According to Addison Group, only 18% of employers rank cover letters as important.
But if you had to flip through a hundred cover letters a day, and each one began, “To whom it may concern, I am applying for the digital marketing position at your company,” how important would you rank them?
A cover letter might not always be the most important thing to a hiring manager, but if your resume or connections aren’t enough to get you through the door, a powerful cover letter could be the factor that gets you an interview. For instance, a hiring manager might only read your cover letter if your resume raised questions about why you’re applying for the position, or why you’re leaving your current role. In cases like this, your cover letter can become a critical factor in whether or not you move forward.
Your cover letter is an opportunity to showcase your personality, display your interest in the job, and include relevant information that otherwise wouldn't be surfaced in your application. But there’s a fine line between standing out and coming across as brash or gimmicky. An ideal cover letter leaves the hiring manager with a positive and memorable impression of you, something a resume alone won’t always do.
Read on to find out eight ways to grab an employer’s attention with an exceptional cover letter introduction.
1. Start with humor.
Employers are humans too, and they’ll often appreciate a good joke, pun, or funny opening line as much as the next person. If done tastefully and respectfully, starting your cover letter off with a joke can be an excellent way to stand out.
Plus, a joke can still include a powerful explanation for why you’re the right person for the job, without coming off as boastful. For instance, think about something you love to do or something you’re really good at, and then imagine how friends or family might make a joke about it -- if you’re really good at analyzing data, for example, a joke or pun related to that might be a good way to exemplify both your skills and personality.
Here’s a good example of using humor to bring attention to your skills, from The Muse: “I considered submitting my latest credit card statement as proof of just how much I love online shopping, but I thought a safer approach might be writing this cover letter, describing all the reasons why I’m the girl who can take Stylight’s business to the next level.”
Right away, the personality displayed here grabs the reader’s attention. Even better, this applicant uses humor to convey an important message to the employer -- she loves shopping, and she’s well-versed in ecommerce as a consumer -- which might’ve otherwise not come up on her resume or phone screening.
2. Start with passion.
For an employer to know you’ll stay dedicated to the role and company, they’ll want to ensure you’re passionate about what the job entails. Passion is more incentivizing than a paycheck.
For an employer, demonstrating how your passion matches the required skillset is a promising sign that you’d enjoy your job -- if you enjoy your job, you’re more likely to stick around longer, help drive company growth, and become a dedicated member of the team.
Consider starting your cover letter with a few lines that showcase your passion: “I’ve been passionate about writing since I was ten years old. My love for writing has led me to write two personal travel blogs, get published in a local newspaper, and pursue two summer internships at publishing firms. Now, I’d love the opportunity to combine my writing skills with my interest in storytelling as a content marketer at Company A.”
If you don’t have extensive work experience in the industry you're trying to break into, but you’ve been unofficially preparing for years, let the employer know. In the above example, the candidate’s resume would probably look weak, with only internships indicating professional experience. Her cover letter introduction, however, shows the employer she’s been writing for audiences and advancing her natural ability for years.
3. Start with an accomplishment.
Employers like seeing numbers. It isn’t enough to mention you’re a “digital marketer with proven success in SEO strategies.” Proven success? Okay, can we see?
It’s more powerful to provide statistics. You want to show the employer you’re capable of solving for long-term results. How have you contributed to your company’s bottom line? For instance, did your Facebook marketing campaign grow your social media following, or has your blog content increased organic traffic?
Consider starting your cover letter with something like this: “Over the past year as digital marketing manager at Company A, I’ve generated $30k+ in revenue, increased organic traffic to our blog by 14%, and almost tripled our social media ROI.”
Even if you don’t have the work experience to report impressive numbers, you can still offer proof when opening with an accomplishment. Think about the qualitative feedback you’ve received from employers. For instance, how would your boss compliment you or tell you you’re doing a good job? An accomplishment can be as simple as your boss sending you an appreciative email regarding your diligent meeting notes.
In this example from The Muse, the applicant provides an example of a skill for which he’s been previously acknowledged: “My last boss once told me that my phone manner could probably diffuse an international hostage situation. I’ve always had a knack for communicating with people -- the easygoing and the difficult alike -- and I’d love to bring that skill to the office manager position at Shutterstock.”
Even though the applicant doesn’t offer numbers as proof of success, they do manage to highlight some proof of their past performance in the form of a former boss's praise. The candidate’s candid and funny explanation -- that his last boss liked his phone manners -- is another good way to brag about accomplishments without, well, bragging.
