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How to Start a Cover Letter

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Cover Letters Can Highlight Key Points on Your Resume

A cover letter is an excellent tool for encapsulating all of the main points in your resume, as well as adding a direct and personal touch to the letter itself. Typically, if you’re mailing or hand-delivering a hard copy resume, a cover letter goes on top of the document; if you’re emailing it or applying for a job via an online job portal, the cover letter makes up the body of the email.

Addressing Your Cover Letter

If you’re writing a hard copy letter, use traditional business letter formatting which includes the date, name title and address. For example, begin each new line after the "/" below, adding two lines after the "Date" before entering your name:

Date//Ms. Jane Doe/Executive Director/ABC Co./123 Bluebird Lane/Anywhere U.S.

Return two spaces and begin a salutation with,“Dear Ms. or Mr.” If you don’t know who to address the letter to, surf the company website’s “about us” section and look for the bio of a hiring manager or human resources representative and address the letter to him or her. You can also call the company and ask the receptionist for the name of the appropriate person to contact. “To Whom it May Concern” is an acceptable fallback, but make every effort to find an actual human being to direct the letter toward. If you’re sending a cover letter via email, follow the same format, eliminating the date and address.

When You Know the Recipient

If you know the recipient of your cover letter, start your letter with a personal salutation that references the last time you met, or mention something positive. Examples:

  • Dear Marjorie: It was great seeing you and your family at the water park last week. The kids are getting so big – where does the time go?
  • Dear Sarah:  I just read about your promotion in the chamber of commerce newsletter. Congratulations! It’s great to see you getting the recognition you deserve.

When You Don’t Know the Recipient

If you don’t know the recipient, your cover letter should start with the reason you’re writing. You can still sound personal, though, with the way you phrase your words.

Applying for Open Position: I was very excited to learn the ABC Com. is hiring a director of product development. I’ve been interested in working with your organization for many years, and I’m happy to be applying for this new position.

Cold-Calling With a Resume: I’m a long-time admirer of your law firm’s work, particularly with regard to your efforts to help low-income individuals secure affordable legal representation. I’m writing to ask for your consideration, should an associate position become available.

Beyond the Opening

Beyond the opening sentences of your cover letter, use the body to launch into a narrative of your qualifications and describe why you’re interested in applying for an open position or being considered for a future job opportunity.

Example: As you will see in my attached resume, I have more than 15 years experience as a CPA, most recently as the managing account director at XYZ Co. Prior to this role, I spent five years as the office accountant for a mid-sized textile company.

Closing the Letter

Close out your letter by noting attachments or links the reader may find useful. End with a salutation and thanks for the reader’s time.

Example: “Attached, please find a copy of my resume, two letters of recommendation, and below, a link to my online writing portfolio. If I can provide you with any additional information about myself, please let me know. I appreciate your time and I look forward to hearing from you.”

End with, “Sincerely,” followed by your name, electronic or hard copy signature.