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How to Format a Cover Letter for an Email

Published On : May 21, 2020

A cover letter is a valuable piece of marketing material that complements a resume and helps a job seeker attract a hiring manager's attention. Some employers ask candidates to send a cover letter as an attachment or directly upload it into their job application system. In such a scenario, do as stated – you want to show that you know how to follow directions.

In the absence of instructions, though, heed this advice from Kate Williamson, president and founder of Scientech Resumes, "When you are emailing your resume to a prospective employer, recruiter, networking contact, etc., your cover letter serves as the body of the email message. There's no need to attach a separate cover letter document and state in your email message that you are giving them a letter and a resume, when you can just instantly give them the letter."

Remember that this email correspondence reflects on you, so take care to format it in a thoughtful, professional manner. Here are some things to consider before hitting "send" on a cover letter email:

Subject line

"The subject line offers a valuable opportunity to share relevant information about yourself, hooking the reader before your message is even opened," Williamson says.

What you choose varies by situation and personal preference, but some common options include:

  • Position Title and/or Job Posting # (when applying for a specific position)
  • Referred by Jane Smith (a referral can be one of your strongest intros)
  • Desired position and brief objective (such as Aspiring Data Scientist | Using statistical programming to derive meaningful insights)

Some job seekers include their full name as part of the subject line, reasoning that a hiring manager will have an easier time finding the email if returning to it at a later time.

Candidates also should be aware of this "trick" employers sometimes play to separate careful readers from those who just skim the job posting: Asking for a specific (sometimes unusual) subject line. If it says to use the line "I like chocolate cake," by all means do so or risk immediate relocation to the trash!

Opening

An email cover letter does not need to contain the company address. Likewise, don't include the date. Rather, start with a friendly salutation directed toward the person to whom you are sending the letter, such as "Dear Ms. Smith" (followed by a comma or colon). Avoid generics such as "To Whom It May Concern" in favor of personalization. 

Body

Skip a line, and start the "meat" of your letter. The first paragraph typically states why you are writing and demonstrates enthusiasm. The second tells what you have to offer. The third reiterates interest, discusses follow up, and thanks the reader for his time. Skip a line between paragraphs for easy reading – no need to indent.

If you have a "regular" cover letter already prepared, you may be able to cut and paste (or do some slight editing).

"For the most part, email and traditional cover letters are interchangeable," Williamson says. "Email letters tend to be less formal, shorter, and more direct, using short paragraphs and bulleted statements that can easily be viewed on a screen, mobile device, etc."

Ending

This last section finishes off your letter politely with "Sincerely," "Best Regards," or similar sign-off (followed by a comma). Skip a line, then provide vital contact info in this manner:

  • Your full name
  • City, state (optional)
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • LinkedIn URL (optional)

Proof

Make sure your cover letter email presents you in the most positive light. In addition to running a spelling and grammar check, do an actual read-through (or two). Elements may have gotten lost or jumbled during copying and pasting. You may even want to send the document to yourself first as a test-run of how it will look to potential employers.

When happy with the final product, do one last thing: Be sure to attach your resume, if that's what you said you're doing!

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Beth Braccio Hering

Beth Braccio Hering

Career Advice Contributor

Beth Braccio Hering has been a freelance writer for more than 20 years. In addition to extensive contributions to various Encyclopaedia Britannica products, her work has been published by outlets such as CareerBuilder, FlexJobs, Business Management Daily, Walt Disney Internet Group, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Hering graduated from…

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