4. Start with excitement for the company.
Employers want to know why you like their company, and they’ll appreciate an explanation on why you’re interested. But it’s imperative your reasoning is thoughtful and considerate, and specific to the company. For instance, if you’re applying for a financial position, don’t write about your interest in finance; write about how your interest in finance relates to the company's goals.
You don’t want to just say, “I’m excited to work at Company A because I’m passionate about finance, and I think my skills and experiences will be a good match.” Sure, you’ve explained why you want to work in the financial industry, but you’ve done nothing to explain why Company A specifically suits your interests.
Instead, you’ll want to mention something about the company and culture in correlation to your interest in finance. Take a look at this example from Glassdoor: “When I discovered Accounting Solutions was hiring, I knew I had to apply. I’ve been waiting to find a company where I feel like I can make a difference while working as an accountant. Not only are your clients awesome, but the overall mission of your company is something I believe in, too.”
This candidate shows they've done their research and care about Accounting Solutions in particular. Remember, employers want to hire people who have a demonstrated interest in working at their company. They want someone who will enjoy the nature of the work, but just as importantly, they want a candidate who enjoys the work culture and the company mission as well.
5. Start with news about the company.
Mentioning company news in your introduction indicates you’ve done research on the company. Plus, including company news might give you the chance to incorporate your own values, as well. If the company just won an award for its innovative solutions in the computer industry, for instance, you might add how you value forward-thinking methods in technology, as well.
Here’s an example of an introduction that uses a newsworthy event, from Indeed: “When I saw that Company ABC was featured in Fortune Magazine last month for its commitment to renewable energy and reducing waste in the workplace -- all while experiencing triple-digit revenue growth -- I was inspired. With my track record of reducing costs by 30%+ and promoting greener workplaces, I’m excited about the possibility of taking on the account executive role to expand your company’s growth and work towards a more sustainable future.”
The candidate does a good job demonstrating how Company ABC’s news aligns well with the candidate’s personal achievements. She shows she’s done her research on the company, and also indicates she values similar environmental efforts in the workplace.
6. Start with what they don’t know.
Your cover letter should never directly restate what’s already listed on your resume -- it should offer something new, expand on what the employer already knows about you, and offer new details about what you can bring to the company. Impress employers by telling them something about your skills or experiences they don’t already know.
To offer new information not displayed on his resume, one of my colleagues at HubSpot wrote this cover letter introduction: “My resume will tell you I’m Content Marketing Certified. Your records will tell you I’ve interviewed for a few different HubSpot positions in the past. What neither one will tell you is that I’ve been working with your customer success team to build a new campaign strategy for my company--one of your latest (and largest) clients.”
The candidate wrote an introduction that captured the reader’s attention and demonstrated he wasn’t interested in wasting anyone’s time. This is a memorable and impressive tactic. Consider writing a similar introduction, where you provide information absent from your resume.
7. Start with what you can bring to the table.
A hiring manager here at HubSpot told me she always looks for cover letters to tell her how the company and applicant can benefit each other.
Any employer is going to want to know why you think you can grow from the position you're applying to. An employer is more inclined to hire you if she thinks you have a genuine, intrinsic motivation to work hard in the role.
A hiring manager is also going to want to know how you’ll contribute to the company’s larger vision and goals. It’s important for the manager to know what you want to get out of the role, but it’s equally important to know how you’ll help the company grow. How will the company benefit from you, over someone else?
Here’s an example: “I am seeking opportunities to improve my writing ability in a forward-thinking environment, while growing organic traffic and optimizing content to beat out competitors in search engines. At Company A, I believe I will find that match.”
See how it works? In the example above, the candidate explained how she’d benefit from the role. She also explained what Company A could get out of the transaction -- increased organic traffic, and optimized content -- so the hiring manager is informed of the equality of the potential relationship.
8. Start with a statement that surprises them.
When applying for a role at HubSpot, one of my colleagues began her cover letter like this: “I like to think of myself as a round peg thriving in a square hole kind of world.”
Doesn’t that make you want to keep reading? It certainly kept me interested. Of course, you’ll only want to include a bold statement if you can follow it up with some concrete supporting information. My colleague, for example, continued by writing this: “What does this mean? It means that my diverse background makes me a well-rounded candidate who is able to comprehend, develop and execute various functions in business.”
While the rest of her cover letter veered on the side of professsional, her opening line was casual, quirky, and surprising. Plus, you feel her personality in the line, and when an employer feels like a real person is behind the cover letter, she’s going to want to keep reading.
Originally published May 2, 2018 6:00:00 AM, updated May 03 2018