A cover letter is a one-page document that is paired with a resume to form a job application.
Knowing how to write a cover letter will only get you so far, as you also need to know how to format it. How you format your cover letter will say a lot about you, your professionalism, and ultimately what kind of employee you will be. It could mean the difference between landing that interview, and having your application tossed into the trash.
With this in mind, let’s get into the specifics on proper cover letter format.
1. Cover Letter Heading
Your cover letter heading is where you provide basic information about yourself to the hiring manager. In a simple cover letter, this information will be displayed somewhere toward the top of the document in plain text.
Alternatively, many creative and modern cover letter templates feature graphics and icons in the headers with various fonts and colors.
Below we’ve outlined the absolute must-haves for your heading:
Regardless of the template you use, your cover letter header should include the following personal information:
- Name: your full name should be displayed prominently at the top of your cover letter in a large font size.
- Address: traditionally, job applicants would provide their full home address. However, in 2020, simply listing your city and state is enough for most hiring managers.
- Phone number: include your full phone number, along with your country/area code, if applicable.
- Email address: a professional email address, such as [email protected], is an absolute must for your cover letter.
- LinkedIn profile: LinkedIn has become a huge part of the hiring process, so it’s important that you include a link to your profile.
- Job title: although not a necessity, including your current job title (when applicable) tends to exude an air of professionalism to prospective employers.
Once you’ve entered the information above into your cover letter heading, it should look something like this:
Date & Employer Contact Information
It’s an artefact of the days when applicants would actually mail their cover letter to prospective employers, but including the date and employer contact information at the top of your cover letter is still common practice.
Include the following pieces of information directly below the header, left-aligned, and toward the top:
- Application date
- Hiring manager’s name
- Company name
- Company street address
- Company city, state, and ZIP code
Be sure to add a line break (aka some space) between the application date and the hiring manager’s name.
If you’re feeling edgy or extra-contemporary, you can omit the employer’s address and name, adding simply the application date, followed by a simple greeting for the hiring manager.
2. Cover Letter Salutation
Ideally, you should address your cover letter directly to the hiring manager of the position you’re applying for by name. You can usually find their name in the job description or on the company website. If you can’t find it, don’t panic – try calling the company and asking for the hiring manager’s name.
If you can’t find the hiring manager’s name, you’ll need to use a professional, generic greeting, such as:
- Dear Hiring Manager
- Dear Accounting Department
- Dear Accounting Team
- To Whom It May Concern
Many career websites these days advise against using “To Whom It May Concern” to address a cover letter, but the reality is that hiring managers are too busy to worry about your greeting. Any of the above generic greetings is perfectly acceptable and professional.
3. Letter Body
The body of your cover letter should consist of only three paragraphs: the intro, the hard sell, and the call to action (CTA).
Cover Letter Intro
Knowing how to start a cover letter is an essential part of any job application. The opening paragraph of your cover letter, which we call the intro, should do the following:
- Get the hiring manager’s attention
- Introduce yourself
- Specify the position you’re applying for
- Describe where you found out about the job opening
- Touch on why you’re the ideal candidate for the role
Additionally, if you’re writing a cover letter with no experience, your intro should also include a sentence about why you’re passionate about the position.
Check out how our candidate wrote a simple, yet effective intro paragraph in the example below.
Cover Letter Intro Paragraph Example:
|My name is Megan Johnston, and I am a recent accounting graduate with extensive internship experience in preparing invoices, analyzing financial data, and managing payroll at Fortune 500 companies. I found this job posting on LinkedIn and believe I would be a great choice for Smith & Roberts Accounting’s entry-level accounting position.|
If you’ve been referred to the role by a current employee of the prospective company, or a mutual contact of the hiring manager, be sure to mention it in the first paragraph of your cover letter. A strong referral can help you get the opportunity for an interview, so it’s important to disclose this information early on.
The second paragraph is where you’ll sell yourself to the hiring manager, delving into your experience, accomplishments, skills and qualifications. Use the experience and requirements listed in the job posting to tailor this section to align with what the company is looking for.
The hiring manager will have already reviewed your resume, so don’t waste their time repeating information. Instead, connect the accomplishments and qualifications on your resume to the goals of the company.
Take a look at how the candidate below artfully sells their relevant skills and experience.
Cover Letter Hard Sell Paragraph Example:
|I noticed in your job description that you want a candidate that can work independently and requires very little supervision. With 5+ years of digital marketing experience, I can assure you that I am completely familiar with the routines and scheduling associated with outreach, social media campaigns, ad campaigns, traffic reports, and even content calendars. This familiarity, coupled with my various marketing certifications, make me an ideal fit for this role.|
If you really want to impress the hiring manager, do some research into your potential employer, the current state of their industry, the company’s position in the market, and if possible, their future plans. You can add a short paragraph after the hard sell which details how you’ll fit into their game plan. Use this opportunity to explain how your involvement will propel the company forward and contribute toward their future goals.
The last paragraph, which we call the CTA, is where you’ll tie everything you want to say together with a strong conclusion that does the following:
- Thanks the hiring manager for their consideration of your application.
- Restates your most important contact information, for example, your phone number and email address.
- Provides a compelling call-to-action – a line that prompts the hiring manager to invite you in for an interview.
- Briefly reiterates what makes you the best candidate for the position.
Check out the below candidate’s professional cover letter closing paragraph.
Cover Letter CTA Paragraph Example:
|I am thrilled at the prospect of working with Smith & Roberts Accounting and would like to come in for an interview as soon as possible. Please contact me at (423)135-8789 or via email at [email protected], so we can arrange a meeting. Thank you for your time and consideration; I look forward to hearing from you.|
A strong CTA section will leave a last impression of you in the hiring manager’s mind, so be sure to spend time on it and craft something that expresses the message you want to get across.
4. How to End a Cover Letter
The last part of a good cover letter is the closing (valediction or sign-off). It’s where you have the opportunity to sign off on the cover letter and say farewell to the hiring manager.