints in the sand and a very pink sunset are not cover letter material.
Have you decided on your opening lines? Great, now you only have to write the rest of the application. Check out our cover letter guide for more tips.