Learn How to Format a Cover Letter
When you submit your resume, you will typically need to write a cover letter as well. In this letter, you'll make a case for your candidacy, highlighting your relevant skills. Since a cover letter is a formal document, there are set guidelines for what information to include in the letter, as well as how to format it.
Hiring managers read a lot of cover letters, so while their most important goal is to find strong candidates, they will definitely notice if the letter is formatted incorrectly or does not adhere to the usual cover letter style guidelines.
Use the cover letter format below as a guideline when you create customized cover letters to send to employers. It lays out which information to include, and where. Then, review cover letter samples, a cover letter template, and tips for formatting hard copy and email cover letters you can use to write your own letters.
Cover Letter Format
Your Contact Information
City, State, Zip Code
Employer Contact Information (if you have it)
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name,
- Cover Letter Greeting Examples: Note: If you do not have a contact name, you can skip the salutation entirely. Or, you can use Dear Hiring Manager, To Whom It May Concern, or one of the other examples listed in the link. Ideally, you will be able to address your cover letter to a specific person. Doing research can help you figure out who is the most appropriate person to receive the letter. Note: If you do not know the gender of your contact, you can write out the person's full name, e.g., "Dear Cory Smith"or "Dear Jordan Parish."
Body of Cover Letter
The body of your cover letter lets the employer know what position you are applying for, why the employer should select you for an interview, and how you will follow-up. Organize the body of your cover letter into the following paragraphs:
- First Paragraph
The first paragraph of your letter should include information on why you are writing. Mention the position you are applying for and where you found the job listing. Include the name of a mutual contact, if you have one.
- Middle Paragraph(s)
The next section of your cover letter should describe what you have to offer the employer. Mention specifically how your qualifications match the job you are applying for. Think of this section of the cover letter as where you're making a pitch for your fit as an employee and show makes you a great candidate. Keep in mind that employers will be more interested in what you can do for them, than a list of your background. Make the connection between your qualifications and the job requirements clear. Use this section to interpret your resume—don't repeat from it verbatim.
- Final Paragraph
Conclude your cover letter by thanking the employer for considering you for the position. Include information on how you will follow-up. Optionally, you can briefly restate why you would be a good fit for the position.
Handwritten Signature (for a hard copy letter)
Email Subject Line
When you're sending an email cover letter, include a subject line that enables the hiring manager to recognize who you are and the job for which you are applying. Here are sample subject lines that are appropriate to use in your emailed job application.
Formatting Tips for Cover Letters
Here are some formatting tips to keep in mind when you are writing your letter:
- Email versus hard copy: The example letter above is formatted for a printed out hard copy. If you are emailing your cover letter, you'll need to pay particular attention to the subject line of your email. See more tips for formatting your email cover letter.
- Font choices: The details count when it comes to cover letters, so choose a professional font in a 10 or 12 point size. This is no time to break out emoticons or emojis!
- Spacing: Your letter should be single-spaced. Include a space between every paragraph, and in general, a space between each section of the letter. (That is, there should be a space between the address and the date, and then again between the date and the salutation.) In an email cover letter, where many sections are left off, you will want to include a space between the salutation and between each paragraph, and another space before your complimentary close.
- Proofreading: Remember that note about details counting in cover letters? Make sure to avoid errors by carefully proofreading your letter. Use your word processor's spell check to catch common errors, and then consider reading your letter aloud—or having a friend review it—to catch additional errors. Here are guidelines for proofreading your cover letter.
Cover Letter Examples
Examples of cover letters for a variety of different types of jobs, types of job seekers, and types of job applications.
How many times have you replied to a job ad via e-mail by shooting them a copy of your resume and cover letter?
Related:7 Features Of Effective E-Cover Letters
I’m going to venture a guess and say at least 20 (but more likely hundreds of times) if you’ve been searching for any significant length of time.
Cover Letter Mistakes
Here are some of the most notorious cover letter mistakes we’ve seen and what you can do to greatly improve your chances of being noticed.
1. Attaching The Cover Letter To The E-mail
What’s wrong with that, you ask? Most hiring managers aren’t going to open the cover letter and read it. They’ll go straight to the resume instead. Want to ensure your cover letter gets read? Copy and paste it into the body of the e-mail. Whoever received the e-mail will be much more likely to read it if it’s already right there in front of their face.
2. Writing Your Whole Life Story In The Body Of The E-mail
Don’t go overboard with details; keep it short. The hiring manager won’t be willing to invest a lot of time reading your e-mail. Keep it short and to the point.
3. Providing Information Not Relevant To The Position
Here is a great example. When I want to bring an additional resume/cover letter writer on staff, I’m not looking for someone with technical writing expertise, article writing skills, or journalism savvy. Those forms of writing aren’t relevant to what we do here. I want a writer who has extensive expertise and certification in resume writing.
If someone goes on and on in their cover letter (or in the body of the e-mail) about all their other writing experience, they will lose my interest. Instead, I want them to tell me about their most relevant experience as it relates to my needs. I want them to tell me about any resume writing experience they have. Give the hiring manager a brief overview of the most relevant experience you have, appropriate to the position they are trying to fill. This will pique their interest—rather than lose it.
4. Excluding Information They’ve Specifically Asked You To Include
Depending on the position, the employer may ask you to submit a sample of your work, portfolio, hours of availability, or even salary requirements. Whatever it is they’ve asked you to include, make sure you include it in your cover letter.
If not, you will most certainly be removed from consideration for failing to follow instructions. Following instructions and acknowledging everything the employer has asked you to address in the job ad not only saves the employer time but makes you look good. I can tell you this from experience because 9 out of 10 applicants will fail to address every stipulation the employer has listed. It happens to us all the time.
5. Not Using A Cover Letter At All
We’ve received e-mails from applicants, and the body of the e-mail provides either little or no information whatsoever. Some simply state, “Here is my resume for your review.” You are selling yourself short by not including at least a brief introduction. Especially if the employer outlines specific requirements. Take the time to write, “I see you need someone with availability to work nights and weekends; I would enjoy working these hours and am available to do so.” Or, “I have included a sample of my work for your consideration along with my resume. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
6. Forgetting To Tell Them Why You’re The Best Fit
Let me tell you about one of THE BEST cover letters I’ve ever seen: I could tell this person put effort into it—and she took the time to specifically and meticulously review our job requirements. She scrutinized our requirements and detailed in her cover letter how she had experience meeting those needs. It was applicable, relevant, and attention getting. It was probably one of the only cover letters that actually made us want to read the corresponding resume.
7. Using A Boring Closing Statement
Instead of using the same old boring line, spice it up a bit. One of the more daring cover letter closings I have read closed with, “Call today, don’t delay.” I applauded her boldness and had to call her. The closing was confident, feisty, and it certainly grabbed my attention. Not to mention the entire cover letter addressed everything she brought to the table as a potential employee and how these elements were relevant to meeting our needs.
What I am trying to get you to see is boring the hiring manager with details not relevant to the opening—or not making the most of the space and time you’re getting is really to your detriment. Instead, take the time to write something catchy, relevant, and targeted to the position for which you are applying.
Sure, it may take a few extra minutes to tweak your cover letter—but in the end, if you get the interview, won’t it be worth it?
5 Parts Of A Cover Letter (A.K.A. How To Write A Good One!)
How To Get An Employer’s Attention In 20 Seconds
3 Tips For A Persuasive Executive Cover Letter
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