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Entry into the cover letter: Just say what's going on

Many applicants find it difficult to get started with the cover letter and the formulation of introductory sentences. It shouldn't sound too much like boring, run-of-the-mill ramblings and empty phrases, it should be tailored to the position and must arouse the company's readers' curiosity to continue reading. A difficult endeavor for a job changer sitting in front of a white document. In this article you will learn why a "hard" introduction to the cover letter is important today, including examples of the formulation depending on the motivation to change.

"How do you do that today - and how honest can you be in such a cover letter?", Ask me many job changers and applicants, whose cover letters usually start like this or similar:

I hereby apply for your advertised position as (...), which immediately aroused my great interest.

I read your ad with great interest and hereby apply to you.

If you have been following me for a while, you know that I am an advocate of honest cover letters, which are the only way to offer a potential employer real added value beyond the résumé. Every curriculum vitae is pure past, only with your cover letter - and of course later in conversation - you can take a look into the potential future together:

What is your current situation and why do you want / have to change jobs? What is particularly important to you in your job today and in the future? What are your professional goals for the next months or years? What expectations do you also have of an employer, your colleagues, your manager? What do you need in a job and which working environment is good for you in order to be motivated in the long term and stay healthy?

If you take a look at your résumé, you will quickly see that these are all aspects that no reader can learn from just describing the past. All of this is so crucial and important for whether the next position with a new employer really suits you and your idea of ​​a good professional future.

Arouse interest with a “hard” entry into the cover letter

“Abolishing the cover letter is popular, but stupid.” I expressed this opinion in a clear text on XING in 2018, when Deutsche Bahn caused a great stir in the media by abolishing the cover letter (for apprenticeships!). Since then there have been more and more votes that the application document “cover letter” should be deleted without replacement. As you know, I disagree completely.

And because many recruiters feel that they are taking less and less time to deal intensively with the application documents and the people behind them, I am in favor of real clarity from the first sentence. Because I see that a "hard" entry (still) leads to cover letters being read on. If a recruiter or future boss notices that your cover letter contains further information that is really useful for the selection decision, then this document, which has been declared dead, will suddenly be read carefully and is often decisive for the invitation to an interview.

What is left after reading your resume?

A majority of recruiters will look at your resume first before reading the cover letter or looking at your references. Over the years, working with applicants, I have come to realize that it is always something that crosses my mind, raises questions, impresses me or sticks in my mind once I've read a résumé and put it aside. Therefore, when you start your cover letter, my recommendation is to take up exactly these thoughts in the introductory sentences and to answer the questions in the minds of the readers of your résumé. Here are a few examples of what HR and future bosses have in mind in connection with certain target positions:

That was a lot of employer changes in a short time ...

... why does she / he never stay with an employer any longer?
... can someone always sell well, but never achieve their goals?
... is that someone who quickly becomes angry everywhere?

Only one employer since starting my career ...

... can she / he still get used to new structures after many years?
... why is she / he leaving this employer after such a long time?
... was it loyalty or laziness to change something?

The last position under 6 months ...

... did she / he fail the probationary period?
... was she / he overwhelmed in this position?
... has she / he become a victim of downsizing during the crisis?

Many times without employment ...

... why did she / he always look for so long between two jobs?
... what did she / he do during these times?
... are you trying to cover up something in your résumé?

After a period of self-employment, back to the employment relationship ...

... has someone failed with their business idea?
... whether she / he can still integrate into hierarchies in the company?
... does someone want to secure their pension in a secure job?

That was a completely different industry recently ...

... how does this change of heart come about?
... she / he doesn't know anything about our products and ...
... can she / he still familiarize himself with our industry?

No management experience yet ...

... why would she / he want to take on personnel responsibility now?
... why did she / he not take on the leadership of the old employer?
... is that someone we trust to lead?

The curriculum vitae is a colorful bouquet ...

... where is the common thread here?
... what is she / he the expert for now?
... does he / she not want to commit to his / her job?

Of course, these are of course all hypotheses that could preoccupy a reader of your résumé with (underlying) thoughts, emotions or questions. If you feel like it, take a look at your résumé now:

Address the obvious

Let's say you apply to you. So you are now the HR manager and look at your own résumé through these glasses. Read it through and then put it upside down - which aspect or thought stays in your head first? If you keep thinking about this aspect, what would your spontaneous, honest answer be? What is or was it that shaped this step or this phase in your life? What do you feel when you think about this time? And what could be an answer to a neutral, uninvolved third party who is also thinking about these same things after reading your résumé? In relation to the above examples, this might be:

That was a lot of employer changes in a short time ...
Yes, that's right and I am now longing to arrive at an employer.

