Ch. 2: Cover Letter Format

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:

Cover Letter Format

(The numbers in the document above match the sections below)

 

How To Setup A Cover Letter Document

How your cover letter is setup is incredibly important for ensuring that you convey all the important details and explain why you should be considered for a potential position.

With so many different templates and recommended cover letter designs going around, we’ve compiled a useful set of benchmarks for you to consider when creating your new cover letter.

Length

One of the most important things about getting your cover letter right is the length. Cover letters are designed to help convey that you should be considered for a desired position and can potentially bring more value than other candidates.

Unfortunately, people expect cover letters to maintain a desired length. Ideally, it’s a one page document - so it has to be concise enough to meet those requirements, and long enough to convey all that you need to.

In this one page document, most recommend having three paragraphs. So your paragraph lengths need to be long enough to highlight the important points of each paragraph (we’ll describe these below), but also short enough to keep the one page requirements.

Font Usage

Font usage is important as with any other formal document, especially a cover letter for a potential job that you are applying to. In our Resume Guides section, we detail some of the Best and Worst Fonts you should use.

In addition, you want to make sure that your font is professional in nature, and doesn’t project a representation of you or your experience as immature or lacking in professionalism.

Essentially, you want to ensure that the font you decide to use with your cover letter is the same font that you are currently using in your resume. One great way of looking unprofessional is by having two separate fonts that distract the hiring manager or healthcare recruiter when reviewing your cover letter.

Font Size

Now that we’ve detailed what kinds of fonts you should consider when formulating your cover letter, the next thing to cover is font size. Many people are somewhat intimidated by having to write a one page cover letter, because they feel they don’t have enough to talk about or aren’t certain whether or not they can fill up an entire page.

While these fears are normal, filling up a one page cover letter is relatively easy, so you shouldn’t have to do any fancy things with your font size - like using 14pt font instead of the standard 12pt.

Text Alignment

In today’s changing job marketplace, modern templates and cover letter formats are using different text alignment to showcase creative personalities or conform to the unique design of the cover letter. Even though these templates are using different text alignment settings, the one we recommend you use is the left-aligned setting.

A left-aligned setting ensures that your cover letter is easy to read, professional, and flows naturally while conveying the important details.

Margins

There is a lot of differing information about what size your margins should be for your cover letter. In addition, similar to the font size tricks, individuals can adjust the margin settings to ensure that their cover letter fills up an entire page, but that isn’t recommended.

Many different individuals recommend a margin between 0.8” and 1.5” inch margins. The most effective margin setting we have found for a healthcare job search in your cover letter is 1” inch.

The 1” margin is standard amongst any professional or formal letter you should send, and is the most effective margin to use for cover letters.

Leave White Space

Another thing for you to consider when setting up your resume is to leave white space. For those individuals who are worried about not being able to fill up a cover letter with enough detail, white space is your friend.

And for those who want to include too much information, white space is a helpful guideline to follow to prevent providing too much information and overloading the hiring manager or healthcare recruiter who reviews your cover letter and resume.

White space is essentially the gaps in your cover letter. Using white space is a great way to break up the information on your cover letter to ensure that you don’t have a one page document with nothing but text.

Essentially, white space enables the professional reviewing your cover letter to pause and think about what they just read after each section.

In addition, white space is useful for breaking up the sections so that it’s easy for hiring managers and healthcare recruiters to understand where all the information is in certain sections.

As most cover letters are pretty standard in their format, experienced hiring managers and healthcare recruiters will know to look for contact information at the top of the page, and it will be followed by a short block of whitespace.

In this way, they don’t have to sort through the wall of text that a cover letter might appear to be, they just know what each block represents as it is separated by important white space blocks.

While using white space is important to help break up various elements on your cover letter, it’s also important not to overdo white space. The overuse of white space will make it appear as if your cover letter is very thin, and appear as if you don’t have enough information to contain in the cover letter that you feel is important to share.

In contrast, not utilizing white space can create an overload of information that you should avoid.

Style of Paper

Another important thing to consider when setting up your cover letter is the style of paper you wish to use. Ideally, you want your cover letter to be on the same professional paper or cardstock that you would print out your resume on.

If you need a hard-copy of your cover letter for various reasons, going through the extra effort to use professional paper or card stock is a great way to separate yourself from those candidates who just use traditional paper cover letters.

Spacing

One of the important thing you need to make sure that you do is to format the document with single spaced lines. Plenty of formal documentation requires that you write your document in double space to ensure that it is easy to read, but that’s not the case with cover letters.

In cover letters, it is recommended to use a single space format.

Formatting for Applicant Tracking Systems

The next thing you need to consider when setting up your cover letter is formatting it in such a way that it will be in line with applicant tracking system review systems.

