How Do I Start A Cover Letter?


Not every employer out there wants you send them a cover letter, and some make it clear in the job posting by asking you not to send one with your resume. However, 50% of employers do read the cover letters they receive, and the ones that do take your ability to communicate effectively into consideration when deciding whether to have you in for an interview.

The trouble for many people is how to begin the actual body of the thing. “What should I say?” many wonder. My advice is to start by thinking of things from the perspective of the person who is going to receive your letter at the other end.

Whether your cover letter is going to be sent by email, as part of an online application, hand delivered or in the post, it’s going to ether start by being received by only one of two people; the right person or someone who needs to pass it on to the right person.

In either case, unless they aren’t going to look at it at all go right to the resume, either of the two people are going to ponder, “What’s this letter all about?” at first glance. So if it lands in the Receptionists mail, he or she will have to open it and read enough in order to know who to forward it to in the company based on the contents. If it first lands in the inbox of the person making up the short list of people to interview, they’ll be wondering what it’s about on first glance too, as the job you are applying to isn’t the only thing they’ get mail about.

Make the assumption these are busy people with a lot to do in a day. Time is money; that kind of thing. The time they are now spending reading your cover letter is precious time to both you and them, so you should be thinking as you write your first few words, “Get to the point right away.”

I’m going to make two essential suggestions. Once you have the date of your letter at the top and some contact information just below that, put what the letter is regarding next in bold and underline it quoting any job competition number provided. It might look like this:

RE. Senior Bookkeeper/Account #16-537 

Remember how I said your cover letter might be read by someone who has to forward it to the right person? This information clearly and boldly stated just above the content of your letter gives the person enough information right there to get your cover letter and application moving to the right person. Let’s face it, after the time you invested in writing this cover letter, you don’t really want to put your chances of a potential interview in the hands of a Receptionist, expecting him or her to really read the entire letter without this and then figure out who to pass it along to. They are too busy and you’re not helping yourself.

The second suggestion I have is to start the first sentence stating what it is you want. What do you want? An interview of course! Why so many people are uncomfortable actually asking for an interview when that is precisely what they are applying for in the first place is beyond me. It’s not aggressive, it’s not rude, it’s actually exactly what the interviewer appreciates because you save them time.

“I am requesting an interview for the Senior Bookkeeper/Account  position. Having reviewed your desired qualifications, I am confident in stating my qualifications, experience and skills are an excellent match making me an ideal candidate.”

“But I can’t say that!” at least some of you reading this are gasping! Well, other readers will be happy to hear that because they are already revising their cover letters and just improved their chances because you’re reducing yours. You want an interview right|? The point of your cover letter and motivation for writing at all is immediately clear right? The time of the person reading it is respected right? It’s all good.

You see when your letter gets into the hands of the right person, the job you are applying to may not in fact be the only job they are interviewing people for. Not to mention of course they get a lot of other correspondence; bills, invoices, requests for charitable donations, business letters etc. Again, as they open your letter they first ask themselves, “What does this person want?” You are doing them a favour.

Scared of the direct language that says essentially you’re the right person; the best person for the job? Afraid that’s boasting? It’s not and in the forthcoming interview you are asking for, aren’t you going to be making the best case you can as being the best person for the job? The one they should hire? So where’s the conflict?

Here’s the clincher; at least for me. If the cover letters you’re writing were effective, you’d be getting calls for interviews on a regular basis; assuming you are qualified in the first place. If you’re not getting those calls, don’t be timid and afraid of changing your approach in order to see if you get a different result.

You are undoubtedly good at what you do; maybe even very good at whatever it is you do. This is in my area of expertise; take it or leave it but think on it.