Ch. 2: Cover Letter Format
In Ch. 1: What is a Cover Letter? we covered the basics, the purpose of a cover letter, and why they're still important for your job search. In this chapter we'll lay out the proper format that recruiting professionals have come to expect from job seekers today. The cover letter format is practically universal as it's just a variation of a formal letter, but it can vary in how the layout is set up.
Formal letters include your contact information, the recipient's contact information, the date, a salutation, the body paragraph(s), and the closing. Formal letters are an important part of your job-search strategy, and it should be constructed in a way that shows you considered the craft and style of your job-hunting portfolio.
How to Format A Cover Letter:
(The numbers in the document above match the sections below)
1. Contact Information
In the contact info you want to include your name, address, city, state, zip code, phone number, and email address. Even though much of this information has been stated multiple times, you want it to be in one place and visible to whomever is reading your document. To keep a professional cover letter format, the contact information must be at the top, but can be aligned left, right, or centered - depending on how you want your cover letter to look.
Contact information example:
2. Employer Contact Information
If you have your employer's contact info, put it here, and you can find most of what you need on Google or the company’s website. The employer’s contact info list includes their name, title, company name, address, city, state, and zip code. Do everything you can to find the specific hiring manager's information. A good place to search is LinkedIn.com.
Employer contact information example:
Even if you are sending the document over email, this is the formal way to address the reader and will show that you care enough to follow guidelines.
Put the date you wrote the letter below the employer’s contact info. Adding a date gives the document a timestamp and can add a personal touch to the document; it shows you aren't using a blanket cover letter you made last year.
Dates can be formatted as:
4. Opening Salutation
Begin with a salutation like “Dear Mr or Mrs. (Last Name Here); if you can't find their name, omit the salutation altogether. Hiring managers see "To whom it may concern:" on just about every cover letter they receive, and it's completely unnecessary. However, you should do anything and everything you can to find their name.
If you happen to have something in common with them, like you both played tennis, make a reference to that for a more personal connection in your body paragraphs.
The cover letter format strongly influences how you build your body paragraphs. You have a message you want your prospective employer to know, and the body is where you tell them what you have to say. Inform them what position you are applying for, why you are a good fit, and include follow up information.
Be sure to stick to writing only three paragraphs for your body. Keep it clear and concise and write only as many sentences as it takes to convey your message.
In your introduction, let them know why you are writing, for which position you are applying, and where you found said position. Hook them in with an appealing first paragraph, and show them how you stand out and speak to the need they have as an employer.
Ask them a question that they would ask themselves, pertaining to the position, and then answer the question in the following paragraph -- showing them how your accomplishments fulfill their query.
If you have any mutual acquaintances, list the relationships here. Use acquaintances to relate to them and use that leverage to gain a reference point and a dialogue.
First paragraph example:
In this paragraph, describe your accomplishments and how you will fit the role. Tell the reader about what you can bring to the company and interpret your skills for the specific job. Demonstrate how you overcame obstacles in previous employment, and in life, and how you can translate those skills to the job at hand.
State problems and give solutions, be concise and clear. Don't drag it out or repeat what's on your resume, but rather give instances that add focus to your resume and show your key accomplishments.
Second paragraph example:
Third Paragraph (Conclusion)
In your conclusion you should ask them for an interview, and if done tactfully, those who ask are twice as likely to get the interview. Finally, thank them and ask to schedule an interview at their earliest convenience.
Include your call back number directly after so it's fresh on their mind, and it gives them a call to action. Say that you will follow up in a week to discuss the position and to make sure they received your information. Leave it open with anticipation of a future meeting: “Look forward to meeting with you soon.”
Third paragraph example:
6. Closing Salutation
Make sure you include "Thank you for your consideration" after the body of your letter, and close it out with a salutation. Since it’s a formal letter, you can use an appropriate closer. “Sincerely,” is appropriate to use since you opened with “Dear”, letting it remain professional.
Other salutations you can use include:
- Sincerely yours,
- Very truly yours,
- Kind regards,
- Best wishes,
There's no need to add a space between the closing salutation and your name or signature. Handwrite your signature for hard copy and type your name for email versions.
It is also correct if you type your name, print it, then hand-write your signature below the printed name.
Closing salutation & signature example:
You can also leave a space underneath your name to add your business email. This isn't mandatory, but it makes contacting you a little bit easier for the recipient.
While a resume highlights skills, accomplishments, and education, a cover letter can expand upon your key accomplishments and address certain instances your resume cannot. You can detail what positions you are seeking and how you fit the criteria for them; using an organized cover letter format will show that you researched and care about the overall style of your document.
It's best to keep your cover letter short and sweet. Don't get long-winded and make sure to convey how you can meet their need. A cover letter is your chance to clarify what your resume cannot, so use the opportunity. Remember to customize each cover letter for every employer, because you need to interpret your resume skills for each individual job.
You have better odds of landing an interview and a job if you tailor each cover letter for each prospective job. All in all, stick to a proven cover letter format and use a nice font that stays professional but adds a little character.
Also, you can use your cover letter to fill in the gaps your resume doesn't cover; you can explain that the gap in employment was due to traveling abroad or entrepreneurial endeavors. You can also let your prospective employer know if you are looking to relocate, to change your career, or any other circumstances.