Beatty, who’s read thousands of cover letters as head of an executive search and outplacement firm, emphasizes that your first few sentences determine whether the reader will continue.
He explains that an effective cover letter has five parts: an attention-grabbing introduction, a “value-selling” paragraph, a background summary paragraph, a compelling follow-up action statement and an appreciative close.
He advises mentioning a personal contact in the first sentence. Example: “Bill Jones, your marketing manager, was telling me that you may be looking for a public affairs manager. I am interested in talking with you about this position.”
By inserting a name at the beginning, it’s harder for the recipient not to keep reading. If nothing else, most readers will feel obliged to finish reading the letter because the referenced individual might be mentioned later.
If you don’t already know someone who is a friend of the person receiving your letter, you can establish a personal contact through aggressive networking. Beatty suggests that you identify employees at the company by reviewing an industry-association membership list. Then call these employees and cultivate a contact, which in turn will lead to a referenced opening for your cover letter.