Cover Letters — Creating a Good First Impression

Nancy Anderson
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The saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." In the business world, a cover letter serves as your first impression to a hiring manager or recruiter. You should create a fantastic introduction to capture the attention of someone responsible for hiring you.

Purpose of a Cover Letter

The purpose of your cover letter is to explain why you are the best candidate for the job. It also convinces someone to check further into your background, references, experiences and skills. Your first impression should set you apart from other people thanks to your unique perspective as to why you offer the best fit for the position. An email with an attached resume serves as your cover letter, so make your introduction count.

First Paragraph

Personalize your greeting by researching the person to whom you address the letter. Your first paragraph then talks about how you found out about the job and the formal name of the position for which you are applying. If the job description has a posting number, consider adding that information to the first paragraph. A hiring manager or recruiter should appreciate your specificity.

Elaborate on Your Qualifications

In the second paragraph, use two or three examples from your own experiences and skills that show you are the ideal candidate for the position. Make your passion for the position personal. For example, a person applying for a clerk position at an apparel store might say, "I remember wearing my first pair of Smith jeans when I was 13, and since then I have worn every style that hits store shelves. I would love to help sell these at your flagship store."

Another sample qualification includes previous work experience. "I served as a student intern for the National Park Service for three years in a row, offering tours of the local mountains. My dedication to the public's awareness of the surrounding area makes me the perfect candidate for your position as a fishing guide on Lake Winnebago."

The possibilities are endless when it comes to creating a personal story behind your qualifications for the position. Remember, your tale is unique and no one else's. That makes your cover letter stand out from the crowd.

Research the Company

Delve into the company's background and incorporate a few tidbits of information that relate to your personal story. Mention a recent marketing campaign, change in the company's direction or relevant corporate blog post. For example, "The new gel highlighters from Smithco remind me of the late nights I used to spend going over my marketing thesis as part of a senior project two years ago." This combines your personal reason for working for a company with a brand new product made by Smithco.

Not on the Resume

One key to a first impression is to include special information that isn't found anywhere else in your document portfolio. This is where the personal story comes in when you incorporate a few facts about your skills or work experience not found in your resume.


The job description offers some keywords to include in your cover letter. Take two or three keywords from the qualifications or skills portion of the job description, and say why you embody those qualifications. Mention how you gained five years of marketing experience or three years of working with MySQL coding. Applicant-tracking systems scan for these keywords, and these words may help move you to the front of a hiring manager's list.


Close out the letter with a thank you and your contact information. Once you fashion your story, proofread and edit your cover letter. Read the cover letter aloud. If you stumble over any parts of the correspondence, consider rewriting those portions. Have another set of eyes examine the cover letter to correct any mistakes.

Your cover letter should persuade someone to take a second look into your background. A good first impression with your personal story gets an HR manager to call your former supervisors, professional references and networking contacts. Although a cover letter isn't the "end all, be all" of your job search, it does introduce human resources to the idea of your skills within the scope of the employer.

Photo Courtesy of Roger Bakker at


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  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    When I worked as a manager, I read many cover letters, some of which stuck out more than others (in a good way). The very best ones — the ones which captured my attention — were almost always formulated specifically for the company, or for me in particular. I always appreciated well-researched letters by people who were clearly interested in my employer.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Kristin could be that getting personal is too much for your situation. If, as @Catherine mentioned, you have a personal connection - just mention it briefly and move on. The cover letter should convey how the company will benefit by hiring you - how you could possibly affect their bottom line. It should be short, sweet and to the point. It should not go past one page and, really, one whole page might be too much. Remember that it's going to have to get through the ATS before it gets to the hiring manager to keep keywords in mind, too. Best of luck.

  • Kristen Jedrosko
    Kristen Jedrosko

    I really like this article and the tips it provides for writing cover letters, but it does leave me wondering. It is expected that a cover letter would be no more than one page, correct? I was always taught that a cover letter should be short and sweet and to the point while highlighting specific skills the company is looking for and stating why you qualify for the position. Couldn't getting too personal with some of these background stories sort of go against that idea? Is there a point where personal becomes too personal and should be left for the interview itself?


