Cover letter hook mistakes + How to effectively open a cover letter

Sep 13, 2022
Cover letter tips

I had a client of mine ask me the other day if cover letters were dead… Quite honestly, it's the exact opposite - cover letters are so far from being dead. In fact, they're just been born! There's a new way of doing cover letters in a modern and engaging manner that's going to help you stand out from the crowd with your job applications - and you have to learn how to do this!

Your cover letter is a marketing document that you need to understand and nail. So why is a cover letter so important while we're in the 21st century, you ask? The world is constantly changing and I believe roles are going to become more project-based rather than super long-term contracts where we assume that we're going to spend 20 years with the same company. Due to the work landscape changing, the way we sell ourselves has to change as well. We have to build a really, really strong personal brand (what makes you who you are) and get really good at things like storytelling and being able to articulate your purpose. 

That’s where the cover letter comes into play…

Why is a cover letter important & do I need a cover letter? 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have seen hiring managers stuck between two candidates. They both excelled in the interview. When a recruiter is in this predicament, they’ll typically go back to the beginning, look at the candidates’ initial applications, look back at their cover letters and understand their initial sense of motivation and fit for the team. The cover letter becomes the make-or-break factor for who they're going to hire. The cover letter is such a huge opportunity for you to be able to communicate your drivers, your passion, and your hunger for a role. 

The biggest challenge is that you have to make sure it gets read by a real human. So, not only is it going to be full of great keywords so that it can pass the ATS (Applicant Tracking System), but when the recruiter sees it for the very first time, you want to make them sit up and pay attention. The major difference between a cover letter that gets read and a cover letter that just makes their eyes glaze over is the hook. 

What’s a cover letter hook?

The hook is the opening paragraph of your cover letter and can make or break your ability to land a job offer. If you pull the recruiter in with an engaging hook that makes a connection between you and the company and encourages them to read on, then consider your interview landed πŸ˜‰.⁠ I’ve seen so many cover letters that are vague, boring, generic, or even just straight-up arrogant ("I'm sure you will find that I am the most qualified candidate for this position.").⁠ At best, these get skim-read and at worst, tossed aside. Your cover letter is KEY for explaining exactly why you’re going to knock their socks off in the role 🧦🧦πŸ’₯⁠

That’s why it’s crucial to nail the hook of your cover letter. It’s not just about giving them a rundown of your experience - you want to show them that you connect to their company on a deeper level. You need to tell them something REAL.⁠ The way you craft your opening sentence is an absolute deal-breaker if you want your cover letter to get results. 

Let’s dive into the juiciest aspect of a cover letter and break down a range of cover letter examples!

Cover letter hook mistakes + breakdowns

I'm going to talk you through a little bit about the thinking behind why these make such sub-par cover letter hooks, as well as some common cover letter mistakes to avoid. I can tell you, after 13+ years of working in recruitment and HR, I've seen some bad opening paragraphs for cover letters and I don't want that to be you! 

I've seen opening paragraphs that are incredibly vague, generic, and sometimes downright arrogant. Let's jump into some classic cover letter mistakes. 

Cover letter hook mistake: The Zero Effort approach

I like to call this the zero-effort approach

“As a longtime admirer of [company], I was excited to see your opening for [job title] as seen on the [name of job board] as a [job title] professional with over six years of experience, I am confident I have the qualifications required to become an effective member of your team.”

What's wrong here? Well, the hook is incredibly generic - you could be applying to any profession in any industry at any level. It gives you nothing concrete and you can just sub in and sub out different company names. That kind of generic approach is almost laziness. Dare I say it, recruiters can smell it from a mile off! 

Cover letter hook mistake: The Letdown

The next one I like to call the letdown

“Your job posting really spoke to me because I'm certain that the position you describe aligns perfectly with my skills and background which you will see detailed on my attached resume.”

To put it bluntly, this is simply a generic claim. You need to do the work for the recruiter, you need to pull out the skills and experiences that you want them to focus on - that’s what you should be putting in the cover letter. Never make them do the work by directing them to your resume - it screams low effort. 

Cover letter hook mistake: The Super Vague

The next example is the super vague

“I know that with my extensive experience, I can contribute to your position as a leader in the industry. I would welcome the opportunity to ensure [company name] maintains its growth and position in the field.” 

I don't even need to go into this one… It's simply too vague and adds no real value.

Another huge mistake is being it's too self-centred saying things like “I want to work here because you're a successful company and I want a lot of growth and development.” What they want to know is that you have a connection to this role. You've seen this role and it appeals to you for some reason. Maybe you have a personal connection to the company, maybe you're a customer, maybe you saw your parents using this brand growing up, or maybe you've worked for a competitor. Basically, what they want to know here in this cover letter hook when you draw them in, is that you have a sense of mission or purpose connected to this role and company that's going to drive you and it's going to make you keep going when times are tough. 

With all of the examples of what not do to, how DO you nail that cover letter? I fill you in on all of the boxes to check for a stand-out cover letter hook in the video below, including real-life examples!

Now that you’ve got some concrete tips on cover letter hook mistakes to avoid, as well as how to craft a compelling cover letter hook, are you ready to take it to the next level?! Make sure you snag my FREE guide, Nail That Hook, to make a killer first impression.

Enjoy,

Rosie x

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