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The Secret Formula to Cover Letter Success

The Secret Formula to Cover Letter Success

Nina Kim | NonProfitPeople

Paragraph 1: Flatter the organization and show you’ve done your research

Most people are tempted to start their cover letters with a general overview of what position they’re applying for, where they saw the listing, or an explanation of why they are interested and would be perfect for the job. Sounds reasonable, right? The only problem is that hundreds — these days probably even thousands — of other applicants are beginning their cover letter the exact same way.

Right off the bat, you’re sending the wrong message — that you’re exactly like everyone else and there’s nothing that stands out about you. Wouldn’t you rather begin your cover letter by commanding the reader’s attention and providing something memorable so they’ll remember your name and application come hiring decision time?

Of course you do. That’s why your cover letter should always begin with something anecdotal — a story, a memory, an experience, or even something you’ve read recently. This anecdote should be tied into what the organization means to you and will help the hiring managers remember you more vividly, e.g. ”Oh, the so-and-so girl! I remember her!”

But beware! Don’t just talk about yourself. Keep in mind, this first paragraph should be about the nonprofit, not you. Don’t ever start your cover letter saying why the nonprofit would be good for you — sorry to say, but they don’t care about that. You need to show them the exact opposite — why you would be good for the nonprofit.

By human nature, we can’t get enough of hearing about ourselves or what wonderful things we’ve done, so always begin your cover letter by flattering the nonprofit very specifically. How specifically? Well, you want to show them you’ve really done your research, so don’t say something general, like “I really admire your workplace diversity.” Bring up specific things like statistics, numbers, recent grants or gifts, latest campaigns, awards they’ve won, or notable accomplishments.

In the example below, the writer immediately grabs the reader by sharing an anecdote. She then connects the anecdote to what she knows about the nonprofit. Any hiring manager is certainly going to be impressed with the depth of research the writer has put into the opening paragraph alone.

Dear Hiring Manager,

Born and raised in San Francisco, I’ve always known Glide Foundation as a household name. Now, having thoroughly studied urban planning and public housing as a CS student, I have come to fully understand the extent of Glide Foundation’s awe-inspiring accomplishments. A formidable player in the housing sector with award-winning services, Glide is always striving to enrich the community with their campaigns, while continuing to innovate with their programs and local solutions.



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