Grab an employer’s attention with your cover letter; don’t be boring

The Wall Street Journal online, wsj.com gives some sound advice on writing a cover letter, How to Write a Cover Letter. Like any article, there are some points on which one agrees and disagrees. For example, wsj.com recommends that you include a quote from a supervisor that praises an accomplishment or two. What someone else says about you carries more weight than if you write it.

On the other hand, the article suggests you use a post script at the end, as in “PS. Did I mention that I was voted best employee four months in a row?” Obviously you forgot to mention it, so why bring it to their attention?

A very important point. I was a bit disappointed that the article didn’t advise jobseekers to do something I think is commonsense. This is to write an opening line that grabs an employer’s attention with what is called a “tag line” or a “hook.” This is similar to how the first two or three pages of a novel will entice you to buy the book.

We are used to seeing an opening like: “I read on Monster.com with great excitement about the Marketing Specialist position and am submitting my résumé in consideration for the position.” Boring.

Instead, start your cover letter with something that shows personality. The wsj.org piece mentions researching the position and company, so use this information in your cover letter. “Twice voted employee of the year at company ABC, I will bring to your company a dynamic Marketing Specialist that will help your company excel in the corrugated box market.”

Perhaps you’d like to show your knowledge of some challenges the industry is facing: “With the employment rate growing and fewer jobs being advertised, I realize the need for jobseekers to learn how to penetrate the Hidden Job Market (HJM) by networking. I am champion of the unemployed and would like to bring my knowledge of the labor market to your organization.”

I find these two openings more interesting and eye-grabbers than the traditional, boring, predictable openers. You can come across as the typical jobseeker, or you can separate yourself from the normal. Unique is in, boring is out.

Go a step further with your cover letter. One of Katharine Hansen latest blog entries on cover letters talks about how story telling can add some character to your cover letter.  To close this entry I highlight her view on how stories can spice up a cover letter and  have chosen quotes from two of her contributors. Katharine writes, “But many of the cover-letter wants and needs that hiring decision-maker opinions expressed in the report could be met by stories in cover letters.”

[I want to see] a cover letter that shows some personality as we are looking for someone who will complement our company culture and will fit in. — Sheri Graciano, human resource manager, Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau

I want to be tantalized and teased by a cover letter! I do not want a rehash of the resume. I want to see the 3-4 juicy accomplishments from a candidate’s career (that match my advertised need). These highlights must excite me to such a level that this candidate becomes a can’t-miss prospect. If I am not swept away by the cover letter, then reading the resume is often anti-climactic and doomed for failure. — Ron Kubitz, recruiting manager, Brayman Construction Corp., Saxonburg, PA

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11 thoughts on “Grab an employer’s attention with your cover letter; don’t be boring

  1. Terri Perrin

    Thanks for this article Bob. There’s are some good tips that go along with your Cover Letter workshop I attended last week, which by the way, was very helpful!

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  3. Edward

    I find the traditional statements far more professional and dignified than some silly remark or comedy clip line. When hiring it is the professional traditional line that grabs my attention. It tells me whom I am dealing with and outlines their background in volumes.

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Fair enough. But shouldn’t a cover letter reveal something about the person’s character; rather than, “I was excited to read on Monster.com about the Public Relations position opening at (your company). I believe you’ll find my qualifications and accomplishments an excellent fit for this position”?

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