Format Each Section of Your Cover Letter in 5 Steps
1. Header: Double-check your contact information, especially your email address, keeping everything professional (no funny email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org here). If you need to include the date and the employer’s address, place them just under the header and aligned to the left, separated by line breaks.
2. Salutation: It’s best to be straightforward and use “Dear,” rather than “Hello,” or “Hi,” even if you’re addressing someone you know in the company. If you’re contacting someone for the first time, use formal titles such as “Mr.,” “Ms.,” and “Dr.” Always address the letter to a specific person when you can, rather than going with “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To whom it may concern.” For more tips in this area, see our article Who to Address in Your Cover Letter.
3. Opening: Keep your opening paragraph to a few crisp sentences. Rather than just stating the obvious, such as “I’m interested in applying to job X,” grab the employer’s attention by making your pitch: a brief rundown of who you are, and why you think you’re a good fit for the job. Establish your enthusiasm and positivity about the opportunity. Read our article Writing the Perfect Cover Letter Opening for more advice.
4. Body: This is the time to tell your story: Get more detailed about your best skills and career experiences, and explain why they help fill what the new job requires. This is also your chance to show you’ve done your homework, and mention specific aspects of the job and the company that attract you. As with the opening paragraph, keep each of your body paragraphs concise (three to four sentences at most).
5. Closing: As they say in show business, leave them wanting more — conclude your letter by reiterating your enthusiasm for the new job, but also tell employers you’re excited to further discuss your qualifications. Finish by requesting a follow-up call or interview, putting the ball back in the addressee’s court. Finally, use a simple, formal phrase such as “Best regards,” or “Sincerely,” for your sign-off. Our article How to Write a Killer Cover Letter Conclusion gives some more examples of how to finish with a flourish.
Formatted Cover Letters:
Right and Wrong Examples
slide left for the “wrong” cover letter, slide right for the “right” cover letter
slide left for the “wrong” header, slide right for the “right” header
Right: Note how information is clear and professional, with everything neatly placed for easy scanning.
Wrong: Not only is the header information incomplete, but the employer address and date aren’t aligned correctly.
slide left for the “wrong” salutation, slide right for the “right” salutation
Right: The letter’s recipient is properly addressed, with a formal title and appropriate salutation.
Wrong: The salutation for this example is too casual, with a generic title rather than a specific person being addressed.
slide left for the “wrong” opening, slide right for the “right” opening
Right: The first paragraph immediately answers the prime questions of who the job applicant is, and why she’s interested in the job.
Wrong: The job seeker in this example falls back on general statements that don’t provide detail or grab the employer’s attention.
slide left for the “wrong” body, slide right for the “right” body
Right: Using a few concise paragraphs, the job applicant provides examples of skills and experiences that demonstrate she’s a good fit for the position, telling the story of her career as well as showing she understands the company and its mission.
Wrong: The job seeker rambles on in overlong paragraphs, without clearly connecting his skill set and work achievements to what the job needs. This section reads like a generic application for any job.
slide left for the “wrong” closing, slide right for the “right” closing
Right: This cover letter example concludes on a strong note, with the writer reiterating her interest and enthusiasm for the job opening, and taking the initiative in ensuring continued communication with the employer.
Wrong: This conclusion merely repeats information that’s already been presented in the letter, and doesn’t give the employer a strong call to action.
Cover Letter Templates You Can Use
Get an edge over other applicants with a cover letter template that’s already formatted to perfection. Use one of these layouts below, or choose from our complete collection of templates.
Modern: For start-up companies or industries where being “on the cutting edge” is crucial, this template makes a striking impression with its intelligent use of fonts and colors.
Professional: For jobs in which efficiency and expertise are key, go with a crisp layout like this one, which features a polished header and clean fonts.
Traditional: For well-established industries that value competence and reliability, this design uses straightforward fonts and clean lines to indicate you can fit right in as a solid employee.
Cover Letter FAQ
1. How should I format my cover letter for an email?
Formatting a cover letter to send via email follows the same standards as a business letter. You begin with a salutation such as:
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name,
Then skip a line and proceed with your body paragraphs. When finished, include a polite send-off (Sincerely, Best regards, etc.), skip a space and close with your name. The email signature at the bottom of your letter should include:
- Your full name
- City, state, ZIP code
- Mobile number
- LinkedIn/portfolio URL
Don’t forget this information — the recruiter or employer you’re writing to need to know the best way to contact you. Make sure to list the job you are applying for in the subject line of your email, and spell-check your email before you send it.
2. How do you introduce yourself in a cover letter?
The best way to introduce yourself in a cover letter is to convey your enthusiasm for the position or company. Talk about what caught your attention most in the job posting, or what makes you an ideal fit for that specific company. Personalize your letter by addressing the hiring manager/recruiter directly if you know who they are, or if you were referred to them by a colleague. If you don’t know the person directly, still address the hiring manager or recruiter by their last name, e.g., “Ms. Smith,” “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “To Whom It May Concern,” comes off as too generic.
3. How do you format different types of cover letters?
The general formatting for application, prospecting and networking cover letters follows the same business/formal standards: between 250 and 500 words, a point size of 12, an easy-to-read font, and margins of about one inch all the way around. However, each type of letter serves a different purpose.
- An application cover letter is written in line with and references a particular company, position, or job description, so the addressee would be an employer or hiring manager.
- A prospecting cover letter is written with a particular company in mind, but not a specific position. The addressee could be a hiring manager or a contact person with whom the writer has a mutual connection, and the goal of the letter is to inquire about potential openings in the company that the writer might fit.
- The networking cover letter can be more casual — three paragraphs maximum with a less formal, but still friendly, greeting. This type of letter is sent out to former colleagues, mentors, friends, etc., and informs the recipient of the person’s current career status. The object of this letter is to seek assistance in a job search, or solidify and grow a professional connection.
To create one of these types of letters, just choose from our selection of cover letter templates to get started.
4. How do you format a cover letter for a resume?
Both your cover letter and your resume should be one page each, in the same easy-to-read font (e.g., Times New Roman), and with a point size of 12. (Visit our resume formats page for more resume tips.) The margins should be the same on the sides, top and bottom for both documents, with the standard being one inch all the way around. Use the same header and template style/color for both documents if you can, and remember to proofread both documents carefully.