Beginning is the Hardest Part: Tips for Starting a Cover Letter

After hours of writing and re-writing a resume, you're ready to finish your job application. You upload your resume and are about to hit submit when you see that there's a cover letter requirement. Now what?

There is debate over the usefulness of cover letters. Some recruiters never read the cover letter, while others look at it for more insight into your resume. Like it or not, if you want to maximize your chances of snagging a coveted position, you should always submit a cover letter.

Easier said than done, huh? The hardest part of writing a cover letter is starting it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind and to get you started:

  • Research, research research. Before you start spelling out why you'd be a great fit for that role, do your research. Look at the company's About page and do research on other websites, such as Glassdoor, to get a grasp on company culture. Search for executive profiles on LinkedIn, and read other similar job descriptions to see what you can provide them. According to Harvard Business Review contributor Amy Gallo, you should "find out what challenges the company is facing and how your role would help address those. Knowing the company better also helps you decide on the right tone to use in your cover letter."
  • Open with a strong first paragraph. Your first few sentences should be succinct and impactful. Instead of stating something along the lines of "I'm interested in applying for this position," try for an opening sentence that grabs the recruiter's attention. Emphasize your previous accomplishments, such as "I increased overall revenue by over 30% with the ______ project," or talk about your professional philosophy. Make sure to mention your past experiences, educational background, and other relevant knowledge.
  • Use STAR stories. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. When you write about your accomplishments and skills, don't state them one-dimensionally. Also, don't just regurgitate the contents of your resume. Instead, take the experiences from your resume, and elaborate on them in a STAR story.

1.      Your situation should give overall context, such as, "In the summer of 2015, I worked at BOLD as an SEO intern." 

2.      Then, outline your task - i.e. what you were given to do.

3.      The longest section should be your action--in other words, how you went about completing the task. This is where you can elaborate on how you've applied your hard and soft skills, whether they be technological capabilities or leadership abilities. 

4.      Don't forget to close with your result--the quantifiable or tangible difference that you made.

  • Double check for typos and the basics. Forbes writer Sara McCord states that disqualifying factors include "typos, a 'Dear Sir or Madam' or 'To Whom It May Concern' salutation, or a vibe so non-specific that it reeks of find-replace." It's important to make sure that your cover letter is not only free of grammar mistakes but also without interchangeable details. Your cover letter should be tailored to the company and role. Ensure that you write with enthusiasm and regard, and convey that you care about the company, not just about getting any job.

  • Use a Pro. If you're still feeling a little intimidated about starting a cover letter, LiveCareer can help you out. Our Cover Letter Builder offers job-specific templates, tons of sample text phrases, and multiple cover letter formats to select from!