As we covered in relative detail in our Resume Format career guide, applicant tracking systems are increasingly screening cover letters and resumes to help cut down on cost and time when evaluating potential candidates.

In other words, your cover letter format is important to ensure that you don’t get automatically screened out by increasingly sophisticated applicant tracking systems.

In your cover letter, we recommend that you include important keywords related to your skills and experience. In the event that the hospital or healthcare facility is using an applicant tracking system that will pull keywords or keyword phrases from your cover letter or resume, you can ensure that your cover letter doesn’t automatically gets phased out.

 

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:

Contact Information Example - Cover Letter FormatIn this example, the important details are easy to read and hospital hiring managers and healthcare recruiters know how to get in touch with you in a variety of ways.

 

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, where this information is typically readily available for professional correspondence.

Employer contact information example:

Cover Letter Format

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, and will go the extra mile to appear as professional as possible.

 

3. Date

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.

In addition, using a date is useful for reaching out a second time if you never heard anything back the first time. It can provide a useful reference point for you to remember when you initiated the first contact.

Sometimes hiring managers and healthcare recruiters can get inundated with applications and resume/cover letter submissions at one time, and this unintentionally buries your first contact.

Referencing back to the first contact through the use of the date in future correspondence will act as a useful tool to showcase you have been interested in the position for quite some time.

Dates can be formatted as:

  • DD/MM/YYYY
  • DD.MM.YYYY
  • DD-MM-YYYY

 

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 to create that personal touch without coming across as impersonal.

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.

While this might create a personal connection, you also need to be careful when deciding to use this method - as there is always a chance you might be writing your cover letter for one person, and it’s read by another due to a position switch, leave of absence, or other various reason.

In most circumstances, it’s best to just avoid using common references to avoid any awkward encounters that might arise from a mistaken identity or position switches.

 

5. Body

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.

 

First Paragraph

 

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.

If you are inquiring about any position that might be available, as opposed to a specific job as we mentioned in the various cover letters you can send in the previous chapter, you should include why you are interested in various positions available at the respective company.

First paragraph example:

First Paragraph Example - Cover Letter Format

 

Second Paragraph

 

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, 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.

In addition, one other thing you should definitely consider adding to the second paragraph of your cover letter is your educational background. This might include pointing out various information about your major, certain research projects you conducted, study abroad trips, and relevant coursework you took that would be useful for the position you are writing about.

Including details about your education and relevant coursework is useful for those recent graduates who don’t have much professional experience and need to highlight how their educational experience would be beneficial in the desired role.

Second paragraph example:

Second Paragraph Example - Cover Letter Format

 

Third Paragraph (Conclusion)

 

In your third paragraph, you want to help drive home the point of why you are the most qualified candidate for them to consider. One great way of doing this is to highlight your paid positions and professional experience that are directly applicable to the position and highlight how other candidates don’t have that experience.

In addition, you should drive the hiring manager or healthcare recruiter to your application, resume, or both. Due to a cover letter being relatively strict in it’s length requirements, you won’t be able to detail all your answers for application questions or resume credentials, but you can guide them to finding those answers in the application or resume by mentioning it here.

In your conclusion paragraph 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.

Also be sure to mention how you intend to follow up, so they aren’t caught off guard by a random phone call in a week or two.

Leave it open with anticipation of a future meeting, “Look forward to meeting with you soon.”

Third paragraph example:

Third Paragraph Example - Cover Letter Format

 

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,
  • Regards,
  • Kind regards,
  • Best wishes,

 

7. Signature

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.

If you’d like to have an additional touch of using your hard copy signature on a digital version, there are methods available for you to scan your signature, or use an online signature platform to important your hard copy signature into your digital copy of cover letters.

This unique trick just adds a little bit of extra detail that really stands out.

Closing salutation & signature example: Closing Salutation - Cover Letter Format

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.

 

Email Subject Line

One of the important things for you to consider when getting ready to send your cover letter is the email subject line. Not including enough detail will reduce the amount of opens you receive, and putting too much information will cut a portion off and create the appearance of a spam email.

When you are creating an email subject line, create a subject line that details who you are and what position you are applying for. This way, the healthcare recruiter or hiring manager don’t have to guess what the random email is about, and can understand what the purpose of the email is right off the bat.

 

Common Mistakes To Avoid

To ensure that your cover letter is the best it can possibly be to increase your chances of advancing on to the next stage of consideration for a potential job, we’ve also gathered several common mistakes you should avoid when crafting your cover letter.

1. Avoid Spelling Mistakes, Typos, or Grammar Mistakes

One way to instantly disqualify yourself from future consideration is not running your cover letter through a spell check. Almost every text editor comes with some form of a spell check, and all it takes is a simple click of a button to run.