Only one employer since starting my career ...
Yes, those were very fulfilling years, but now I want to start all over with another employer.

The last position under 6 months ...
Yes, we both noticed that it did not fit and decided to terminate the employment relationship during the probationary period. It is all the more important to me to consciously decide now for a position and an employer where it fits in the long term.

Many times without employment ...
Yes that's true. I always did a lot on the side and also enjoyed the times between two jobs. In retrospect, these were very important for me and my life in order to become aware of what I really want in the next step.

After a period of self-employment, back to the employment relationship ...
Yes, I have noticed that structure and security are important to me and that I want to work more in a team again and feel more belonging as part of something bigger.

That was a completely different industry recently ...
Yes, I can no longer identify with this industry and would now like to apply my experience to a new industry that my heart beats for.

No management experience yet ...
Yes, at some point is always the first time :-)

The curriculum vitae is a colorful bouquet ...
Yes, I am a true generalist, broad-based, interested in many things and proud to have done so much and experienced so much in my job.

These are all hooks, as I often experience from applicants as motivation to change or current situation. But you will probably notice that my answers result from a very relaxed and unexcited attitude. So many applicants believe they need to explain and justify the things they suspect could disrupt a new employer and kick them out of the running. But if you look closely, they are all just statements at first neutral observation a reader of your résumé. So why not answer it in the same way and clarify it?

You cannot know, but only guess which one rating Readers to theirs observation make and which feeling this results. So do not fall into an attitude of justification, especially when you start your cover letter - because that makes you feel small and it weakens you. Instead, stick to yourself and take up with an openness and a matter of course what is already obvious to a reader of your résumé. The more literally (yourself) you deal with it and create clarity, the better.

also read: Top Secret: 7 hidden résumé messages that hardly any applicant knows

Entry into the cover letter: Examples of introductory sentences depending on the change situation

True to my motto "Applicants, show the edge and make you naked", here are some examples of different motivation to change, which should clarify what I mean under the heading of this article "Just say what's going on". There are no text modules as templates, but examples as ideas for your orientation. It is important to me that you wrote the cover letter, so it is best to take the time afterwards to think for yourself what is / was "the matter" for you and how you would like to formulate this clearly in the introductory sentences of your cover letter want.

Frequent changes

Dear Ms. Mustermann,
After several short positions in recent years, I am now specifically looking for an employer with whom I can work and develop internally. ...

Termination during the probationary period

Dear Mr. Miller,
After my short interlude at (...) and the realization that this was not the right employer for the next few years, I am now looking specifically for ...

An employer for a long time

After 20 very fulfilling years at (...) I have the feeling that the air is out and I long for new, exciting topics, people and projects.

Industry change

The ... industry has changed a lot in the last few years and I have realized that it is no longer my professional home for the next few years. It is important to me to be able to identify with my employer and I have therefore decided to bring my many years of experience to an industry that my heart beats for.

No development prospects

After an exciting 10 years as ... at ... I see no more development opportunities in this company. I am therefore specifically looking for a new employer with whom I can take my next career step combined with more ...

Routine / boredom at work

In the spring of this year, as Head of Finance at ... I successfully completed the 15th annual financial statements. Routines give security, but I would like to see a lot more variety in my professional future with a stronger conceptual-strategic focus. Your advertisement as commercial director comes in handy.

Restructuring / change of manager

After a change in management and a restructuring, in my position as ... it is difficult for me to take responsibility for the new strategic direction. I have therefore decided to leave the company and am currently released from work.

Change of residence

As a family, it is our wish to move back to our homeland after 5 years in the Sauerland. Since I have enjoyed my work as ... at ... in recent years, I am looking for a comparable position in the Cologne / Bonn area.

Downshifting / leaving the management position

You may be wondering why, after many years as a leader ... I am applying for your position as ... today. I made a conscious decision to give up my management responsibility, because it is important to me to work harder in the team and on technical issues again in the future.

Say what's going on in the cover letter - is that allowed ?!

