How to Start a Cover Letter

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

When you are applying for a job, adding a cover letter to your application can help you get an interview. A cover letter is short, but it can make a big difference when written effectively. Use our guide to how to start a cover letter, including examples.

[Featured Image]: Job applicant working on a cover letter.

Starting your cover letter in the right way means it is more likely to be read. Make it clear who it is addressed to, present it professionally, and make your focus for the letter clear.

The opening paragraph of your cover letter is arguably the most important part. It is where you address the person to which you’re writing, and explicitly state why you are writing the letter. This gives the reader a clear understanding of your intention and a reason to read on.

Seconds to make an impact

Research shows that you have seven seconds to impress a recruiter. For this reason, the opening of your cover letter needs to be strong. The start of your cover letter is the first thing an employer will read and so it should be properly presented, addressed correctly, and explain your reason for contacting them. Whether you are writing in response to a job advert, to apply for a course, or speculatively to enquire about any openings, this needs to be clear from the outset. Starting your cover letter in this way gives it the best chance of being noticed and as a result, keeping the reader’s attention to the end.

Use a name

Who you are sending your letter to is important. Take the time to find out who you need to address your cover letter to. Rather than writing ‘Dear hiring manager,’ find out who the hiring manager is and include their name. If someone referred you to the position and asked you to apply, it’s important that you mention them too. Having a named contact makes the letter more personal and maximises your chances of being considered.

Why are you writing?

First and foremost, you need to make it clear why you are writing. This should be stated simply and clearly and set the precedent for your letter. Here are some examples:

  • I am writing to apply for the position of XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  • I am writing to express my interest in applying for XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  • I would like to apply for the position of XXXXXXXXXXXXXX as advertised on your XXXXXXXXXXXXXX website.

What makes you a strong candidate?

After introducing your reason for your cover letter, it’s a good idea to go into more detail about why you are applying. It’s important that you make it clear why you are well suited to the job role so it doesn’t feel like a generic letter that you have sent out for multiple positions.

Here you can give a brief overview or a nudge to your employment history, a course you’ve studied, or a specific achievement that makes you a top candidate. This can be elaborated on later in the body of the letter. Examples include:

  • I have over 15 years experience working as a financial advisor, with the last five years holding a senior position, giving me a strong background in the financial services industry.

  • Having studied an MBA, with a placement with a top consultancy company, I am well versed in sales and marketing strategies.

  • As the London Innovation Award winner for the third consecutive year, I have the skills and credentials to bring fresh ideas to your company.

It is key that you bring your point back to how you can do the job. Rather than just stating your qualifications, how does this relate to the job on offer? Always tie it back to how your credentials make you right for the role.

 Add passion and interest

Everyone likes to feel important, and that includes employers and recruiters, so tell them why it is that you want this job over another. Do your research on the company and the type of role you’re applying for, and mention something that particularly interests you, or something about the company that really aligns with your values.

Throughout this opening paragraph, express your passion. Make it clear that you really want this role and that it is your goal to work for this company, in this field, or in this position in particular.

Suggested openings

Here are some example openings to guide you to write your own. Remember that your skills and experience are important, but your personality is too, so make sure the letter is professional but personable:

  • I am writing regarding the position of Lead Project Manager, as advertised on LinkedIn. As a Senior Project Manager with 10 years experience leading projects for the banking industry and experience working for a successful start-up, I have a unique blend of experience that will benefit your blockchain start-up.

  • I was excited to hear of the position of Social Media Marketing Manager as it aligns so well with my prior experience and passion for digital marketing. In my current position for XXXXXXXXXXXXXX I increased company revenue by 30 per cent through the introduction of social media marketing campaigns and Facebook ads. I would love to bring my expertise in expanding the social reach and establishing campaigns to improve company ROI for XXXXXXXXXXXXXX. 

The rest of the letter

Once you’ve got an opening to be proud of in place, the rest of the letter should be an elaboration of what you’ve outlined. You’ve given a taste of your experience, qualifications, and accomplishments, and in the next few paragraphs, you can go through these in more detail. Always make sure you are highlighting points that are in the person specification. This is what you’ll be scored on, so this is what you need to evidence.

The end of your letter needs to be a short summary of what you’ve covered with a call to action, inviting the recruiter to meet with you to discuss your application, or to invite you for an interview.

Speculative cover letters

A cover letter for a specific role that you’ve seen advertised will have a slightly different format to a speculative letter, which is a cover letter enquiring about possible positions within a company or organisation, which have not necessarily been advertised.

For a speculative cover letter, it is even more useful to have a name to address it to, or someone you can reference as a referral. In the opening paragraph, rather than stating what you are applying for, you will need to say that you are writing to enquire about any future positions before detailing why you should be considered. Here are some examples:

  • I am writing to enquire about whether there are any positions available at XXXXXXXXXXXXXX in the XXXXXXXXXXXXXX department.

  • As a happy customer of XXXXXXXXXXXXXX for many years,  it is my goal to obtain a role as Product Developer within your company. As such, I am enquiring about possible openings.

Get started

Now you have everything you need to start your cover letter strong. If you're interested in learning more, consider the Writing Winning Resumes and Cover Letters course from The University of Maryland.

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