Are you struggling with finding the right cover letter format? When job hunting, it is common for employers to ask for a cover letter along with your resume. But apart from supporting your resume, your cover letter also needs to stand out and catch the hiring manager’s eye. Below, we go over the cover letter format do’s and don’ts, as well as what to include in a winning cover letter.
How to format a cover letter
Your cover letter format should fulfill two key functions. First, it should quickly help the hiring manager understand what makes you the ideal candidate. Second, it should look professional and follow standard business document etiquette. To do this, your cover letter format should be no longer than one page. More important, it should always include a strong value proposition focused on what you can bring to the company. While some jobs may require a special cover letter format, the most commonly used one consists of 6 sections.
How to format each section of the cover letter, step by step
Step 1: Create a professional header
Never rely only on one form of communication. When providing your contact information, include your email address, phone number, physical address, and any relevant way the company can get in touch with you. Also, make sure your email address is professional and won’t put the employer off. Finally, include a date so that you can refer back to your communication in the future.
Step 2: Start with a professional greeting
Unless you know the hiring manager and are close with them, always start your cover letter with a formal “Dear…” Including the name of the hiring manager will boost your chances of catching their attention. If you don’t know their name yet, call or email the organization and ask. The extra effort will pay off.
Step 3: Catch the recruiter’s attention with your opening part
Your first paragraph will make or break your chances. Keep it concise and to the point, but not dull. After all, this is your chance to grab the hiring manager’s attention. For starters, include how you found the job, a summary of your experience, and what you’re bringing to the table.
Step 4: Pitch yourself in the middle part
In the body of your cover letter, expand on what makes you a better fit for the role than other applicants. Then, include why you think the company is a good fit for you and what you could bring them. Essentially, show that you are interested in the company and what they do.
Step 5: Ask about the next steps in the closing part
Much like the first paragraph, your last paragraph should be straight to the point. In a sentence or two, summarize the most relevant experience that sets you apart from other candidates. Then, thank the hiring manager for the opportunity and ask about the next steps in the hiring process. You can structure your last paragraph as an offer but avoid overselling yourself.
Step 6: Finish with a complimentary close and signature
Finally, sign off your cover letter. If you used the hiring manager’s name, use “Yours faithfully.” Use “Yours sincerely,” if you didn’t address the letter to any specific person. Remember to add your full name in print under your signature.
Cover letter format tips
- Cover letter fonts – Yes, you want your cover letter format to stand out. But before you choose a quirky font, think of two things: professionalism and readability. Neither of them should be sacrificed in the name of standing out. So, when choosing your font, select one of the Sans Serif options. Some of the best professional fonts are Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Lucida Sans, Century Gothic, and Trebuchet MS. As far as size goes, use 10 or 12 points to preserve readability.
- Email or printed copy? – Some employers might ask for a hard copy or PDF cover letter format, while others may require a simple email cover letter. If you’re sending your cover letter as an email, make sure to use an appropriate subject line. It should state the position you’re applying for and your name. If you can, include a digital signature as well. If you’re sending a hard copy, pay attention to the paper you are printing on. Choose a high-quality paper that is not flimsy and stick to white or ivory color.
- Spacing and margins – Your cover letter format should be easy to read and have enough margin space for printing. To ensure none of your text gets cut off when printing, set your margins to one inch on all sides. Next, set the text of your cover letter to single-spaced. But, to avoid having your cover letter look too crowded and overwhelming, make sure you leave enough white space. In general, you should leave at least one blank line between each section of your cover letter.
- Proofread – Having typos and mistakes in your cover letter is the quickest way to undermine your credibility. So, make sure to always double-check it. Use spellcheck, but don’t rely on it completely. To notice additional syntax errors and other mistakes, take a break after you write your cover letter, and then come back to edit it with a fresh set of eyes. Alternatively, try reading your cover letter backward. Finally, check once more that your contact information and personal details are all correct.
Common cover letter mistakes to avoid
- Spelling and grammar mistakes – As we said above – proofread, proofread, proofread! Your cover letter is a professional document that represents you as an employee. To leave a good impression, make sure your spelling and grammar are correct. Above all, double-check your contact information. A perfect cover letter will do you no good if the employer can’t contact you!
- Not tailoring your cover letter to the job – When a company is hiring, they are looking for a very specific set of skills and knowledge in the applicants. So, to get the job, you need to show them that you have those specific skills they are seeking. Sending out a generic cover letter will make you look unmotivated and lazy. Instead, do your research and highlight the skills and experience that are most relevant to the job and the company.
- Repeating information from your resume –Your cover letter should expand on and support your resume, not repeat it. In other words, it should provide information that the hiring manager wouldn’t get from your resume. To do this, expand on specific aspects of your resume that are relevant to the position. For example, explain one of your achievements and how it could help you succeed in the job.
- Writing too much – In general, your cover letter should not be longer than one page. Of course, there are exceptions, such as when you’re changing careers, but avoid rambling. Hiring managers rarely have the time to read further than one page, so try to be concise and efficient with your content.
Cover letter format examples
Remember: that your cover letter should leave a great first impression and set you apart from other candidates. To achieve that, focus on relevant skills, make sure your cover letter format is neat and professional, and tailor it to the job. By following these cover letter format tips, you will be well on your way to creating a great cover letter.