How to Start a Cover Letter
Your cover letter needs to be tailored to a specific job just like your resume. When you’re trying to grab the attention of a hiring manager, the opening sentence of a cover letter is the most important. Having an opening statement that is customized and targeted to the company and role will entice the hiring manager to read the rest of it.
However, when you're staring at a blank screen, it's hard to think of something that will stand out. You may even doubt if you should bother writing a cover letter for your dream job.
We’ll show you how to start a cover letter that not only grabs the attention of the hiring manager but also increases your chances at an interview. We have several opening statements of successful cover letters for you, and a short explanation of what makes each example good. After the examples, this post has expert tips on how to get started writing your own: how to set up your document, address your cover letter, and greet your audience.
Do you even need a cover letter?
Not too long ago, the use of cover letters was on the decline. However, that is changing. From 2020 to 2021, the use of cover letters almost doubled. Hiring managers are reading them more often.
You’ve got almost a 50/50 chance of applying to a job where a cover letter will be expected and read. With those kinds of odds, it’s a good idea to have one at the ready. Not to mention, a cover letter provides a vehicle for explaining faux pas that show up on your resume -- employment gaps, for example.
At ZipJob, we believe all candidates should submit a cover letter with every job application, from an internship to an executive role. Our track record speaks for itself: we've helped more than 30,000 people end their job search with new resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and cover letters. With a bit of practice, you can get your cover letter ready to go in no time.
Please note: this post is specifically about how to write the beginning of a cover letter. For tips on writing a complete cover letter, check out What A Good Cover Letter Looks Like (Example).
Let's dive in. Here are the sections of this post:
The best examples of opening a cover letter
How to start a cover letter
Examples of what to avoid when starting a cover letter
Final tip: leverage your relevant achievements
Cover letter introduction examples (from experts)
The BEST example of a strong opening statement:
We asked Niki Beaulieu, Senior Resume Writer, to share the best example of how to start a cover letter. She said:
"As a senior-level executive with over 15 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, I outpace the competition through strategic planning and tactical execution."
This sample cover letter introduction follows this formula, also provided by Niki Beaulieu:
"As a [insert job title/umbrella title], I have a [# of years] background in the [industry type] [insert an example of how the customer benefits the company they work for] by leveraging [insert one to three key skills related to how the customer realizes those achievements]."
While a cover letter is meant to complement a resume, it doesn’t have to be written in the same professional (stuffy) language. As you probably know, using first-person verbiage in your resume is discouraged but you should use first-person in your cover letter.
Use your cover letter to demonstrate your personality, passion, and commitment to excellence. Hiring managers and recruiters want to see that you love what you do. After reading 50 cookie cutter -- boring -- cover letters, yours will be a welcome change. Here are 5 more cover letter introduction examples.
A basic example:
Dear [Hiring Manager],
I am intrigued at the opportunity to join the Google team as a Junior Web Developer. My passion for web development started about 4 years ago. Since then I have graduated from Stanford with a degree in computer science and I completed a summer internship at Chegg. There, I was part of a team who helped dramatically improve and optimize the user interface (UI).
The first of our cover letter openers succinctly mentions the job candidate's relevant experience. If you don't have a long track record of professional experiences yet, any practical experience -- like an internship -- is good to mention.
An example that mentions a referral:
Dear [Hiring Manager],
Alison Lombardi suggested I contact you regarding the position you have open for a graphic designer. In the past 9 years, I’ve completed numerous projects and won some awards for creativity and originality. I would love the opportunity to interview for the position and explain how I can benefit [name of company].
Successful cover letters are able to grab the attention of the reader and keep it. This person is able to mention a mutual contact. Since the hiring team is likely full of busy people, mentioning a real person's name is going to quickly stand out on your cover letter. This cover letter opening example takes advantage of that earned attention to call out some professional achievements.
A good example from Monster.com:
Dear Ms. West:
I was excited to see your opening for a customer service rep, and I hope to be invited for an interview.
My background includes serving as a customer service associate within both call-center and retail environments. Most recently, I worked on the customer service desk for Discount-Mart, where my responsibilities included handling customer merchandise returns, issuing refunds/store credits, flagging damaged merchandise for shipment back to vendors and providing back-up cashiering during busy periods.
