How to Format a Cover Letter

cover letter format

If you’ve never written a cover letter before, then you probably don’t know what a cover letter format looks like. In this extensive writeup, we’re going to cover what should go inside of your cover letter and how to write each section.

With each of these sections defined for you, it should provide you ample understanding of not only how to build your cover letter but how to format your cover letter as well.

In this guide you will learn:

And much more. Ready to get started with writing your cover letter? Let’s go!

Are Cover Letters Important?

Before we begin it’s important to mention that cover letters, while very important to have as part of your job application assets, aren’t necessarily going to ensure that you receive a job offer[7].

But they are important to write and write with intention. And here is why. Some managers will read cover letters and others won’t. But you can’t predict whether or not your future manager cares about cover letters with regard to their style of interviewing.

Because it’s impossible to predict, it is important you spend the time to create yours. And do so without haste.

So, if you ask, “Are cover letters important?”[4] the answer is yes, they are.

What Goes Into a Cover Letter?

Here is your basic breakdown of the sections that go into a cover letter.

These are the components that go into your cover letter. Let’s break down what each of these is.

Contact Information

Your contact information[3] should contain:

The reason why mailing address may not be necessary is that most HR representatives will ask you for your up to date mailing address before interviewing with you. This is a great way to slim down on some of the text in your cover letter to make more room for your message. And seeing as your resume should be one-page in length[8], it might be useful to remember this trick.

The Current Date

This doesn’t need much of an explanation, but the current date should look like the following:

May 29th, 2020

Future Employers Contact Information

If you’re sending your job application by email[9], then you might need this information. But if you’re mailing this as a printed letter, it may be good to include the business contact information if the letter goes to the incorrect mailing address.

Salutation or Greeting

A salutation[6] is an opening remark. This is often confused as what you say when you end a letter[10], but it isn’t. It is the statement that you open the message with. This would be classified as “To Whom It May Concern”[11] or some other type of opening remark or opening addressing[5] like “Dear Hiring Manager”.

The best greetings to use for your cover letter would be:

Keep your opening remark formal and simple. If you can, find the hiring manager's name[5] and refer to them that way. Like the following example:

To keep it formal, use an "em-dash" directly after you address the reader. This would look like the following:

Dear Mr.Smith—

Your Opening Paragraph

The best way to start a cover letter[1] is to open with a statement. Use prior work achievements, prior education achievements or awards as part of what makes you a unique candidate[12].

Utilize these prior achievements to help make you stand out. For example:

“I’m applying to the position of Software Engineer because I noticed that you were seeking someone who could lead, hire, and engineer. That person is me. In my prior position, I hired more than 18 Software Engineers as well as reached 14 major business KPI’s within the first 3 quarters of 2019.”

Your Achievement Bullet Points

Most cover letter formats won’t tell you this. But modern cover letters should contain one to three bullet points that encapsulate prior work achievements.

This is the best way to catch the reader's attention. By not including them, you make the cover letter far more subjective. And it can make it more difficult for the HR representative to scan your cover letter for insights.

Bullet points should look something like the following:

Your Closing Statement

If you’re following the principals above, your closing statement should be simple yet impactful. It should be one to two sentences where you show your excitement, enthusiasm and passion[13] to want to work with the business.

Closing your cover letter with this type of enthusiasm is important. It ensures that the time you spent crafting the perfect cover letter introduction and body is welcomed and accepted by the reader.

Your Sign-Off

Choosing a sign-off[2] is important. You don’t just want to say “thanks” and then end your cover letter. If you can, use something like “Thank you so much for your time.” Or some other statement which is going to be appreciative to the reader.

Here is what that should look like:

Thank you so much for your time,
John

That’s All the Sections

That’s a comprehensive breakdown of each of the sections that go into your cover letter. And what makes up a proper cover letter with business etiquette built-in.

But how does it look when you put it all together? Let’s take a glance at a full sample cover letter (with this formatting) so you can get an idea.

Sample Cover Letter

Here is an example cover letter using the formatting from above.

Ian Smith
ian@smith.com
639-555-9984
Registered Nurse

May 1st, 2013

Dear Mr. Johnson —

I'm applying for the position of Registered Nurse because I've always had a passion for nursing ever since I was a young child. I broke my foot during a baseball practice. And there was a nurse as part of the hospital staff that was very calming to me going through this trauma. Ever since then, I've wanted to become a nurse.

During my tenure as a previous Registered Nurse I was able to:

  • Treat more than 10,000 patients in Q2 of 2012.
  • Ensure the proper treatment of our patients and follow hospital protocol.
  • Ensure that all hospital staff was well informed of the patients I was treating by taking my time with note-taking and ensuring that all record-keeping was immaculate.
I look forward to interviewing with you. If there is any information that you'd like to see that I didn't include in my application, please feel free to contact me and I will return that to you as soon as possible.

Sincerely,
Ian Smith

Cover Letter Template

[Your name]
[Your email]
[Your phone number]
[Job position title]

[Today’s Date]

Dear Mr/Mrs [Last Name]

I am writing this because I found your online job listing for [job title] compelling. I have at least [x years] previous experience working as a [job title]. There are many reasons why I feel I'm a good fit for the position. But before I jump into that, I'd like to tell you why I feel compelled to apply at [company name]. The ethics and values of the organization, such as [value/ethics mention] and [value/ethics mention] fit with my personal background. And I would love to share that with you when I interview.

During my previous work experience, I was able to accomplish a few milestones which are applicable to this job. Those are:

  • [Bullet point regarding previous accomplishments that are targeted to the company]
  • [Bullet point regarding previous accomplishments that are targeted to the company]
  • Bullet point regarding previous accomplishments that are targeted to the company]
I look forward to interviewing with you. If there is any information that you'd like to see that I didn't include in my application, please feel free to contact me and I will return that to you as soon as possible.

Sincerely,
[Your name]
[Your handwritten signature]

Other Formatting Tips for Your Cover Letter

Here are a few other formatting tips that you might want to know regarding your cover letter:

Resources Mentioned In This Article

Below are the resources and articles that were references in this writeup.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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