How to start a cover letter


The cover letter is the most important piece of your application. It’s the opportunity to catch the employer’s attention. It’s the only platform where you can explain your motivation and show the employer a part of yourself. That’s a big task and I know that it is intimidating to many women. 


It’s intimidating because many of us women don’t like to sell ourselves. We don’t feel comfortable talking about ourselves and our achievements - at least in a professional setting. I understand why so many of you ladies out there ask yourselves how to start a cover letter. I well remember the times when I sat in front of a blank word document, at a complete loss how to convince the employer that they should invite me. I realized in the meanwhile that this was more a question of confidence than anything else. At the beginning of my job search, I was often not very confident that I was the right person for the job. So how could I convince the employer? 


Be prepared


Before you start a cover letter, you need to make sure you feel confident that you’re a good fit for the job you’re applying for. Preparation can help you gain confidence. And you’ll need preparation for all the steps of your application anyway, not only for boosting your confidence. It’s crucial for the cover letter however. The cover letter is where the employer notices whether you really put in some effort and are truly motivated to get the job. The cover letter should always be tailored for the position and the specific requirements of that position. Always keep that in mind when asking yourself how to start a cover letter.


Analysis instead of paralysis


Start with analyzing the position description and highlighting the requirements which you fulfill. I found this particularly helpful because many of us women tend to only apply for jobs if we fulfill 80-100% of the requirements. Many men are not so easily intimidated and apply if they fulfill 40-60% of the requirements. Basically, we women apply for the jobs which we know we can do while men apply for the jobs which they think they can grow into. Do you recognize yourself? I certainly did that when starting my career. 


I personally think that men are doing the smarter thing here and we can learn a lot from that. Most of us want a job which allows us to develop and grow both personally and professionally. You’re not going to grow much in a position which you already fulfill 100%. You’ll be in your comfort zone which is nice for a while, but you’re likely to become dissatisfied or simply bored after a short while. I once heard the sentence “There is no growth in the comfort zone” and looking back on my life, I can only confirm this.


Knowing that there are many people out there who apply for jobs even if they don’t fulfill all the requirements, allows you to be more confident in your job search and apply for positions which aren’t a complete match to your current skill set. We just need to be a little bold and have the confidence that we’ll learn the “missing” things quickly. We don’t need to feel like imposters because we’re not fulfilling all the requirements. 


To reduce the “imposter syndrome” I find it helpful for us women to highlight all the requirements which we fulfill, both the hard skills and the soft skills. This is important because we might not be covering the necessary hard skills but more than enough of the soft skills - which should give you the confidence that you can grow into the role. 


Once you’ve highlighted all the points that you cover, write down experiences that best underline your skills in that area. Think back on situations or projects where you applied these skills or proved that you fulfill the requirements. Don’t get too hung up on the ones you don’t fulfill; focus on the ones which you do fulfill and collect concrete examples and you’ll quickly recognize that you’re not as much of an imposter as you thought at first. 


Get to know the company


There's yet another step of preparation to be completed before we go into the details of how to start a cover letter. You absolutely need to do some research on the company, not least because you need to know if this is a company you’d really want to work for. Otherwise what’s the point of applying? We don’t want to trade the existing job or company for a worse one.

So go to the website, find out about the company’s history, mission, vision and values. Take notes on what you find interesting about the company and what attracts you.


Do you like the ambitious goals?

Are you fascinated by the company’s growth over the last years?

Do you find it important that the company has a long history?

Do they offer opportunities for further education and development?

Are you attracted by the flat hierarchies?

Do you support their mission?


Once you’ve clarified why you want to work for this company, it’s time to think about how to start a cover letter.


Time to get to work!


The most important thing when thinking about how to start a cover letter is to give it a personal touch and use the information you collected beforehand. Don’t start with phrases like “I’m applying for the position XY” or “I’m interested in the position XY”. This is so boring.


The recruiter will just skim through your cover letter at first and therefore you need to open with an eye catcher. It’s best to start with what you find interesting about the position or the company. Use your research and make sure they really sense how motivated you are to get this job.


Here’s an example from one of my clients. She applied for a marketing position in tourism:

“I was really excited to discover your job posting for the position XY as it exactly matches my profile. From the day I was born I’ve grown to love our country and the tourist industry. Growing up in my parents’ hotel, already as a small child I enjoyed promoting the beauty of our region to our guests.”


Bringing together facts and motivation


The next paragraph should be dedicated to presenting those of your past achievements which are most relevant for the position. It’s equally important to highlight what you enjoyed about these tasks. You shouldn’t only be fulfilling a duty. Employers look for candidates who enjoy what they do, so make sure to keep that in mind when thinking how to start a cover letter.


To continue with the example above:

“In my position as a journalist at ..., I really enjoyed researching and creating articles and digital media content. I also grew very interested in organization of and participation in press conferences, discussion forums, for example ...”


Show them who you are


The third paragraph is a good place to refer to your soft skills or other relevant achievements, e.g. any special awards. I know, a lot of you ladies feel at this point like you’re bragging. You’re not. You’re just showing the employer the amazing women you are. So please make sure to point out your special achievements because they really set you apart from the masses. If you only list them in your cv, recruiters might overlook them. Make sure to include them in your cover letter.


Here are examples on how to do this: “I’ve always been interested in broadening my knowledge and horizon which is why I studied .... Thanks to my great performance and excellent grades, I received an excellence scholarship and was invited to participate in the project … which allowed me to work with a great team on the very interesting question of …”.


Last, but not least...


Close the cover letter with a call to action. Of course you want to meet them personally and convince them that you are the right person for the job and the team. Let them know how much you look forward to this opportunity and give them the easiest way to reach you.


These are just some of the basics on how to start a cover letter. You can always add one more paragraph if you have really relevant information to share. Just make sure you don’t exceed one page. If it’s longer, it won’t be read. The employers usually don’t have much time. So focus on condensing all relevant information in three to four paragraphs. 


If you find it difficult to start a cover letter because you have a hard time writing nice things about yourself, I’ve got a little trick for you. Imagine you’re describing your best friend, not yourself. How would you talk her up to a new employer? 


If that doesn’t help and you still find it hard to write the cover letter on your own, just reach out to me. I’ll rewrite your cover letter in a way that still fits with your personality and style but promotes you a little more than you’d do yourself.