Best Cover Letter Formats: A Guide For Recent Grads and Job Seekers

cover letter format

If you’re in the midst of a job search, you’ve probably got lots of questions about the best cover letter format.

All the answers you need are right here.

In this cover letter format guide, we will discuss fundamental formatting tips, along with various cover letter format options. The advice in this article will help you choose the best cover letter format for your next job application.

Before we start, what is a cover letter?

An effective cover letter accomplishes three things:

  1. Introduces you to a prospective employer.
  2. Communicates your interest in a position and company.
  3. Explains how you’re a well-qualified candidate for the position.

Simply put, a cover letter tells a company, “Hey, I really want this job and I’m qualified.” In a more professional way, of course.

A cover letter and resume give you an opportunity to prove what makes you the best candidate for the job. After the employer reads your cover letter, you want them to invite you to interview with the company.

Does the format of a cover letter actually matter?

Yes.

Since recruiters sort through a large number of cover letters, the quality and format of your cover letter matters. When a recruiter scans your cover letter, they must be able to find exactly what they’re looking for—and quickly.

You really should be asking, “How can I make a good impression in 60 seconds? What is the best cover letter format for me?”

How should you format your cover letter?

Regardless of the position you’re applying to, there are standard rules you need to follow regarding your cover letter format.

Length: Cover letters provide an opportunity to tell your story, but nobody has time to read a novel. A cover letter should never be longer than one, single-spaced page (with a word count of 200-400 words).

Margins: Stick with standard 1-inch margins when possible. If your cover letter is a little too long, you may use margins as small as .5 inches so it fits on a single page. Whatever you choose, be consistent.

Font: Choose easy-to-read fonts like Arial, Calibri, Garamond, Georgia, Tahoma, or Times New Roman. Avoid curly-cue letters and fonts that only belong on horror movie posters (think: Chiller font).

Font Size: We recommend using size 10- to 12-point font. This size is large enough to read, but small enough to create a professional look. You aren’t writing a children’s book or a large-print novel.

Color: Unless you’re a creative professional, black font is the smartest option. If you’re applying to a creative industry, a small splash of color may be appropriate.

Paragraphs: A cover letter is generally 3-5 paragraphs, or 2-3 paragraphs with a few bullet points.

Alignment: Left align the paragraphs in your cover letter. You don’t need to indent the first sentence of each paragraph. Instead, “Return/Enter” between each paragraph to create a balance of text and whitespace.

Bullet Points: Use bullet points to briefly summarize information. For example, you may write something like this:


My ability to work in a team and attention to detail have prepared me well for the engineering role with XYZ Company.

  • Teamwork. As an entry-level engineer, I collaborate with a 5-person team to review, scan, and capture relevant information from historical documentation. I have the necessary interpersonal skills and experience to excel with your company.
  • Attention to detail. As an engineering intern, I was relied on for my attention to detail. I designed a coat rack with mass constraints that could support 3x the required load with a structure that weighed less than 10 grams.

Bullet points provide an effective way to communicate multiple qualifications, without exceeding one page.

Those are the basic style guidelines for writing a cover letter. Now let’s check out the fundamental sections of a cover letter.

What are the fundamental sections of your cover letter?

We’re going to walk you through a cover letter format by sharing excerpts from a full-length cover letter. We will review the following sections: contact information, salutation, introduction, body, and closing paragraphs.

Header

A cover letter header (located at the top of your cover letter) includes basic contact information: name, phone, email, and the date you’re applying.

In terms of contact information, be sure to include a professional email address and phone number. You may also choose to include a URL link to your LinkedIn profile or an online portfolio that showcases your work.

Header Example:


Jordan Marsh
123 Biology Blvd.
Tampa, FL 12345
(888) 888-8888
jordan.marsh@uc.edu


Company Address

While you’re not submitting a hard copy of your cover letter, after you submit an application, it’s in the hands of human resources. Your application materials may be printed and sent to another department.

To safeguard against it getting lost, determine the company name, address, and department (if applicable). Left-align this information below the date.

Company Address Example:


[Application Date]

Mrs. Donna Smith
Biology Department
Wetlands Nonprofit
St. Petersburg, FL 56789


Greeting and Salutation

‘Dear’ is always a safe option. It’s also smart to reference the hiring manager or recruiter by name in your salutation. Make sure the name, title, and spelling are all correct. For example, a person with the name “Taylor” may prefer the title Mr., Ms., Mrs., or none of the above.