Making sure your cover letter contains no spelling errors takes only a moment, but it’ll pay dividends in the long run.

One other thing to make sure you avoid is any grammatical errors. While something might sound right when you type it out, it’s best to get a few different opinions or use an external resource to ensure that there are no grammatical errors.

Similar to spell checks, there are plenty of tools within each text editor that can check documents for common grammar mistakes. In addition, there are external resources to use if your text editor does not have a grammar check system.

One other option for you to explore is asking a friend or peer for a quick run through of your cover letter. Asking for a quick review by a friend will help to ensure that the message you intend to convey is coming across appropriately, and that the way in which you are saying it is the most effective option.

2. Avoid Rambling

One important thing to avoid is rambling through the cover letter. As mentioned previously, many people will add additional fluff to various areas of the cover letter to make sure that it fills up an entire page.

One way that people add fluff is by rambling over restating what they have already stated in a different way to ensure that their points are being made. The problem with this is that when individuals ramble in their cover letters, it creates the illusion that you have nothing else to add to your cover letter.

While this might not be your intent, it makes you appear as if you have no more important qualifications or considerations that should be added.

In other words, ensure that everything you say in your cover letter is effective in detailing the point you’d like to explain.

3. Avoid The Use of Excess Personal Information

For inexperienced job seekers, one thing they aren’t sure of whether or not to include is the use of additional personal information. Some of the extra personal information that an individual might consider adding includes: social security numbers, driver’s license ID numbers, relationship status, or unnecessary images.

While some cover letters use a photo or headshot to provide a unique and creative element, using a photo or headshot on your cover letter is not recommended.

The important information you want to convey through the use of a cover letter is how your qualifications make you the best candidate for consideration with open positions - not your photograph.

4. Don’t Rehash The Info On Your Resume

A common mistake that many job seekers mistake is simply rehashing everything that is on their resume. When this happens, one has to ask themselves, “If I am rehashing everything on my resume, what is the point of actually reviewing my resume?”

Your cover letter should be more focused on a broad interpretation of what your qualifications and skills can provide the employer. Essentially, you are detailing the potential value you can bring if they consider you for the position.

One great thing about a cover letter is that you can use more than just bullet points to detail your qualifications, so feel free to explain more in detail than just the bullet point details on your resume.

Your resume is then referenced, and they can review it for exact details about what you did in previous employment opportunities and how you achieved at those jobs.

5. Using a Generic Cover Letter

One other common mistake is to avoid the use of a generic cover letter. Healthcare recruiters and hiring managers can tell when a cover letter is the same one you use for all the applications you submit. This comes across as manufactured and inauthentic.

Each cover letter you send should be crafted for that individual position. While this takes extra time, it is a great way of separating yourself from the pack who use the same cover letter for each position without any other consideration.

6. Focusing On Something Other Than Your Skills

One thing that many people tend to do is focus on something other than their skills in their cover letter. Your cover letter is a great tool to showcase which of your skills can align well with the position itself.

It’s best to focus on your skills and detail how those skills can directly be applied to the relative position that you’re applying for - and how those skills are more tailored to the position than other skills that other applicants are applying with.

6. Focusing On Something Other Than Your Skills

Job seekers have a tendency of apologizing for skills that they don’t have. Instead, you should curtail your cover letter to focus on your skills and how those skills can be applied to learning new skills or features that are specific for each individual position.

When you apologize, it creates the sense that you don’t have a desire to learn new skills. Instead, you can use your existing tools and skills to showcase that you are a hard worker who enjoys learning new things on the job.

7. Avoid Apologizing In Your Cover Letter

Job seekers have a tendency of apologizing for skills that they don’t have. Instead, you should curtail your cover letter to focus on your skills and how those skills can be applied to learning new skills or features that are specific for each individual position.

When you apologize, it creates the sense that you don’t have a desire to learn new skills. Instead, you can use your existing tools and skills to showcase that you are a hard worker who enjoys learning new things on the job.

8. Avoid Highlighting Details That Aren’t Applicable

If you were to write a cover letter for a nursing job, the last thing you would want to detail is your experience as a cashier. So make sure that you avoid using any extra details that aren’t directly useful for the position you are applying for.

That’s not to say that skills you have used in other career areas or occupations cannot be utilized in the cover letter application, just that you have to be careful in how you write or spin the information to avoid confusing the hiring manager or healthcare recruiter.

9. Avoid Talking About Salary Information

One thing you should avoid is talking about your requested salary, or the salary range you would consider. This is saved for a personal interview, and you should avoid detailing it on your cover letter.

 

Summary

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.

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.

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.

 

Next: Ch. 3: How to Write a Cover Letter