Sometimes, the most intimidating part of a cover letter can be figuring out the best way to format it. However, we’re here to tell you it’s a lot easier than you might think! We’re going to look at the different types of cover letter formatting and the simple steps to mastering the cover letter format. Developing your cover letter skills can be a huge asset to you in your job hunt, both now and in the future.
How to Format
The good news is that cover letters aren’t quite as format-heavy as resumes. A very simple format will do the trick, no section headings or columns needed. Even so, there are some basic cover letter skills that you should remember when it comes to formatting.
It can be tempting to write a long cover letter to explore all your relevant experience. But a cover letter, like a resume, should be succinct and to-the-point. It shouldn’t be more than one single-spaced page (or between 200 and 400 words). While you can tweak the margins if you must get it onto one page, your best bet is still to use standard one-inch margins.
When selecting your font, choose a simple style in 10 to 12 point, using black ink (on white or cream paper, if you’re asked for a hard copy). It should be readable and professional-looking. Align your paragraphs to the left and leave a single blank line between each paragraph.
Speaking of those paragraphs, remember what your elementary school teachers told you about paragraph length? Three to five sentences? That rule still applies here! Blocks of text aren’t very reader-friendly, so break your cover letter up into organized, easily readable paragraphs. Bullet points are okay for things that need to be listed, but use them sparingly.
Step By Step: Cover Letter Sections
Using the right sections is a key part of improving your cover letter format. The sections you should include are a header, a greeting, and the body of the letter. Let’s first talk about the two format-heavy sections.
A cover letter is a formal document that should have a formal heading. This typically consists of your name, your contact information, the date you’re writing the letter (aka the date you’re applying), and the company’s address.
For your contact info, it’s generally best to put an email address and a phone number that you’re easily reached at. The date you’re applying should then be aligned on the right-hand side of the line below the header.
Left-align the company address on the lines below that. It may seem old-fashioned, but it may prove useful, especially if you’re submitting a hard copy of your application.
This is often the section applicants stress over the most: how to address their letter. “Dear (Name Of Person)” is a fairly standard option. Conduct some company research to figure out who that person is who will be reading your letter. In a pinch and can’t find a name? Something like “Dear Hiring Manager” is a better and more up-to-date phrasing than “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.”
Once you’ve established the correct format at the start, your letter should move into the main section or body. The body of your letter should be the section where you accomplish the main goals of a cover letter. What are those again? I’m so glad you asked.
Your Mission is to Review Cover Letter Goals
Let’s go over the three primary goals for a cover letter once more. You can check out our cover letter samples to see what this might look like in context.
- Introducing yourself
- Expressing your interest in a particular position and company
- Explaining why you’re qualified for the position in question
Goal One: Introducing… You!
A cover letter is one of the first ways to professionally introduce yourself to a potential employer. This should include your current or most recent job, along with your degree (or major, if you’re still in college) – unless that degree is unrelated to the job in question.
Use the first few lines of your cover letter to achieve this goal before moving into more detailed examples for the next two points.
Goal Two: Communicate your interest
Hiring managers aren’t only looking for employees who are qualified, but ones who are genuinely excited about the job and the company.
That doesn’t mean to be disingenuous, but it helps to have a sentence or two after you introduce yourself explaining why, specifically, you’re interested in them.
Goal Three: Explain why you’re qualified
As you might guess, this is probably the most important part of the whole thing! This segment of your letter body is where you draw connections between your education and/or experience and what they’re looking for in a candidate. Avoid generic turns of phrase like “I’m the best candidate for the job” – instead, use specific examples to prove it.
Does the job require a specific degree that you have? Say that! Does it ask for skills (hard or soft) that you gained? Tell them about the experience that got you there! The idea is to tell your story of how your particular expertise will make you an outstanding employee. They can read your job titles and degree names on your resume – the cover letter is where you get to package it all together and explain how your minor in marketing has equipped you well to handle market research or how your job working a front desk has given you excellent organization and communication skills.
A quick wrap-up is all you need for a conclusion: short and sweet, reiterating your genuine interest in the company, and perhaps a sentence restating the specific reason you believe you would be an asset to their company. Sign off with a standard phrase such as “Best,” or “Sincerely,” and your full name, and you’re ready to proofread and send!
Formatting and organizing a cover letter doesn’t have to be a big deal. With these tips, you can put together a streamlined, professional-looking letter with no stress!