Professional Cover Letter Format (Guidelines & Examples)

When applying for a position at a company, your resume is often expected to be accompanied by a cover letter. A letter of introduction, the cover letter gives you the opportunity to explain further the details of your resume. In the contents of the letter, you can highlight more your personal achievements, professionalism and work ethic. You could also take the chance to explain how you would not only be the best fit for the job but for the company as well. When done excellently, you cover letter can easily set you apart from other candidates with the same credentials.

In writing and formatting your cover letter, you should not only be concerned about the content or the information that you provide in it. The manner of your presentation or how your cover letter appears to the employers is also an important consideration. You must make sure that your cover letter follows the proper format, is well-written and readable as well as free from grammatical errors or structural mistakes. This should be your standard even if you are submitting personally or electronically.

Since the cover letter is an example of professional or business correspondence, it must be written as a formal business letter. This means that your letter should follow a strict order and format with parts such as the sender and recipient’s address; a formal greeting; a body with a beginning, middle and end; as well as a closing and a signature.

Similar to all other forms of writing, a cover letter must be written with purpose. It is better to write your cover letter with your target goal in mind like presenting to the employer how you are the best qualified person for the job. The cover letter for your application should be tailor-fitted according the needs of the situation. This is explained further below.

Date and Contact Information

There are two main formats of listing contact information on your cover letter, depending on whether you provide a digital or hard copy.

If you are submitting an online softcopy, leave your specific address, and use your city and state, email, and phone number. Also, leave off the company and hiring manager’s contact information.

Example:

[Date]

[Your Name]

[City, State]

[Phone Number]

[Your Email Address]

Although rare these days, you might be required to submit a paper copy of your cover letter. If this happens, the top left-hand side of your letter must include the following details:

[Date]

[Your Name]

[Your Address]

[Your City, State, and Zip Code]

[Phone Number]

[Email Address]

[Hiring Manager’s Name]

[Company Name]

[Company Address]

[Company City, State, and Zip Code]

Greeting / Salutation

Kickstart your cover letter on the right foot by addressing the hiring manager. Conduct your research and, if possible, find out the name of the recruiting manager for the title you are applying for. You can achieve this by re-reading the job description to see if it’s written there or find out from the company’s website. You can also contact the company and ask for the hiring manager’s name. It is unnecessary to add Mr., Mrs., Ms. Because it may be difficult to guess the gender and marital status of the manager on your own. Use their first and last name.

Example: Dear Stephen Thompson.

If you are unable to find the hiring manager’s name, just stick with “Dear Hiring Manager.” Do away with outdated salutations such as “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”

The Opening Paragraph

Use the opening paragraph to catch the hiring manager’s attention. Enthusiastically introduce yourself and tell the employer why you are applying for the job. Make this paragraph precise to each job listing you apply for. Make sure to include what fascinates you about the job and the company and how it matches your career goals. Always include keywords from the job description and match your skills to the employer’s requirements to avoid making the paragraph sound fixed.

If, by any chance, you were referred to this job by someone familiar with the employer or who already works for the company, don’t forget to mention this referral in your opening paragraph.

Middle Paragraphs

After introducing yourself and establishing your interest in the opening paragraph, it is now time to dig into your most relevant experience and talk about the specific skills and qualifications that tailor you for the job. Using one or two paragraphs, link your previous accomplishments with your readiness for this new exciting role. Think of these two paragraphs as a method to pitch yourself as the perfect candidate for the job. Most likely, employers will have already read your resume; therefore, avoid repeating the bullet points. Instead, focus more on details that deeply illustrate those highlights.

Closing Paragraph

The major goal of your closing paragraph should be to thank the employer for their time and consideration. You also have the choice of making clarifications, for instance, justifying any major gaps in your employment history or summing up your qualifications for the role and express your interest in following up to the next stage in the hiring process.

Complimentary Close and Signature

Go for a complimentary close that is friendly yet formal, then your first and last name, respectively. Examples of closing tags that you may use include:

  • Sincerely
  • Best
  • Respectfully
  • Thank you for your consideration
  • Thank you
  • Regards

Avoid using the following closing tags as they may be considered affectionate or too informal:

  • Thanks a ton
  • Yours truly
  • Warm regards
  • Cheers

TIP:  If you submit a hard copy of your cover letter, make sure you handwrite your signature and your full name typed.

How to Format

The font of your cover letter

Choose a simple, professional, and clear font like Times New Roman, Verdana, Arial, Calibri. Avoid using a decorative or fancy font.

Today, most employers use applicant tracking systems software that allows automated selection of job applications based on specific skill sets, job titles, or keywords. The use of complicated fonts can make it difficult for the software to read your letter, thereby preventing your application from going forward.

Use font size 10- and 12- for easy reading. Anything smaller will leave the employer squinting, whereas anything larger will seem unprofessional. Generally, use a similar  font and font size as the one you used in your curriculum vitae.

Spacing within your cover letter

Use the right spacing to make it easy for the hiring manager to read through your letter quickly. The following spacing guidelines will be of great help to you:

  • Leave a space between each of these sections: Date, contact information, salutation, opening paragraph, middle paragraph, closing paragraph, complimentary closing. (You do not have to indent any of your paragraphs).
  • Your entire cover letter should be single-spaced.

Length guide

Your cover letter should be a single page composed of three paragraphs. You may opt to add an extra middle paragraph if undeniably necessary. However, before choosing to do so, ask yourself if you can express the essential information using lesser words.

