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3 Best Practices for Writing the Opening Paragraph
There are many ways you can use your opening paragraph to stand out from the competition. Below are the three best practices we know will work for you.
Connect to the company or hiring manager. Connections don’t just count when it comes to who you know at the company. There are several ways you might connect to the business or the hiring manager.
For example, learning a bit about the hiring manager through the company’s website or LinkedIn profile might reveal you both worked at the same company but in different departments at the same time. Maybe you both went to the same school. When doing your research, you might have learned your last company was one of the business’ vendors or they won an award (congratulate them!). Such connections make a positive impact because they are personal.
Mention a referral from a current employee, if you have one. Connections count! If you know someone at the company who referred you to the position, mention it right away. Career advisor Lisa McGrimmon says referrals make it easier to build trust with the hiring manager.
Here are some expert tips on how to properly mention a referral:
Get the contact’s permission to use their name. You don’t want this to backfire if your contact doesn’t want you to use their name. They might be disturbed you didn’t first ask their permission and communicate that to the hiring manager, making you seem overly aggressive.
Make sure your contact is on good terms with the hiring manager. If not, then it’s likely your application won’t be given a second thought.
Don’t over-exaggerate or stretch the truth. And if your fib gets back to your company connection, you’ve burned a valuable bridge.
- Use precise keywords. Keywords are the terms and phrases that identify an industry or a profession, or that a hiring manager uses to describe required job skills. They are essential to get your cover letter through applicant tracking systems (ATS), which most companies use to pick the most relevant cover letters and resumes out of hundreds. Career experts at Middlebury College suggest checking the company’s website for words relevant to the company, research professional associations related to the job and of course, you should include keywords from the job description, matching your skills to the job requirements.
4 Cover Letter Opening Paragraph Mistakes
Now that you know the best way to write your cover letter opening, be sure to avoid these four instant cover letter opening turn-offs:
- Writing a generic opening. Don’t start with a common opening like, “I am writing in response to your ad on Craig’s List for an administrative assistant position.” This type of opening doesn’t address the employer’s needs and the skills you bring to the job, says career consultant Robin Ryan. Instead, write with genuine interest in the position.
- Overselling yourself. Confidence is great, but don’t sound too boastful or arrogant like, “I’m the candidate you need for this job,” or “Your company would be lucky to hire me.” Let your related achievements and accomplishments demonstrate this.
- Underselling yourself. Don’t be too humble or self-effacing or point out your shortcomings. If you don’t have all of the stated requirements, there’s no need to say that, especially right off the bat. Your related skills and achievements — and enthusiasm for the job — should compensate for any missing requirements.
- Sounding desperate. You don’t want to let on that you’ve been desperately looking for a job, such as saying, “I’ve been looking for months and months for a job and was just about to give up but when I saw your ad, I thought I’d give it another shot.”
Why Your Cover Letter Heading and Salutation Matters
The heading contains your contact information and the links to your LinkedIn profile, portfolio and professional website pages, if you have them. It’s where a hiring manager can immediately see where you’re located, how to contact you, and where they can learn more about you.
In keeping with business letter formatting, cover letter headings should also include the date the letter is sent as well as the employer’s contact information.
A professional cover letter heading should follow the following format:
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone number: 555-555-5555
LinkedIn profile link (if applicable): https://LinkedIn.com/in/jane-smith
Relevant, personal website or portfolio link (if applicable): www.janesmith.com
The date: This should come after a space and include a space after it.
Hiring manager, recruiter or human resources contact name.
Company address, written in standard post office style and left-justified, according to Purdue University.
3 Best Practices for Creating a Heading
Cover leader headings are straightforward for the most part. But there are a few small details job seekers often miss. If you get them right, they can go a long way in keeping the hiring manager’s eyes on your page. We’ve listed our top three below.
Use an email address that shows only your full name or some combination of your name and first or last initials, such as “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Cute nicknames, numbers and symbols in your email address appear unprofessional, so save those for your friends and family.
If you have a LinkedIn or other relevant social media account, only add a link to your profile if you’re sure it’s up-to-date, polished and can complement your cover letter and resume with more in-depth and relevant information and recommendations. The same is true for your website and portfolio: They should be fresh and present you in the best light. Remember, you’re trying to give the best impression possible.
Human resources consulting firm Robert Half advises to only link to work from the last five years and to use your online accounts to showcase your industry experience, core strengths and technical know-how. And like your email address, keep your website and social media URLs personal but professional, with simple titles such as “jenniferjones.com” or “samcho.com/blog.”
Unless you’re in a creative position or industry, keep it simple. Readability is vital, and if your heading is too busy, it will be difficult to read. If you’re applying for a design or creative position, however, you can add your logo or a creatively designed heading. In that case, your heading design must match the design of your resume heading so they look like a unified package. Even then, don’t go nuts designing your heading! Keep it clean for readability.
The salutation is where you greet the hiring manager, who will likely be the person reviewing your cover letter, according to job expert Maddie Lloyd. If you’re not sure who the hiring manager is, a little digging around online might reveal their name. LinkedIn and the company’s website are great places to start. If all else fails, it’s acceptable to email or call the company and ask.
The recommended salutation style is “Dear Terry Jones” because it’s formal and respectful without being stuffy, and it’s warm without being too casual. Avoid using titles such as “Ms.” or “Mr.” which could offend the hiring manager if you mistake their gender identity. If you can’t find the hiring manager’s name, it’s acceptable to use “Dear Hiring Manager.” Don’t use “To Whom it May Concern.” It won’t help you stand out from other applicants and it’s considered stuffy and outdated, according to the experts at Jobscan.
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