All cover letters should have a minimum of three paragraphs:
- The first paragraph is an introduction
- The second paragraph elaborates on your work background
- The third paragraph summarizes your application
The fastest way to properly format a cover letter is to start by using a proven cover letter template. Otherwise, keep reading on to learn how to format a cover letter so that it’s readable and organized.
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The Correct Format of a Cover Letter
Here’s the proper cover letter format:
- The header
- Opening paragraph
- Main body
- Close & sign off
If you’d like to see samples based on your job position, you may find a few in our library of 180+ cover letter templates here.
Anyway, here’s a standard cover letter format example below.
The cover letter header includes personal and contact information such as:
- Full name
- Email address
- Phone number
- Company name
This begins with a salutation that greets the reader such as:
- Dear Mr. Davis
- Dear Ms. Davis
- Dear Sir
- Dear Madam
- Dear Hiring Manager
After the salutation comes the cover letter introduction. The first sentence states the job opportunity you’re interested in. Then, the next 2-3 sentences are an introduction that highlights your career goals, professional strengths, and highlights.
The main body consists of 1-3 paragraphs.
In other words, the main body makes up the middle paragraphs of your cover letter. Each paragraph focuses on a specific aspect of your work background. This is where you fulfill the goal of a cover letter: to prove that you’re the perfect candidate by showing that you have a relevant employment history.
Here’s an example of what each paragraph in the main body could highlight:
• First paragraph: accomplishments and areas of expertise
• Second paragraph: side project
• Third paragraph: soft skills and how your personality aligns with the company culture
Close & Sign Off
Here’s one thing cover letters should include: a final statement summarizing your application.
Write one sentence or two about why you believe the company would benefit from your skills and experience. Or if you want to skip this, go straight to leaving a call to action before signing off.
Here’s two examples of ending a cover letter:
1. I believe that my experience and skills are well suited to this position, and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my application further.
I look forward to hearing from you.
2. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to discussing this position further.
How to Properly Structure a Cover Letter
Structure your cover letter based on what you want to highlight to the hiring manager.
Start with a cover letter outline to determine how you’re going to structure your cover letter. This makes writing your application more straightforward.
That said, here’s a step-by-step process to follow.
1. The Most Important Information Comes First
The most important details come first, not last.
When writing a cover letter for any job, prioritize the most relevant information. For job applications, the most important information means the details that showcase qualities and skills that match the company’s expectations. It should also explain why you’re capable of carrying out the job responsibilities.
Don’t make the cover letter mistake of saving your strongest points until last. Sometimes, the hiring manager won’t even reach the end of your application.
2. Know Your Strengths
Your strengths are your competitive advantages that prove you’re qualified for the position such as:
- Technical skills
- Career goals
- Side projects
- Industry expertise
If you’re formatting an internship cover letter, for example, you might not have any relevant experience. So instead, focus on highlighting your passions and interests alongside your certifications and qualifications.
3. Highlight Specific Parts of Your Professional Background
Each paragraph of your cover letter should be based on a specific part of your professional background. It should flow well, and ultimately, it tells a story about how your work history aligns with the job criteria.
All job applications must be concise. Only include specific parts of your professional background that’s relevant rather than writing about your entire journey from beginning to end.
4. Link Back to the Company’s Core Values
Whether you’re a seasoned professional or someone with no experience, either:
- Refer to the company’s core values throughout your cover letter
- Write a paragraph or a few sentences that directly address your alignment with the company culture
If you choose the former, link back to the company culture in the middle or end of each paragraph in the main body. If you choose the latter, this can come towards the end of the main body of your cover letter or it can be the start of your closing paragraph.
Despite cover letters not always being necessary, a competitive advantage is that you have room to directly address how you align with the company’s mission.
Cover Letter Technical Formatting: What You Should Also Know
Now, we’ll take a closer look at the format settings that you can adjust. These same principles apply to formatting a cover letter on Microsoft Word and Google Docs. However, some of these may not be applicable to an email cover letter and online web application.
The file format of a cover letter is usually either a PDF or a Word document. However, follow the instructions as shown in the job description or ask your recruiter for clarification.
Name the file after your first and last name, e.g. Jacob Jacquet Cover Letter.
Stick to the standard 1-inch margins. Anywhere lower than this makes your cover letter look too thin, which can make it difficult to read. On the other hand, go no further than 1.2 inches because this can make your cover letter look too thick, which also makes it difficult to read.
Leave a line between the header section and the opening salutation as well as between each paragraph in your cover letter. Having enough white space is important for ensuring your cover letter is easy to read.
Use the same font type and font size as your resume so that your job application formats are consistent. The font size should be no lower than 10pt and no higher than 12pt.
On that note, avoid decorative fonts. Keep to serif or sans-serif.
Cover letters are supposed to be one page. Some hiring managers won’t even read your cover letter if it’s too long. So, aim for at least 180 words but go no further than 350 words. If you’re struggling to reach 180 words, aim for at least a minimum of 150 words.
One piece of advice we often mention a lot is to use bullet points for listing things such as:
- Areas of expertise
- Coursework modules
This is effective because a potential employer will mostly be skimming through your application. Therefore, bullet points enable you to get their attention and highlight certain things.
3 Common Types of Cover Letter Structures
- Application cover letter: focuses on work history and technical expertise.
- Referral cover letter: puts more emphasis on mutual connections and similar values on top of relevant skills.
- Situational cover letter: this is a custom structure based on your most impressive selling points, e.g. qualifications, soft skills, or accomplishments.
Aside from those, a letter of interest would be effective for applying to companies that aren’t actively hiring.
Free Cover Letter Templates and Examples
Or feel free to check out our cover letter examples guide here. This includes a list of successful cover letters including key takeaways on why they work so you can apply those same points to your own application and secure a job interview.
Data Engineer Cover Letter
HR Cover Letter
Software Developer Cover Letter
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Include all the core sections of a cover letter. And, structure your cover letter based on your most relevant skills and unique selling points.
That said, you can still use Microsoft Word or Google Docs for your application. Just be wary of the formatting options so that it’s still easy to read after submitting it to your hiring manager on the other side.
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