What is going through your head after reading my examples of phrasing to get you started with your cover letter? Do you say “Great, that's how I'll do it now” or do you think “Really brave to write something like that”? Many of my clients react unsettled at first and ask me if so much clarity and honesty are allowed. After all, it is a big step and every application is about a lot. - “Precisely because of that” is my answer. Because the more clarity you create as early as possible in the application process, the higher the likelihood that it will really fit your new job later.

If you are also currently on the road as an applicant, what is it that your potential new employer should find out about you, your current situation or real motivation to change? What is your honest answer to the question mark that might cross the mind of a resume reader? Are these situations similar to the ones I described above, or is it something else that is evident in your career?

Oh yes, of course you shouldn't talk badly about your ex or current employer. So my tip: stay with yourself. It makes a difference whether you write “My boss no longer encouraged me” or “I saw no more development opportunities for myself in the company.” It is clear to every new employer that it is always there is a reason why you are switching - whether voluntarily or after you have given notice. So why not say what's up ..?

My experiences are clear. The clearer the entry into the cover letter and the more your own decision-making power out of serenity you convey with the introductory sentences, the stronger the reader's feeling of not being served the usual boring phrases and, above all, of learning something important about an applicant and person that goes far beyond the resume goes out. And - not surprisingly: the more clarity you create in the cover letter, the more relaxed the subsequent discussions will be.


XING Talk on the application letter:


(Cover picture: 123rf.com, # 36993821, Micha Klootwijk)

Dr. Bernd Slaghuis

I work as a career and business coach in Cologne and have specialized in topics related to career planning and professional reorientation. I work with applicants on their application strategy, the optimization of their documents and the preparation for interviews. I support managers in finding a healthy attitude. I am a SPIEGEL columnist, XING Insider (honored as "XING Top-Mind") and co-author of the book "Work Better".

  1. I am currently looking for work and am looking for something for Northern Germany or Northeast Germany, right by the sea. I write in the cover letter that it is my wish that I want to live in the north by the sea. For jobs in IT support, I also write in that my desired working hours range from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. I am not a night owl. I worked until 8 p.m. and from 6 p.m. I slowly get tired (it's no wonder if I get up early at 5 a.m. (6 a.m. in winter)).
    I also write that I only want to switch to IT support remotely, i.e. on the user's computer (I did four years without it).

    I also write in the cover letter that I do not have the desired IT training and if this is a problem for the companies, then they have to refuse me. Of course, I mention my participation in various Udemy online training courses on my résumé, which I can also prove.

    Does not work? I had already had two interviews with a slightly different text than here, but that was before Corona, in January 2020 and February 2020.

  2. After following the blog for a few years now, I would like to finally write my first comment. After all, the article comes at the right time.

    Just like Sven, I am looking for a job in the far north.
    Probably my biggest obstacles to finding a job are my health problems, the long period of unemployment and the resulting lack of work experience. My age and the much younger look certainly also play a role.

    Like probably most, I was very tense for a long time when it came to applying.Although I've tried a few things before. E.g. I wrote applications for the creative area in poetry. Well received. Still, it didn't bring anything.
    At some point you lose your courage and fall into the old scheme. It's always an up and down.

    This blog made me a little braver again. And even if everyone is shaking their head now, thanks to Corona, I've now also become a little freer. Because the job center is closed and therefore does not send me stacks of job offers at random, which I mostly cannot exercise at all, but for which I still have to apply (like on the assembly line).
    Nope, I finally have the freedom to concentrate on myself, to look for jobs more calmly and, above all, in a much more targeted manner.
    I also use the "more plain text" advice.
    After all, I finally got a rejection again, in which I was not referred to the anti-discrimination law. I also recently had my first telephone interview. Okay, that was also a rejection in the end. But I haven't got that far for many years.
    In both applications, I left out my professional career entirely and simply wrote what is important to me.
    It seems to work.

    Of course, I'm still frustrated.
    I thought about the reasons (apart from the lack of practice in the conversations) and prejudices that lead to the constant refusals. I then mixed that with what is important to me and turned it into a (blind) application in the form of a job offer.
    <>
    I like the result; D
    I have already put together a small list of possible addressees. Now I'm still working on the cover letter, the short text in the e-mail, since the job application is in the PDF attachment together with the résumé.
    Or should I leave out the résumé for now?

