How to Format a Cover Letter (+ Formatting Guide, Examples, Free Template) [2020]

cover letter format

A cover letter is a type of business letter and introduction letter between a job applicant and a hiring manager (or recruiter). A cover letter is sometimes referred to as an application letter. This cover letter accompanies a resume or curriculum vitae in a job application. This letter acts as the first impression between the writer and the reader. A hiring manager or recruiter is likely to read a cover letter before continuing to learn about the job applicant’s professional background through a resume.

A cover letter is made up of three impactful paragraphs that have been tailored to a specific job and job description (tailored to the potential employer). The ideal cover letter is roughly 400 to 500 words in length, equaling a single-page document with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This letter is written with formal language, from the greeting to the salutation.

Cover letters are often confused with a prospecting letter. A prospecting letter is formatted similarly to a cover letter but contains information used to perform a long-distance job search or to show interest in employment when there are open positions.

Tip: It can be helpful for a job seeker to perform an informational interview before writing a cover letter. This can help to gain insights about what the company or hiring manager is looking for in a job applicant. An informational interview is when a job seeker can gather career advice from an employee. With this information, it can make it easier to write a more perfect cover letter (since the letter will more accurately target to the reader).

Inside a Cover Letter

To write an effective cover letter, follow these formatting guidelines.

Contact Information

Submitting a digital copy of a cover letter is most common. Meaning, the hiring manager will be reading the cover letter on their computer. The basic contact information like the job applicant’s name, phone number, and email address should be present. Because it's a digital copy, the job applicant can avoid listing their mailing address. Additional information like a LinkedIn profile, personal website, or link to a creative portfolio is optional depending on the job.

Greeting

Using the hiring manager’s name is best when addressing the cover letter. Using “Dear Hiring Manager” is an alternative when starting a cover letter. Addressing a specific person within the company shows the job applicant is writing a customized cover letter for the job opportunity. This can feel personal. Making the hiring manager want to read the letter. Avoid generic greetings like, “To Whom It May Concern”. The last option is to address the CEO by name, which is often the easiest name to find through research.

The greeting should look like the following:

Dear Mr. Johnson —

Opening paragraph

The first paragraph or opening paragraph. An opening paragraph needs to grab the reader’s attention. This can be done by reiterating a requirement from the job posting or from the prospective employer. A relevant short story can be shared displaying a passion for the business and the company as well.

Body paragraph

The middle paragraph and second paragraph. The body paragraph should provide an enticing introduction for the hiring manager to want to read the resume. This should be career accomplishments or relevant work experiences that show the hiring manager the applicant is a good fit for the job title.

Closing paragraph

The closing statement. This closing paragraph should present a “Call to Action” to the reader. For example, a story that might be shared during an interview if the applicant is requested to perform one. This closing paragraph should entice the reader more. And support an understanding of the requirements (or a single qualification) for the specific position. For example:

I noticed the job requires heavy relationship building skills. I’d love to share with you how I increased our overall lead generation by 30% in the sales team by using networking events.

Salutation and signature

A salutation should end the formal letter. Avoiding terms like, “See ya later”. A formal salutation is one of the following:

Tip: A “good cover letter” is one that’s targeted to the job title and company values. Avoid sending a generic cover letter that’s being used for every job application. A successful cover letter displays unique qualities, traits, and accomplishments on behalf of the job applicant.

Cover Letter Format

Contact Information
Name
Phone Number
Email Address
LinkedIn Profile
(Optional) Professional Website

Salutation
Dear Mr./Mrs. First Last Name

Opening Paragraph
The first paragraph should greet the reader and suggest an understanding of the job requirements. This paragraph should be no more than 150 words.

Second Paragraph
The body paragraph should contain relative work examples and career accomplishments that entice the hiring manager to read the resume.

Closing Paragraph
Thank the reader for their time. Suggest a desire to interview with the company as soon as possible.

Letter Closing
Sincerely/Yours truly

Signature
Typed Name or handwritten signature

Cover Letter Document Format

To produce a professional cover letter, follow these guidelines:

Tip: Using a cover letter builder can help ensure the document formatting is correct.

Cover Letter Sample

Below is a cover letter example.

Ian Smith
ian@smith.com
639-555-9984
Sales Associate

May 1st, 2013

Dear Mr. Johnson —

I have always been told that I have a strong personality. One that is approachable, sociable, and more. This is why I feel like I'll be a perfect fit for your open Sales Associate position. I understand that the needs of the job are more than simply selling. But being a domain expert as well.

During my tenure as a previous Retail Associate I was able to:

  • Learn the inner workings of a highly detailed product and be able to sell it to customers.
  • Manage a sales floor as well as interact with customers and deal with customer support issues.
  • Collaborate, direct, and communicate efficiently to other retail and sales associates.
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. My enclosed resume should provide more insights into my career achievements for you.

Sincerely,
Ian Smith
free cover letter template

Free Cover Letter Template

Download this cover letter template in Word format. Can be imported as a Google Doc. Instant download. No email required.

Download Template

Emailing a Job Application

An "email cover letter" is a type of email format used when submitting a job application. It includes some information contained in the cover letter. Below is a sample cover letter of this kind:

Hi John —

I was really excited to see the company release XYZ Software back in 2012. It had a significant impact on my career. I noticed the job opening for Product Designer came up on a job board I was scanning last night and I wanted to submit my resume. A few things about my career that might help you in the process:

  • Designed iOS 11 back in 2013.
  • First hire at Facebook.
My cover letter and resume submission for the job application is below. Please let me know if you have any further questions, I look forward to getting the opportunity to have a job interview with yourself and the rest of the team.

Sincerely,
Robert

Cover Letter Examples

Below are a number of cover letter examples by job.

Popular Cover Letter Examples

Accounting Cover Letter Examples

Administration and Office Support Cover Letter Examples

Advertising, Arts, and Media Cover Letter Examples

Banking and Financial Services Cover Letter Examples

Call Center and Customer Service Cover Letter Examples

Community Services and Development Cover Letter Examples

Consulting and Strategy Cover Letter Examples

Education and Training Cover Letter Examples

Cover Letter Resources

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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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