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Formatting Your Cover Letter

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A professionally formatted cover letter greatly improves the chances of your application getting noticed by the person with the power to give you a job. A poorly formatted cover letter, on the other hand, will likely find its way to the trash bin of said hiring manager. A recent study indicated that 77 percent of employers dispose of resumes because of typos or bad grammar, and 25 percent are turned off by resumes with long, unformatted blocks of text.

A clean, error-free letter that presents your case efficiently is easy to create — just keep these tips in mind.

Anatomy of a Cover Letter

The first step in formatting your cover letter is organizing it correctly. A cover letter is basically a business letter, which features a rigid format. Below is our breakdown of the sections of your letter, and what information you should include.

Contact information and salutation:Introduction:Body paragraphs:Body paragraphs:
Anatomy of a Cover Letter

1Contact information and salutation:

Your contact information should be up-to-date and accurate. In the salutation, greet the hiring manager formally (i.e., Dear Mr. Smith, Dear Ms. Jones). If you don’t have a contact name, use a general salutation such as “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To Whom It May Concern.”

2Introduction:

In your first paragraph, mention the job you’re interested in, and why you are interested in applying. If a person referred you to this position, also mention that here. Briefly summarize your background and most important skills. Above all, communicate your enthusiasm and interest in the job, and the prime reasons why you can make a positive impact.

3Body paragraphs:

Here, go into more detail about your most relevant skills, and how they are a good fit for the position. Mention skills based on the ones required by the job description. Also mention prior work history and achievements that relate to the position. Your goal is to show the hiring manager that you’re the right person for the job, and that you understand the company and its mission.

4Body paragraphs:

Here, go into more detail about your most relevant skills, and how they are a good fit for the position. Mention skills based on the ones required by the job description. Also mention prior work history and achievements that relate to the position. Your goal is to show the hiring manager that you’re the right person for the job, and that you understand the company and its mission.

GET STARTED

For more pointers and examples on how to organize your cover letter for different situations, such as for networking or a career change, see our cover letters examples page.

Top 5 Tips for Formatting Your Cover Letter

  • 1. Stick with standard fonts and font sizes.Think of your cover letter as a business letter: concise and no more than one page long. You’re writing to a company about a professional matter — your future employment. In that vein, it’s best to stick with familiar, accepted fonts that establish a sense of professionalism, such as:
    • Arial
    • Book Antiqua
    • Calibri
    • Cambria
    • Garamond
    • Georgia
    • Helvetica
    • Times New Roman
    • Trebuchet MS

    For an example of how using an unprofessional font in a business letter can backfire, look no further than Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. He drew plenty of ridicule for using Comic Sans font in a letter to the Cleveland community after the departure of Lebron James.

    The same rules of professionalism apply to font size in your cover letter. Keep to the standard 10 or 12-point size — large enough to be readable, but not so large as to appear cartoonish.

  • 2. Be consistent in your spacing.Each section — your contact information, the company address, your salutation, body paragraphs and sign-off — should be separated with a line break, to maintain a consistent look. Stick with single spacing within paragraphs.Avoid large blocks of text and introduce some space by breaking or trimming longer paragraphs into smaller, more digestible chunks. This makes it easier for hiring managers to read your document. The examples on this page and our pre-formatted templates demonstrate proper spacing at work.
  • 3. Margins should be 1 inch.As with a standard business letter, the margins should be set for 1 inch on all sides (right, left, top and bottom). This ties in with our tip about spacing, as 1-inch margins will result in a more open, accessible look. To ensure that you follow this format, you can base your document on one of our recruiter-ready samples.
  • 4. Complement your cover letter design with a similarly-designed resume.Utilizing similar designs for your letter and resume will impart a unified and polished look, and place a stronger personal stamp on your job application. If you use one of our cover letter templates, you can also select a matching resume design in our Resume Builder.
  • 5. Spell-check and proofread your letter.Nothing will turn off a prospective employer faster than typos, or incomplete and/or inaccurate information. Take time to read through your document a few times and double-check for errors. When creating a cover letter using our builder, spell-checking and the ability to adjust your format are part of the process.

3 Tips for Customizing Your Cover Letter

Using a “one size fits all” approach to your cover letter tells an employer that you haven’t taken the time to learn the ins and outs of the open position, or given careful thought to the ways you can contribute. Make sure your letter fits the job by doing the following:

  • 1. Highlight the right qualifications. Each job requires different proficiencies and personal qualities. It’s critical to feature the abilities you have that best match the job description.
  • 2. Show that you understand the company. It’s easy to make a generic statement of enthusiasm about a job opening, but explaining what it is about the specific job, the company and its mission that attracts you lets the employer know that you’ve taken the time to do your homework.
  • 3. Use a design that fits the company. If you’re applying for a position in a young, innovative company, you’ll want to use a template that communicates a similar sense of creativity and energy. If you’re seeking work in an established, solid industry, you should seek out a design with a straightforward, professional look.We’ve made the process of choosing the right cover letter format and customizing it easy — read on to see how our system works.

Build Your Own Cover Letter in 5 Steps

Want to quickly format and customize different versions of your letter for different jobs? Use our builder, which draws from our collection of preformatted templates. Just follow these steps:

1. Enter the job title for the position you’re interested in, followed by the name of the employer you are applying to (you can always go back and change these fields for different applications).

2. You’ll then be presented with a list of critical skills associated with the job title you entered, produced by our job experts. Pick those that are the best fit with your abilities, and match them with skills mentioned in the job description.

Next you’ll be asked to select some top strengths — your intangible qualities that exemplify your personal approach to work, such as collaboration, problem-solving and communication.

3. In the next step you’ll be asked to provide details about your employment history (i.e., how long you’ve been working), and explain any employment gaps you may have. Finally, you’ll be requested to choose your working style. For example, are you a doer (someone who does whatever it takes to get the job done)? Or, are you an analyzer (someone who likes to think through tasks logically)? Pick the category that is closest to your personal approach.

4. You’ll then be able to choose a template that best fits your letter. Conservative industries, such as law and financial services, prefer tried-and-true basic formats, while layouts with some color and flair are appropriate for more modern fields.

5. Once you choose your template, the builder will produce a complete cover letter. You’ll have the opportunity to run it through a spell-check, adjust your formatting (i.e., font type and size), add any extra content you want to better tailor it to a specific company or job, and save and download it. From here, you can also create and save new variations for different jobs and industries.

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