    1. Dear HvM, as a reader of the blog, I am excited about your idea of ​​creating your own job advertisement. I'll do that for myself next - thanks for the suggestion! - as well as "instructions for use" with dos & don'ts for dealing with me as a manager or colleague. Both are sure to bring a lot of clarity for you - and how you plan it is a wonderful stylistic device for [initiative] applications and shows your ingenuity and creativity. I wish you lots of fun and success!

      1. Thanks iWi for the motivating words. Nice to read that my ideas can also be ideas for others.

        My version has become more of a job application so that employers can apply with their meaningful job description. I am curious to see whether and how the working groups will react to this.

        I also noticed that my “job application” fits perfectly with the article “Applicants, make yourselves naked!”; D
        https://www.bernd-slaghuis.de/karriere-blog/bewerber-macht-euch-nackig/

    2. @HvM: I can only recommend sending unsolicited applications in your case. The clients of my outplacement and career consulting have had the best experiences with it, around 85 percent of them found their new job this way and have often worked there for many years.
      My tip: Don't send your speculative applications by email, but by post. A mail clicked away so quickly!
      They ask if you should leave your CV out of the first contact. This could be a good solution in your case because of the long periods of unemployment. Then you should send a know-how profile instead, a summary of the knowledge and experience that you have to offer your target company, briefly and clearly on one page.
      I wish you much success!
      P. S. I have written meticulous instructions in book form for successful speculative applications alias target group letters. The book is called “Turbo to the dream job - The target group letter”. You might find a few more helpful tips in it.

      1. Thank you Ms. Riechers for your suggestions and advice.
        I have never heard of the know-how profile or the target group letter. But I will deal with that calmly. Even if it is not used in the end, it still seems to be helpful. Especially when you are looking for a job for a long time, there comes a point at which you no longer know whether you can do anything at all. I think such a know-how profile can steer one's own gaze more in a positive and optimistic direction.

        Thank you also for the book tip. Although I find the book “How to stay unemployed successfully” almost more interesting. So far I have never felt successful in my unemployment. I'm getting a sense of what I've done wrong so far; D

        1. Thank you for your feedback! I am very pleased that my tips have inspired you to think further! The feeling that “you no longer know yourself whether you can do anything at all” is something I know well from many of my clients. Mostly it was because they applied randomly and sporadically to the "wrong" positions - instead of approaching the "right" companies on their own initiative after carefully clarifying their goals and being fully aware of what they can do. Good luck to you!

        2. Hello Mrs. Riechers,
          regarding your reply of November 21.

          The “randomly and sporadically applying for the wrong positions” can often not be avoided at all. If you just want to change your job, you can proceed in a targeted manner.
          But as soon as you have the job center on your neck, this is no longer possible. You are obliged to write a certain number of applications within a certain period of time. Nobody cares whether they find suitable job offers or not. Anyone who does not adhere to it will be sanctioned.

          I like to divide applications into three categories:

          * Forced applications - i.e. job offers that are sent to you by the job center / employment office (and which rarely fit). You have to apply for this in any case, especially since the employers concerned are also informed who the job advertisement was sent to and that applicants have a maximum of three days to apply. Anyone who does not adhere to it will be sanctioned.
          The post with such job offers will generally arrive no earlier than five days after the creation date. It is not uncommon for there to be an application deadline set by the client, which then expires on the day of receipt.

          * Mandatory applications - personal efforts that you have to submit regularly, regardless of whether you find suitable vacancies or not. If you submit more applications than specified, you will of course not receive a word of appreciation. But if you only wrote one application too little, you will be sanctioned immediately.
          It is precisely this point that inevitably accounts for the largest part of the applications.

          * Voluntary applications. The only chance to proceed in a targeted and careful manner, which can also take a little more time, but is rarely granted to the unemployed.
          I no longer submit such applications to the job center. Because it may well be that those from the job center call the employers and ask whether you really have applied (in the hope of finding a reason for a sanction?). At the latest after such a request, my chances are ruined (already experienced several times).

