Your job hunt often starts out by jumping through a number of word-related hoops — filling in endless forms, polishing your resume, perhaps producing extra written materials such as diversity statements.
All of this is typically topped off with an introductory cover letter. Don’t treat it as a formality.
The cover letter is your first opportunity to make a good impression and your only opportunity to include information not covered by the forms or your resume. You want yours to be lively, strong, engaging, memorable and absolutely no longer than one page. Yes, it’s possible. There are hundreds of excellent sample cover letters out there to use as inspiration.
Before you start writing, however, remember this: Whether or not an employer actually reads your cover letter depends almost entirely on what you say in your first sentence.
It sounds daunting, but fear not. You can help ensure that a potential employer will devour your cover letter from first line to last if it starts off by immediately establishing common ground.
You can accomplish this in a number of ways. If you have a mutual friend or acquaintance, here’s the place to say so. Perhaps your research has revealed that you and the hiring manager went to the same school or come from the same area. Mention it. Perhaps he or she has written a book, an article or a blog post, or has been quoted somewhere. If you can honestly say you enjoyed or were inspired by these words (extra points for including a few), here is your chance.
Can’t manage any of the above? Look for something upbeat and/or intelligent to say that proves you know a few things about the company you’re seeking to join. Has it recently opened a new facility, merged with another firm, won an award or embarked upon a new product line? These are the kinds of things you not only need to know, but need to show that you know.
Perhaps you believe no one ever reads cover letters. Well, the truth is, people usually start to read them but then quit after the first dozen words. Don’t let this happen to you.
Craft an eye-opening first sentence that establishes rapport. Then go on to explain positively and powerfully why you’re the ideal candidate for the job.