    I really like the idea of talking about your personal connection to the company. An example would be if you were applying to a hospital and have previously been a patient, you could talk about the care you received, the dedication of the staff and the healing atmosphere. You could also say that, because of you previous positive experience, you would like to give back and create the same experience for another patient.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @Katharine, I agree that a cover letter can help to get you hired. Companies see hundreds of resumes and applications that list similar job histories and qualifications. Cover letters give you an opportunity to let employers know why you stand out. I remember the director of our campus career center telling us about a fellow student who got hired based on her cover letter alone. That changed how I felt about cover letters, and I always try to make them interesting.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I disagree on the importance of cover letters to companies any more. Thanks to applicant tracking systems that seem to get less expensive every year, it's as if writing a cover letter is becoming a lost art form. Why write a letter when all someone has to do is click on a social media profile or a posted video to get the same effect?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. Just remember that the cover letter is not about you. It's about the company and the benefit that they will derive by hiring you. It's nice to weave stories but make sure that it's a small story and that you find a way to turn it around for the company's benefit.

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    I have always struggled with cover letters as I’m never sure how to present myself as a viable candidate without repeating what’s included in my resume. I’m going to try to write about my personal experiences from now on. Should I only mention one personal experience per cover letter or is it better to include more than one?

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    I remember getting an internship in college at an outdoor performing arts center in my hometown. I always thought I may have gotten chosen because I wrote so much in my cover letter about how much I loved going there as a child, even mentioning specific shows I'd been to with my parents. Cover letters are a great way to get personal.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. Many people try to say that cover letters are obsolete but, if that were true, hiring companies would be stating resume only when you apply of the position. Hiring companies want to get a sense of who you are before they call you in for that coveted interview. The cover letter is a window for them to peek in to see if they want to open the door. Once your resume and cover letter gets through the ATS, more than likely a human will take over and read what you have written. The way I look at cover letters is - if there are two viable candidates for a position and one just sent a resume but the other sent it a resume and a cover letter - who is the hiring manager going to contact? The one that completed the entire process. @Wayne I hear you. On the Beyond site, if you set up an alert, make sure that you choose the correct matching. If you input operations manager and you select keyword type ANY or ALL, that is what you will get - any job posting with the words operation and/or manager. You can also narrow it down by Job Function so that you only receive the job alerts that you are interested in. But remember that these are just helpful guides. You need to do your own search instead of counting on the job alerts from job posting sites. These can be very limiting or way too much depending upon the site and how you have your alerts set up. Personally, I scan through the alerts but then I will go on to a site and do my own job search. Be proactive and you will find the position you are seeking. Best of luck to all.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    With all the fuss of these ATS systems, does a well-written cover letter even matter? It is easy enough to load a cover letter and resume down with keyword laden phrases to pass the initial computer screening, but does it matter much beyond that? If you pass the ATS, is the hiring coordinator going to review your cover letter or start sifting through viable candidates by their resumes?

  • Wayne B.
    Wayne B.

    First Impressions now are key words to a computer. The is almost no human input until the screening is done for keywords. Even then the Beyond site matches jobs that have no relevanct to the profile or key words if you are in an industry where things like the word "operations" is very vital, to a computer that makes you a nurse.
    I have been eliminating all job hunting sites that are not industry related for that very reason.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I don't think the importance of a cover letter can be stressed enough. As the article states, this is the first impression that the company gets of you, and you only get one shot. If the hiring manager is unimpressed with your cover letter, your resume is going to the bottom of the pile. However, if you can follow all the expert tips and create a cover letter that pops, you have a much greater chance at landing an interview, and possibly a job.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    When I worked as a hiring manager, I was always impressed with candidates who clearly researched the company. It is an excellent practice to know not only the products and services of the company but also noting accomplishments or mentioning inside information about the company's culture. It shows you are prepared and invested in a future with the firm.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Mike if you truly can't find the name of the hiring manager, you can always use Dear Hiring Manager. Not the best way to do it but it's better than to whom it may concern or Dear Sir or Madam! @Kellen thanks for that bit of information. I think that's probably a little old school because, in the past, the cover letter would usually begin with "I am writing in reference to Job A234 that was posted on XYZ site regarding the position of Janitor." But things have definitely revolved since those days. So true that space is limited and will probably continue to be reduced. Some companies will indicate that they only want a resume and no cover letter. Others tell us that the cover letter is trashed. Who knows? I always say to err on the side of caution. If the posting doesn't indicate one way or another, I will send a cover letter.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    As a former hiring manager, I disagree about including how you found out about the job and the posting number. You only have so much space to work with, and those details don't really make an impression. It's just filling space, really. I think it's a little too "boilerplate." I think that space would be better used following the rest of the advice in this article! I especially like the advice about getting personal. I really like the detail about the highlighters. That kind of detail would definitely catch my eye.

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    Great tips! I have a question, though. What should you do if applying at a large company that either does not give the name of the hiring manager, or gives the name of somebody who obviously won't be dealing with you specifically? (For example, the information gives somebody in Florida, but you live in Oregon) Is there some sort of preferred greeting?

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