This example draws the reader in by addressing a real person by name. While it doesn't come out and say "I'm the perfect candidate for the job," this opening statement allows the audience to come to that conclusion. Notice how the first paragraph includes relevant experience with core skills that speak directly to the job requirements.
An example from the Interview Guys containing a friendly and personal tone:
Dear Mr. Sorensen:
When I saw the job posting looking for a Production Office Coordinator for the educational television series, “Wonder Kids,” I knew I had to submit my resume. I am a hard-working and enthusiastic Production Office Coordinator with over eight years of practical hands on experience and am ready for my next adventure! I am currently looking for an opportunity to continue working within the industry and know my skills and experiences would be a good fit for the position and the “Wonder Kids” team overall.
What makes this opening paragraph great is the specificity. This wouldn't work for any other company, which makes it stand out from the candidates who send the same cover letter for all job positions they apply to. Instead, this ideal candidate describes a career goal that aligns with the company culture. The second sentence includes some character traits that would help the applicant succeed quickly if hired. The opener is specific to the company, which allows room for the rest of the cover letter to detail more core skills and a relevant accomplishment or two.
An example from Askamanager.org:
Dear Hiring Manager:
It is with great enthusiasm that I submit my application for the position of Sales Coordinator for the Westeros Castle Project. As an administrative professional with over ten years’ experience, I know my diverse skills and qualifications will make me an asset to the Westeros project team.
If none of the other examples fit you or your career goals, this example is an easy cover letter template to adapt to your own needs. It's perfectly acceptable to address your letter to the hiring manager if the name is not advertised. Note the other information this sample cover letter includes as well: the position, your current role, your years of relevant experience, and the team you'd be joining.
Follow these good examples above to capture any hiring manager’s attention and increase your chances of landing the interview.
Once you know which of these cover letter examples you want to use, you're ready to start writing your actual cover letter. Here's how to get started.
How to start a cover letter
A cover letter should be written using a business professional format. It needs to have a header (your contact information) that matches your resume. In fact, all of your career marketing documents (resume, cover letter, thank you notes, etc.) should have matching headers, margins, and fonts. After your header, include the following:
Reference line for adding any job codes that may appear in the job description (RE: Job ID#)
The best way to accomplish matching the contact information on your cover letter to your resume is to open your resume and hit CTRL > S or Command > S to "Save As" and make a new file. Once you’ve saved it as a new file, then you can delete everything below the header and start anew by spacing down and adding the date and company contact information.
The date is self-explanatory, but a lot of questions come up about the company address section. These questions usually center on not knowing the company’s address. The internet makes finding addresses fairly simple. This is not something to skip out on because hiring managers are looking for people who’ve put in the most effort to target their particular job opening.
For the company contact information, you want to include:
Hiring manager’s name
Company street address
Company city, state, and zip code
The reference line
This line is a simple way to show that you are customizing your cover letter to an individual job. It’s such an easy thing to include because the information for it is right in the job description. By having a reference line, you ensure that the cover letter and resume make it to the right hiring manager if it is being screened by someone else first -- like someone in the Human Resources department. Having a reference line is especially helpful if you end up not being able to find the name of the hiring manager to use in your greeting.
The salutation (“greeting”)
There are a couple of very common questions that always come up when talking about the greeting of a cover letter:
Can I use a general greeting?
Do I need to use a person’s name?
Always make an effort to find the name of the hiring manager and address the cover letter correctly. Finding someone’s name might take a bit of research. Although, sometimes you’ll see the hiring manager’s name at the bottom of the job description. If you find a job opening on LinkedIn, that platform will often provide the name of the person who posted the job.
The days of using “To Whom it May Concern” are over. However, there are times a name simply cannot be located. If you can’t find a person’s name, an acceptable general greeting is “Dear Hiring Manager.” If you know that you’re reaching out to a recruiter, then you could put “Dear Recruiter.”
The opening paragraph
Once you get the header and layout perfected, it’s time to move on to the opening paragraph. The opening paragraph is how you introduce yourself to the company. Don’t go into too much detail in this paragraph.
There are 3 things (and 1 optional item) that should appear in this paragraph:
Title of the role you seek: Hiring managers don’t want to waste time trying to figure out which position you’re applying for.