    3. Dear HvM,
      I not only join the job seekers in the far north (although I am currently being looked after again), but when I read your comment I almost have the feeling that I am reading my husband's story. He had a lot of bad luck in his job, retrained late and therefore didn't have a lot of professional experience. He is always told in no uncertain terms that he is good and a popular colleague, but that doesn't help much in applications. When I got a serious illness, it became very difficult. He always leaves out the severe disability (grade 80), unless there are good reasons to mention it. Even in his last job (all short assignments with a really good service provider), he never mentioned this. Actually, he can't work 40 hours, but the RV sees it differently. But that's another topic. In any case, applying for jobs is / was always a horror for him due to a few times without a job or a variety of times (one prefers to do a job rather than none, but then again is not right for many decision-makers in the résumé ...). It doesn't matter that you somehow have to survive.
      In any case, I think your ideas and tips, also in the following comments, are really great and will be happy to pass them on to him if he ever has to apply again! Otherwise, I can only recommend reading your way through here. My unconventional way of applying and freely saying what is important to me, what I can and want (was also a learning process) that I have been practicing for years, was only strengthened and refined by Mr Slaghuis ‘blog. ;-) All the best and lots of success and see you soon in beautiful northern Germany.

      1. Hello Mrs. B,

        thank you for the encouraging words. Yes, giving up is not an option. Although the moments in which you see it differently are becoming more and more common. But if you can read so many nice, encouraging and helpful comments here, it gives you new momentum :)
        In any case, I will keep my fingers crossed for you that neither you nor your husband will ever have to deal with applications again and that they will be allowed to keep their jobs in the long term.

        I have now revised my job application again and took Ms. Riechers' tips into account. Now I like the result even better: D
        So far I have surprised four working groups with it (so far I have received a rejection). For the time being, I will stick to sending emails. There are simply financial reasons for this.
        If something arises, I will report on it here.

  3. Wow! This article reflects exactly how I felt over the past few years. I've always tried not to keep my cover letter completely 0815, but getting started is easier said than done.
    I am now at the end of my master’s degree and was looking for a master’s position. I always meticulously planned and bent my previous cover letters. This time I just confidently wrote what I feel about the job and where I want to go, without this repetitive and tough chewing through the résumé, just calmly and honestly. I have received an invitation for all applications.
    I would like to contradict only one point: The cover letter is still very off-putting in its classic, rigid form. There are also other models in which motivation and free text are asked for. For example, the mMn Tchibo implemented quite well. Here you simply have to fill in two free text fields online for motivation. This takes a lot of pressure out of the less official setting alone and, in my opinion, both applicants (less pressure) and companies (honest, spontaneous, relaxed answers) can benefit from this.
    Still, if someone will ask me for help with applications in the future, I'll send this article as a basis.

  4. The approach is definitely correct. The cover letter should say something about the applicant and his motivation. The phrase-like cover letter monotony is not meaningful. Here, however, it is a tightrope walk to what extent the applicant can / may express himself. There are definitely critical issues. It is questionable whether the correct picture will actually result from “smoothing”.
    In general, I think it is appropriate that you are selected for a position first and foremost on the basis of the appropriate professional qualifications. Any assumption behind the résumé as to why it looks like this is purely speculative and does not justify an arbitrary selection process. In addition, the work carried out is assessed in the attached qualified job references and the termination of employment is justified. Unfortunately, the sense of these testimonies often falls short of time
    Human resource managers a victim. Also, mutual agreements can be made
    are not excluded in the job references.
    Reducing the pre-selection to this procedure also means being independent of the application process. It just doesn't matter
    whether the cover letter is important or unimportant for the respective HR manager.
    Open questions can be explained in the interview. But even here it is true that the truth is not always desired and may have counterproductive effects. The chemistry between those involved can only be tested and soft skills assessed in advance during a conversation.

  5. Dear Mr. Slaghuis -
    I am regularly on your blog, I always find great tips here and I would like to thank you for your work.
    A question about this post: How do you feel about referring to personal moments of change in your cover letter? E.g. on a shift in values ​​due to the corona crisis, the birth of a child / parental leave or the like?
    Thanks and best regards

    1. Thank you for your nice feedback. If it suits you and is not intended as a justification, you can also include such aspects in your cover letter.

  6. Thanks for the tips, now I know at least a little what I can write.
    I've always been bothered by the pointless blah blah sentences in it. Was always looked at crookedly when I wanted to write a little more honestly (let mother or father read about it). Now I finally have the confirmation for my longstanding problem: D.
    Furthermore: I am currently looking for a new part-time job. That feels more difficult because 95% of the vacancies are only advertised as full-time.
    In addition, I don't really know what I want to do either. Except that what I'm doing now is not what I want to continue doing. That's why I'm currently looking for a “reorientation” job, coupled with part-time work, which sometimes sounds very unrealistic to me.
    What I wanted to say, I would be happy if you could write an article on how to get out of my rut or reorientation.