In your search for cover letter tips, you’ll probably come across samples that say, “To Whom It May Concern.” Don’t copy these examples. Do your homework and figure out the actual name behind the “Whom.”

Greeting and Salutation Example:


Dear Mrs. Donna Smith and Hiring Committee,


Introductory Paragraph

Your introductory paragraph should inspire the hiring manager to continue reading. The first few sentences of your cover letter should accomplish the following:

  1. Explain why you’re writing.
  2. Provide a brief overview of who you are.
  3. Mention the specific company and position.
  4. Introduce what you’re about to discuss in the body paragraph.

Introductory Paragraph Example:


When I discovered the Entry-level Environmental Science position with Wetlands Nonprofit on internships.com, I was excited by the opportunity to launch my biology career. In May, I graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Southern California. I am passionate about life science and have a particular interest in marine biology and aquatic plants. My academic credentials, campus involvement, and volunteer work have prepared me well for this position.


Body Paragraph

After you grab the recruiter’s attention, you need to maintain interest with a compelling body paragraph.

In this section, you need to prove your qualifications to the reader. It’s important to be specific about your qualifications. Clearly match the requirements outlined in the job description with your most relevant skills and qualifications.

The body of your cover letter can be formatted as a traditional paragraph or broken up into several bite-size bullet points.

Let’s look at an example.

Body Paragraph Example:


  • Academic credentials. My B.S. in Environmental Science required the following coursework: Biology and Conservation of Fish, Data Science for Biologists, and Fish and Wildlife Toxicology.
  • Campus involvement. As a member of University College’s Biology Club, I gained experience handling animals, maintaining lab exhibits, and sharing science information with others.
  • Volunteer work. I currently volunteer with the East Area Middle School Science Bowl as a scientific rules judge. I mentor middle school teams and clarify information as necessary.

Closing Paragraph

Finally, like any good story, you need a solid conclusion. In the closing section, you should do a few things:

  1. Summarize why you’re qualified for the position.
  2. Express your appreciation for the hiring manager’s time and consideration.

Closing Paragraph Example:


I am excited by the chance to contribute to Wetlands Nonprofit. I enjoy sharing my passion for biology and would be thrilled to lead educational marsh walks, manage the crabbing program, and coordinate kayak tours.

My enclosed resume expands on my academic credentials, campus involvement, and volunteer work. I am eager to further my biology career and would be thrilled to join your Wetlands Nonprofit team. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Jordan Marsh


DIFFERENT TYPES OF COVER LETTER FORMATS

There are several different cover letter formats. If you want to choose the best cover letter format, you need to consider your level of experience and the type of position you’re applying for. We’ll show you three different types:

  1. Paragraph cover letter format
  2. Bullet-point cover letter format
  3. Make-the-Match cover letter format

Paragraph Cover Letter Format (Most Common)

A traditional cover letter is written in paragraph form. This format may also be referred to as a standard or block cover letter format. A paragraph cover letter is typically comprised of 3-5 short paragraphs.


Who Should Use a Paragraph Cover Letter? A traditional, paragraph cover letter can be used by every professional, at any level, in any industry. This cover letter format helps you tell a cohesive story.


Since there are no bullet points or bold words, your narrative is never broken up. It also lets you explain your most relevant skills and accomplishments and how they relate to the position.

That said, it can be easy to ramble in a paragraph cover letter. If you’re a rambler, a bullet point cover letter format may be a better option for you.

Bullet-Point Cover Letter Format

A bullet-point cover letter is similar to a traditional cover letter. You still include an introduction, body, and conclusion, but you present your main qualifications through bullet points (rather than paragraphs).

Each bullet point highlights one relevant skill, qualification, or experience. For example, you may choose to highlight your degree, professional experience, or volunteer experience. Each bullet point consists of only one or two brief sentences.


Who Should Use a Bullet-Point Cover Letter? A bullet-point cover letter can be used by every professional, at any level, in any industry (just like the traditional letter). Since recruiters sort through hundreds of cover letters each day, many appreciate cover letters that are short and sweet.


Since you’re only sharing 2-5 bullet points, a bullet-point cover letter forces you to simplify your ideas. You need to determine the main points you want to convey.