Express your desire to work for that specific company: Mention the company name to show a genuine interest in working for their company -- this is, after all, a major purpose of a cover letter.
State your qualifications (briefly): Giving a high-level overview of your qualifications, like mentioning the number of years of experience you have, gives the hiring manager a glimpse into why you should be called for an interview. Use the remainder of the cover letter to go into further detail about how your skills, education, and experience match the company’s needs.
Name of the person who referred you (optional): If someone has referred you to the position, drop their name in the opening part of your cover letter. Nothing catches the attention of a hiring manager like a referral does. Remember that 85% of the jobs filled in the U.S. are through some sort of referral.
Examples of what to avoid when starting a cover letter
Avoid using boring and generic verbiage in the opening paragraph. Whatever you submit to a company in response to a job description should demonstrate that you are the best candidate for the role. If you have bland, overused language in your cover letter, you’re not putting your best foot forward. By crafting a strong introduction, you have the opportunity to WOW the hiring manager, intrigue them as to your candidacy, and pique their interest enough to want to interview you.
Always be talking about what you can do for the company. Minus the boredom factor, some everyday cover letter language is more inward-focused.
Here are some examples of verbiage to avoid:
“My name is Bob and I would like to apply for the management position…” The very first thing on the page should be your name. Therefore, it’s not necessary to waste space in the body of the letter reiterating it. Also, no one wants to read the same thing twice.
“To whom it may concern, I’m writing to express my interest in…” Again, the days of using “to whom it may concern” are over. It’s one of those phrases that’s been so used it’s become taboo. Using this phrase is a sure fire way to show, up front, that you’ve put little to no effort into writing a compelling cover letter.
“Please find my resume which is attached below…” There are a couple of things wrong with this phrase. First, your resume isn’t attached below because it should be a separate document. Additionally, it falls into the Captain-Obvious category. Obviously you’re sending your resume since you’re applying to a position.
The overall problem with these lines is that they relay no real information that helps a hiring manager know whether you’re the right person for the position they have to fill.
Aimee Duquette, Human Resources Professional & Resume Writer, was asked about the worst way to start a cover letter. She said that having “no personalization” shows that the applicant “took the easy way out.”
Companies want to know that they’re hiring people who show initiative. Throwing the same cover letter at every job is too easy and can immediately turn a hiring manager off.
Final tip: leverage your relevant achievements
You can spice up the verbiage in your resume by including career achievements -- both qualitative and quantitative. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 5 accomplishment-driven statements for every 10 years of work experience.
Quantitative achievements are career wins that can be represented with a number ($, #, or %). A great example would be increasing efficiency by 15% because you updated staff training modules after noticing that incoming team members were not as knowledgeable as they needed to be.
Qualitative achievements are things that you did that earned recognition but do not have numbers associated with them. Have you ever been chosen by management to do a task or complete a project that was outside your normal job description? If so, this would be a qualitative achievement and is definitely something you want to talk about with a new company. It shows you don’t just show up to work to collect a paycheck but that you’re willing to do what’s best for the team, even if that means taking on additional duties.
You want to disperse these achievements throughout the cover letter, but at least one of them can go into the opening paragraph.
Your cover letter and resume are supposed to be tools that showcase your strengths in response to a particular job. Exhibiting your strengths properly will help you land more interviews. Help ensure that you win those interviews by having a strong opening in your cover letter that properly introduces you to the company and hiring manager.
Now that you know how to start a cover letter, check out this post on how to end a cover letter that entices the hiring manager to invite you to an interview.
Good luck with your job search!
How to Include Salary Expectations in Cover Letter (+ Examples)
This post was initially written by a ZipJob contributor in 2017. It has been expanded and edited by Marsha Hebert to remain relevant to today's job seekers.
The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.
Marsha Hebert, Professional Resume Writer
Marsha is a resume writer with a strong background in marketing and writing. After completing a Business Marketing degree, she discovered that she could combine her passion for writing with a natural talent for marketing. For more than 10 years, Marsha has helped companies and individuals market themselves. Read more advice from Marsha on ZipJob's blog.
Send us your resume now
Our experts will evaluate your resume’s design, grammar, keywords, and ability to pass recruiting software.