Alignment and Margins

Align your text to the left and use normal 1-inch margins throughout the cover letter. If your letter spills off onto a second page, re-read it and see if there is a way you can summarize it and make it shorter. However, if you can’t cut anything, consider shrinking the margins to ¾ or ½, but don’t make it any smaller than that as it may appear squished on the page.

 File formatting

Always try and save your document in a compatible file format such as Doc or PDF since there is a chance that an applicant tracking system may be sorting your cover letter. It is also recommended that you rename your file to something definite as hiring managers can see your online submission’s file name. The file format should be First Name-Last Name-Cover Letter to make it convenient for the person downloading it.

Example: Brian-King-Cover-Letter.PDF.

What Content to Include in your Cover Letter

The content of the cover letter depends on the circumstances of your application. For these varying circumstances, there are several kinds of cover letters:

  • Application Cover Letter These are written to apply for positions in response to specific job openings advertised in a company.
  • Letter of Interest This kind of cover letter is also known as the prospecting letter, for its goal is to inquire about possible job openings in a company.
  • Networking Letter If you want assistance or advice when it comes to finding a job, then this kind of letter is what you need. This cover letter is often addressed to colleagues or individuals that are part of your network. You can also ask for referrals using this cover letter type.
  • Recommendation or Referral Cover Letter In some cases where you are referred to a job or company by a person or another company, then you have to mention them in this type of cover letter. This kind of cover letter can be advantageous to you in gaining the interest and trust of your future employer.
  • Value Proposition Letter These kinds are aimed at marketing your best assets to the company. It highlights important details in your resume that show specifically how you are unique in comparison to your competitors.

When you have decided on the kind of cover letter that you should write, then you can start on writing your letter. The standard parts of the business letter such as applicant and employee’s address, the formal greeting, the closing and the signature should always be included. However, the cover letter’s body should include the following parts which could be altered depending on your application’s purpose.

  • Self-Introduction You should introduce yourself first to your future employer. You can include your background, how you learned of the vacant position, and how you would fit in the job and the company.
  • Your Qualifications In the next paragraph, you have to mention the qualifications that make you the best candidate for the job. Here, it is also suggested that you highlight the greatest and the most relevant of your achievements.
  • Proof of Research A paragraph of your cover letter should also show how well you have studied the company: its history, vision, mission, and accomplishments. This will give them a sense that you really care about the work that the company does. This is also a good part where you can tell them how you see yourself growing with the company in the future – this will give them a sense of your dedication in the long-term.
  • Follow Up Action The last paragraph of your cover letter should inform the human resources manager how you can be contacted and when you are available for interviews. You can also mention here that you will follow with the company regarding your application if necessary.

Sample Formatted Cover Letter

Emily Carlson1408 Avalon-Boulevard

Gardena – CA 90247

555-987-9870

[email protected]

May 24, 2018

Pam Jaccarino

Vice President, Editor-in-Chief

Luxe Interiors + Design

3651 NW-8th Avenue

Boca Raton – Florida 33431

Dear Ms. Jaccarino:

I am Emily Carlson, a fresh graduate of Interior Design from California State University – Long Beach. I have learned of your opening for a Homes Editor in Luxe Magazine from your company’s website, LuxeSource. I want to apply for this job because Interior Design has been my passion for a very long time. In addition, a job at Luxe Magazine would allow me to experience and learn more about the field by exploring the most popular trends and studying the work of the best interior designers.

Aside from my achievements as an honor student during my stay in the university, I also had an extensive summer internship at Grace Home Furnishings in Palm Springs. During my internship, I was able to practice applying the concepts of space planning, color coordination and furnishing by assisting some senior interior designers in their work. They also gave me experience in editing and writing interior design articles by creating some features and product descriptions for their catalogues. I was also the leader of the CSU Long Beach’s champion interior design team in last year’s Student Design Competition.

I have followed closely the work of Luxe Magazine since I first learned about it in 2007. I have admired the magazine’s culture of excellence in its passionate study of the design industry and its leading architects, interior designers and home builders. I would very much like to be a part of Luxe Magazine’s purpose in showcasing unique trends, personal styles and other luxurious works of art in the field of interior design at present, and in the years to come.

Attached with this cover letter are copies of my diploma, transcript of records and letters of recommendation. I have indicated in my resume my contact details. If considered, I am free to come in for an interview at your appointed time and convenience. I am hoping your positive response.

Respectfully yours,

Emily Carlson

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Quick Round-up

Pick an appropriate font

Since the cover letter is a kind of business correspondence, there should be no room for overly artistic, curly or script-style fonts. Choose simple and easily readable fonts in standard font size 12 such as Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri and Verdana.

Take note of the margins and white space

The standard margins for cover letters should be one inch on all sides of the paper. However, if you cannot condense your ideas on a single page, then you can opt to narrow further the margins – up to 0.5 inches to 0.25 inches on all sides is still acceptable.

Check the length of your cover Letter

Based on the rule regarding proper margins above, a cover letter should only take one page of a legal or letter-sized bond paper. This means that it should contain around 4 to 5 paragraphs with a word count between 300 to 500 words.

Always check your writing before printing and submitting

You should always re-read your written cover letters to check it for grammar mistakes, typographical errors, clumsy sentence construction or a need for better paragraph structure. This is important as the resume, along with your cover letter, is the first impression that you get to make to your future employers.