Stop Wasting the First Paragraph of Your Cover Letter

John Scott
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For job seekers, a cover letter is a make-or-break tool. An excellent letter can push your application to the next round, and a single typo or misspelling can send you packing. Instead of wasting your first paragraph of your letter on rote introductions, use it to capture the employer's attention, draw them in and move you on to the job interview stage.

Most cover letter guides advise job seekers to do the same thing: identify the job you're applying for and state where you spotted the posting. As a result, employers are faced with hundreds of boring letters that begin with similar wording. The standardization of the first paragraph presents an opportunity for job seekers to stand out from the crowd.

One of the easiest ways to draw the reviewer in is to start with a story. Choose a short, relatable anecdote that explains why you want to work for the company. Explain how a college field trip to the company's production facility inspired you to change your major to engineering, for example, or relate how one of the company's products played a central role in your childhood. Be genuine, don't be afraid to show enthusiasm and use your own voice to help humanize your application. Don't insert an anecdote and move on. Forbes Magazine advises that you develop a clean, sensible segue to the rest of the cover letter.

In most cases, an employer is looking for more than an employee who simply meets the qualifications; he or she also wants to find a person who can solve a problem for the company. Instead of using the first paragraph of your cover letter to restate the facts in your resume, use it to explain how you are better suited to the position than all other candidates. If you spent 10 years in another industry, for example, open the letter by explaining how that experience gives you unique insight into the customers' needs. Or, use it to address the company's unstated needs. If they recently experienced a public relations nightmare, mention that you have experience in crisis management and social media policy development. By answering the reviewer's unanswered questions right off the bat, you can instantly establish yourself as a frontrunner.

If you are applying for a position at a formal, conservative company, an ultra-creative cover letter might make you stand out in the wrong way. In that case, take your first paragraph in a different direction, and use it to establish a professional connection to the company. Mention the name of an employee that referred you to the job opening, for example, or explain that you interned at a different branch in college. In doing so, you'll automatically be more memorable—an invaluable thing to employers who are sorting through hundreds of applications. A personal connection to the company also gives you something interesting to talk about in the job interview.

A well-written, entertaining cover letter can make the hiring manager's day and increase your chances of moving on in the hiring process. By polishing the first paragraph, you can set yourself apart from other candidates from the get-go.


(Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic /


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  • Robert Spare
    Robert Spare
    I think it's a great tool to use but what do u do when you have to many skills learned over the years that you don't wanna look like you've done it all??
  •  Barbara Asher
    Barbara Asher
    Good information. I have written several cover letters or letters of interest recently.I am a student in the fields of criminal justice and communication.
  • Trevor Josiah
    Trevor Josiah
    Attention,Please note that a resume that is worthy of representing you clearly state your career goals/objective. The most effective cover letters demonstrate a candidate skills experience and passion for the job and the company.Best Regards,Trevor Josiah.
  • Betty Garvey
    Betty Garvey
    Wonderful advise - never thought about telling a story.  Will incorporate those nuggets in my next cover letter.  Thank you.

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