Formatting Tips for Professional Cover Letters
Along with your resume, a cover letter provides an opportunity to impress a potential employer with both your professionalism and how well you would fit in with the company's mission and culture.
How you format your cover letter, both from a content (the information you include) and a presentation (what your cover letter looks like) perspective is important. Even when applying online or via email, your cover letter needs to be properly formatted, readable, and without any mistakes.
Cover letters for job applications follow the format of a formal business letter. They are written in paragraph form and include a formal salutation, closing, and signature. It's important to write a targeted cover letter that shows how you are qualified for the job for which you're applying. Each cover letter you write should be unique and customized.
What Content to Include in Your Cover Letter
1. First Paragraph - Why you are writing
2. Middle Paragraphs - What you have to offer
3. Concluding Paragraph - How you'll follow-up
Paragraph 1: Why You Are Writing
- If you are writing in response to a job posting (review samples), indicate where you learned of the position and the title of the position. More importantly, express your enthusiasm and the likely match between your credentials and the position's qualifications.
- If you are writing a prospecting letter (review samples) in which you inquire about possible job openings - state your specific job objective. Since this type of letter is unsolicited, it is even more important to capture the reader’s attention.
- If you are writing a networking letter (review samples) to approach an individual for information, make your request clear.
In some cases, you may have been referred to a potential employer by a friend or acquaintance. Be sure to mention this mutual contact by name in your first paragraph to encourage your reader to keep reading!
Paragraph 2: What You Have to Offer
In responding to a job advertisement, refer specifically to the qualifications listed and illustrate how your particular abilities and experiences relate to the position for which you are applying.
In a prospecting letter, express your potential to fulfill the employer's needs rather than focusing on what the employer can offer you. You can do this by giving evidence that you have researched the organization thoroughly and that you possess skills used within that organization.
Emphasize your achievements and problem-solving skills. Show how your education and work skills are transferable, and thus relevant, to the position for which you are applying.
Paragraph 3: How You Will Follow Up
Close by reiterating your interest in the job and letting the employer know how they can reach you. Include your phone number and email address. Or bid directly for the job interview or informational interview and indicate that you will follow-up with a telephone call to set up an appointment at a mutually convenient time. If you mention that you will be in touch, be sure to make the call within the time frame indicated.
In some instances, an employer may explicitly prohibit phone calls, or you may be responding to a “blind want-ad” which precludes you from this follow-up.
Unless this is the case, make your best effort to reach the organization. At the very least, you should confirm that your materials were received and that your application is complete.
If you are applying from outside the employer’s geographic area, you may want to indicate if you’ll be in town during a certain time frame (this makes it easier for the employer to agree to meet with you).
In conclusion, you may indicate that your references are available on request. Also, if you have a portfolio or writing samples to support your qualifications, state their availability.
How to Format Your Cover Letter
A cover letter should be three or four paragraphs at most, and shouldn't be longer than one page. If you need to you can adjust the margins (see below) to fit your letter on a single page.
Pick a Simple Font
Cover letter presentation matters as much as what you include. When writing cover letters, it's important to use a basic font that is easy to read. Depending on the hiring process your cover letter may be viewed in an applicant tracking system or other online hiring system. Those systems work best reading simple text rather than fancy formatting.
Using a basic 12 point font will ensure that your cover letter is easy to read. Basic fonts like Arial, Verdana, Calibri, and Times New Roman work well. Your cover letter font should match the font you use in your resume.
Set Your Margins
The standard margins for a business letter are 1". However, if you are having trouble condensing your letter to fit on a single page you can shorten up the top, bottom and side margins to 3/4" or 1/2" or even a little tighter.
Leave Plenty of White Space
Don't forget to leave space below your greeting, between each paragraph, and after your closing.
Carefully Proofread the Letter
Take the time to proof your letter before you send or upload it. It can be easier to double check if you print out a copy or read it out loud.
Review Cover Letter Samples
Next, take a look at cover letter samples, plus review tips for creating cover letters that will have the maximum positive impact on employers.
Related Articles: Cover Letter Format Examples
More About Cover Letters: What to Include in a Cover Letter | How to Write a Cover Letter
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.