Cover Letter Format Guide
- Start by including the date and your contact info in the top left of your letter.
- Address the letter to the attention of the hiring manager.
- Begin your cover letter with a common salutation, such as “Dear Alex Johnson.”
- Introduce yourself and show how the role aligns with your career goals.
- Mention any current employees that referred you for the position.
- Connect the position’s required skills with your previous accomplishments.
- Thank the employer for their time and consideration.
- Close the letter with a friendly, yet formal signature, such as “Sincerely.”
When you’re applying for a job, it’s common for employers to request both a resume and a cover letter. In around three paragraphs, your cover letter should highlight what makes you a great fit for the job and motivate the hiring manager to set up an interview.
Below, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about formatting a winning cover letter—plus cover letter examples to help you create your own.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document you might send to employers with your resume to apply for jobs. Typically, a cover letter is three paragraphs long and includes information like why you are applying for the position, a brief overview of your professional background and what makes you uniquely qualified for the job. While some employers might require a cover letter to apply, others might make it optional or exclude it from your application entirely.
Elements of a cover letter
- Date and contact information
- Opening paragraph
- Middle paragraphs
- Closing paragraph
- Complimentary close and signature
Date and contact information
There are two ways to list contact information on your cover letter, depending on whether you’re providing a digital or hard copy.
If you’re submitting a digital copy online, feel free to leave off your specific address and just use your city and state, phone number and email—and leave off the company and hiring manager’s contact information altogether:
Although it’s becoming less common, there may be a time when you’re required to submit a paper copy of your cover letter. In this case, the top left-hand side of your letter should include the following elements:
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email Address
Hiring Manager’s Name
Company City, State, Zip Code
Salutation / greeting
Start your cover letter off on the right foot by addressing the hiring manager. If you can, find out the name of the hiring manager for the role you’re applying for. Reread the job description to see if it’s listed there or check the company website. It’s also an option to call the company and ask for the hiring manager’s name. Explain that you are applying for a job and would like to address your cover letter to the correct person. It’s not necessary to add Mr., Mrs. or Ms. since it may require some guesswork about gender and marital status on your part—just use their first and last name: “Dear Alex Johnson.”
If you can’t find the hiring manager’s name, stick with “Dear Hiring Manager.” Avoid outdated greetings such as “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
The opening paragraph is your chance to catch the hiring manager’s attention, introduce yourself and enthusiastically tell the employer why you’re applying for the job. You’ll want to make this paragraph specific to each job listing you apply for. Include why you’re excited about the job and the company, and how the job lines up with your career goals. Avoid making this paragraph sound formulaic by including keywords from the job posting and matching your skills to the employer’s requirements.
If you were referred to this job by someone who knows the hiring manager or already works at this company, you may want to mention this referral in your opening paragraph.
Now that you’ve introduced yourself and established your enthusiasm, it’s time to dig into your most relevant experience and talk about the specific qualifications and skills that make you the perfect candidate. In one or two paragraphs, make the connection between your previous accomplishments and your readiness for this new role. Think of these paragraphs as a way to pitch yourself as the ideal match for the role. Employers will likely have read your resume already, so avoid repeating the bullet points. Instead, include details that more deeply illustrate those highlights.
The main goal of your closing paragraph is to thank the employer for their time and consideration. You also have the option of making any clarifications. For example, you can justify any major gaps in your employment history. You can also use this space to sum up your qualifications for the role and express an interest in continuing to the next stage in the hiring process.
Complimentary close and signature
Choose a complimentary closing that is friendly yet formal, followed by your first and last name. Closings you might consider include:
- Thank You
- Thank You for Your Consideration
Avoid closings such as Cheers, Warm Regards, Thanks a Ton, or Yours Truly which may be considered too casual or affectionate.
If you’re providing a hard copy of your cover letter, make sure to handwrite your signature, plus your full typed name.
When it comes to font, keep it simple and professional. Choose a basic, clear font like Arial, Calibri, Verdana, or something similar. Avoid using fancy or decorative fonts.
Many employers use applicant tracking systems—software that allows automated sorting of job applications based on specific keywords, skills, job titles or other fields. Complicated fonts can make it harder for the software to read your letter, which might prevent your application from moving forward.
Use 10 and 12 point size for easy reading. Anything smaller and you’ll leave the hiring manager squinting, anything larger and your letter will look unprofessional. In general, you should use the same font and font size that you used in your resume.
Good spacing is essential for your cover letter—whitespace in the right places will make it easier for the hiring manager to read quickly. Follow these guidelines:
- Make your cover letter single-spaced
- Add a space between each section: contact information, salutation, opening paragraph, middle paragraph, closing paragraph and complimentary closing. (There’s no need to indent any of your paragraphs.)
Keep your cover letter to a single page made up of three paragraphs. You can add an extra middle paragraph if absolutely necessary. Before doing this, however, always ask yourself if you can communicate the essential information in fewer words.
Margins and alignment
Align your text to the left and use standard 1-inch margins all the way around. If your letter is spilling off onto a second page, first reread it and see if there’s anything you can cut. If you can’t cut anything, you can consider shrinking the margins to ¾” or ½”, but avoid going smaller than that so your cover letter doesn’t look squished on the page.
Since an applicant tracking system may be parsing your cover letter, make sure you save your document in a compatible file format—either .doc or PDF. It’s also a good idea to rename your file to something specific, especially since hiring managers can see the file name of your online submission. Follow the format of First Name-Last Name-Cover-Letter (e.g. Jade-Young-cover-letter.doc) to make it more convenient for the person downloading it.
Cover letter format example
Finally, here is a cover letter format example.
January 23, 2018
Dear Hiring Manager,
I’m excited to be applying for the Web Developer position at [Company Name]. I’ve been programming websites and using CSS to create user-friendly experiences since I was in middle school, so it’s always been a passion of mine. I’ve also been intrigued by your company ever since it won Most Innovative at the National Web Development Awards two years ago. I strive to stay on the cutting-edge of web design and development, so when I saw this job posting, I knew I had to apply.
During my previous role at [Company Name], I built a website completely from scratch for a recently rebranded business, both ahead of schedule and within budget. I started by gathering requirements from my clients and holding a focus group to perform user research. My favorite part about web design is building a solution that impresses the client and meets the needs of users and customers. My new website was responsive, lightning fast, and included the latest e-commerce features. After launch, I continued to lead optimization efforts. Through A/B testing, I improved the click-through rate by 10% and reduced the bounce rate on the website’s landing page by 35%. As your Web Developer, I would bring these skills to develop websites that exceed the expectations of clients and customers, and drive real business results.
Thank you for your consideration and time. I’m looking forward to learning more details about the position and company!