Make-the-Match Cover Letter Format

The third cover letter format is what we like to call “make-the-match.” Others may refer to this as a “T-shaped” cover letter or a “Shopping List” cover letter.

A make-the-match cover letter is exactly what it sounds like: In your letter, you match your qualifications to what the company seeks. This cover letter format instantly demonstrates that you “check all the boxes.”

Think about it like a date.

Let’s say you’re setting up two friends, Taylor and Noah, on a date. You know Taylor appreciates a sense of humor and Noah is always cracking jokes. You know Taylor enjoys hiking and Noah is an environmental engineer. You’re making the match.

It’s a similar process when you write a make-the-match cover letter.

Like the previous cover letter formats, you begin with an introductory paragraph and end with a conclusion. The central paragraph is where things are a little different.

Rather than write a traditional paragraph or bullet points, you list 3-4 requirements the employer seeks and respond with your own matching qualifications.

This is a great way to ensure the content of your cover letter demonstrates the qualifications that are most relevant to the position and company you’re applying for.


Who Should Use a Make-the-Match Cover Letter? This cover letter format works well for people whose experience may not be a straightforward match. It’s also a great option for experts and specialists who are uniquely qualified with specific skills. As a recent graduate or job seeker, this may be a solid cover letter format if you’re applying to a job in an industry that doesn’t exactly align with your degree or coursework.


By making the match, you connect what the employer seeks with your qualifications. This is a great way to tailor your cover letter to the position and company. For example, you may write:


You Seek: I Bring:
Develop XYZ Digital Agency’s marketing projects. I have completed marketing courses including Advertising, Professional Selling, and Product Development. I have learned how to grow and manage strong brands by fulfilling the needs of customers.

This cover letter format connects what the employer seeks with the qualifications you offer. You’re saying, “I’m exactly what you’re looking for and here’s how!”

There you have it. The best cover letter format options based on your unique application needs.

Before we wrap up, here are a few cover letter tips to keep in mind.

Top 10 Cover Letter Tips


  1. Prove how you will add value.
    When a company hires a new employee, they are investing in the company’s future. In your cover letter, you need to prove how you can add value if you are hired.
  2. Customize your cover letter.
    Generic letters are useless. Phrases like “Dear employer” or “I would love to work for your company” are weak. Every cover letter should be tailored to the position and company.
  3. Follow the instructions.
    Employer instructions outweigh any recommendations you find online. That said, there are exceptions to this. It’s illegal for an employer to ask questions like: “What country are you from?” or, “Do you drink socially?” Do not answer questions that make you uncomfortable.
  4. Address the correct person.
    Always double-check that your cover letter is addressed to the correct person. It’s a terrible feeling when you realize you addressed your letter to the wrong company!
  5. Grab the reader’s attention.
    The first sentence of your cover letter needs to engage the reader (just like a good book). Avoid cookie-cutter introductions like, “I am writing to apply for your open position.” What open position? What company?
  6. Name drop.
    If know someone who is connected to the company, don’t be afraid to name drop. Name dropping is when you reference a person who has a relationship with the hiring manager or company.
  7. Be specific.
    Avoid fluffy claims like, “I conducted marketing research.” What kind? What were you researching? What tools did you use? And most importantly, why does it matter to the company?
  8. Highlight key ideas (as outlined in the job description).
    Review the job description and ensure you are covering all the main points. Make it clear that you meet and exceed the minimum requirements.
  9. Don’t repeat your resume.
    When you write a cover letter, you’re not regurgitating the contents of your résumé. Instead, choose three of the most relevant accomplishments and tell a story.
  10. Proofread.
    Typos indicate a lack of attention to detail, not to mention poor spelling and grammar. Before you submit your cover letter, confirm that there are no errors.

Follow these ten tips and you’ll be well on your way to writing an outstanding cover letter.

Your Cover Letter Format Matters

Think about it this way:

Let’s say you want to create an Instagram account. First things first, you need to choose a username and create a profile.

These are big decisions. When you land on someone’s Instagram profile, if you aren’t immediately engaged by the individual’s bio and photos, you probably won’t return. Follow for a follow? No thanks.

This mindset should carry into the job search: first impressions matter.

Just like an Instagram bio, your cover letter provides a quick summary of who you are and what you’re all about.

This means your cover letter has to be good!