Cover Letters That Grab Attention
by Ross Macpherson MA, CPRW, CEIP, CJST


There was a time when your cover letter was just a courtesy, a polite introduction to the resume that followed.  Not anymore.  In today's competitive job market, you have to take advantage of every opportunity to showcase your talents, and since your cover letter is often read before your resume, it needs to really grab people's attention. 


Unfortunately, most cover letters I see are still stuck in the 1970's and start with something like "In response to your advertisement for a VP of Finance posted on Workopolis, I am herewith submitting a copy of my resume..." or something equally bland and uninspiring. What follows is usually an equally bland listing of job titles and companies and a request for an interview.


In order for your cover letter to be effective, you have to treat it as a type of sales letter.  There are three components you need to have:


1) The Hook


If you start with the boring opening sentence from above, you are missing out on a tremendous opportunity.  In this opening paragraph, you have your reader's attention, so show them what they want/need to see. This is especially true if you are sending your cover letter as an email, where you have a very limited number of lines to grab them.  Here are just a few options:


* Open with a strong summary statement  - "I am a senior fundraising executive and seasoned CFRE with an MBA in Marketing from Schulich and over 15 years experience leading successful development strategies in Healthcare and Education.  I spotted your posting for a ..."


* Tell a story - "When I first joined ABC Corp., they bought me a one-way ticket to San Diego and told me not to return without a deal.  That was 3 years ago and I have since brought in $12 million in new ventures..."


* Highlight something about their business - "Congratulations on your new merchandising strategy.  I walked into your new concept store on Main Street and was very impressed. I did, however, see a few untapped areas to better promote your children's line and increase impulse purchasing.  I am an accomplished Director of Marketing with over 15 years experience, and I'd like to talk to you..."


2) The Pitch


You've hooked them, now sell them.  The body of your letter needs to continue to make your argument stronger. This is where you can really shine, and it's a place you can't afford to be shy.  For example, here you can highlight recent results (giving # or $ or % wherever possible) or discuss your understanding of their company's needs and your ability to address them.


The key here is to demonstrate your ability to add value to their company.  Merely listing your past job titles and employers won't do it, because chances are you are competing against other candidates with similar job titles.  If you want out stand out, showcase your achievements, tell them how you've improved the companies you've worked for, or demonstrate your ability to understand and address their specific needs.


3) The Call to Action


Like any good sales letter, you have to end with a call to action that invites next steps. Here's what to do:


* Provide a brief summary restating your interest and suitability (one sentence can do it) 


* Include a call to action - "I would be very interested in sharing my ideas with you in a personal interview. You can contact me at ..." (be sure to include your contact information because your letter might get separated from your resume)


* Thank them


If you stick to this formula, you should be able to put together a fantastic cover letter that makes you shine above your competition and compels people to read your resume. 


All the best!


Ross Macpherson is the Founder and President of Career Quest, a Certified Professional Resume Writer, and professional Interview Coach with over 12 years' experience in career development and training. You can reach Ross by emailing him at