Cover Letter Workshop - Formatting and Organization
The cover letter is one of the most challenging documents you may ever write: you must write about yourself without sounding selfish and self-centered. The solution to this is to explain how your values and goals align with the prospective organization's and to discuss how your experience will fulfill the job requirements. Before we get to content, however, you need to know how to format your cover letter in a professional manner.
Formatting your cover letter
Your cover letter should convey a professional message. Of course, the particular expectations of a professional format depend on the organization you are looking to join. For example, an accounting position at a legal firm will require a more traditional document format. A position as an Imagineer at Disney might require a completely different approach. Again, a close audience analysis of the company and the position will yield important information about the document expectations. Let the organization's communications guide your work.
For this example, we are using a traditional approach to cover letters:
- Single-space your cover letter
- Leave a space between each paragraph
- Leave three spaces between your closing (such as "Sincerely" or "Sincerely Yours") and typed name
- Leave a space between your heading (contact information) and greeting (such as, "Dear Mr. Roberts")
- Either align all paragraphs to the left of the page, or indent the first line of each paragraph to the right
- Use standard margins for your cover letter, such as one-inch margins on all sides of the document
- Center your letter in the middle of the page; in other words, make sure that the space at the top and bottom of the page is the same
- Sign your name in ink between your salutation and typed name
Organizing your cover letter
A cover letter has four essential parts: heading, introduction, argument, and closing.
In your heading, include your contact information:
- phone number
- email address
The date and company contact information should directly follow your contact information. Use spacing effectively in order to keep this information more organized and readable. Use the link at the top of this resource to view a sample cover letter - please note the letter is double-spaced for readability purposes only.
Addressing your cover letter
Whenever possible, you should address your letter to a specific individual, the person in charge of interviewing and hiring (the hiring authority). Larger companies often have standard procedures for dealing with solicited and unsolicited resumes and cover letters. Sending your employment documents to a specific person increases the chances that they will be seriously reviewed by the company.
When a job advertisement does not provide you with the name of the hiring authority, call the company to ask for more information. Even if your contact cannot tell you the name of the hiring authority, you can use this time to find out more about the company.
If you cannot find out the name of the hiring authority, you may address your letter to "hiring professionals" - e.g., "Dear Hiring Professionals."
The introduction should include a salutation, such as "Dear Mr. Roberts:" If you are uncertain of your contact's gender, avoid using Mr. or Mrs. by simply using the person's full name.
The body of your introduction can be organized in many ways. However, it is important to include, who you are and why you are writing. It can also state how you learned about the position and why you are interested in it. (This might be the right opportunity to briefly relate your education and/or experience to the requirements of the position.)
Many people hear of job openings from contacts associated with the company. If you wish to include a person's name in your cover letter, make certain that your reader has a positive relationship with the person.
In some instances, you may have previously met the reader of your cover letter. In these instances it is acceptable to use your introduction to remind your reader of who you are and briefly discuss a specific topic of your previous conversation(s).
Most important is to briefly overview why your values and goals align with the organization's and how you will help them. You should also touch on how you match the position requirements. By reviewing how you align with the organization and how your skills match what they're looking for, you can forecast the contents of your cover letter before you move into your argument.
Your argument is an important part of your cover letter, because it allows you to persuade your reader why you are a good fit for the company and the job. Carefully choose what to include in your argument. You want your argument to be as powerful as possible, but it shouldn't cloud your main points by including excessive or irrelevant details about your past. In addition, use your resume (and refer to it) as the source of "data" you will use and expand on in your cover letter.
In your argument, you should try to:
- Show your reader you possess the most important skills s/he seeks (you're a good match for the organization's mission/goals and job requirements).
- Convince your reader that the company will benefit from hiring you (how you will help them).
- Include in each paragraph a strong reason why your employer should hire you and how they will benefit from the relationship.
- Maintain an upbeat/personable tone.
- Avoid explaining your entire resume but use your resume as a source of data to support your argument (the two documents should work together).
Reminder: When writing your argument, it is essential for you to learn as much as possible about the company and the job (see the Cover Letter Workshop - Introduction resource).
Your closing restates your main points and reveals what you plan to do after your readers have received your resume and cover letter. We recommend you do the following in your closing:
- Restate why you align with the organization's mission/goals.
- Restate why your skills match the position requirements and how your experience will help the organization.
- Inform your readers when you will contact them.
- Include your phone number and e-mail address.
- Thank your readers for their consideration.
A sample closing:
I believe my coursework and work experience in electrical engineering will help your Baltimore division attain its goals, and I look forward to meeting with you to discuss the job position further. I will contact you before June 5th to discuss my application. If you wish to contact me, I may be reached at 765-555-6473, or by e-mail at email@example.com. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Although this closing may seem bold, potential employers will read your documents with more interest if they know you will be calling them in the future. Also, many employment authorities prefer candidates who are willing to take the initiative to follow-up. Additionally, by following up, you are able to inform prospective employers that you're still interested in the position and determine where the company is in the hiring process. When you tell readers you will contact them, it is imperative that you do so. It will not reflect well on you if you forget to call a potential employer when you said you would. It's best to demonstrate your punctuality and interest in the company by calling when you say you will.
If you do not feel comfortable informing your readers when you will contact them, ask your readers to contact you, and thank them for their time. For example:
Please contact me at 765-555-6473, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to speaking with you. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Before you send the cover letter
Always proofread your cover letter carefully. After you've finished, put it aside for a couple of days if time allows, and then reread it. More than likely, you will discover sentences that could be improved, or grammatical errors that could otherwise prove to be uncharacteristic of your writing abilities. Furthermore, we recommend giving your cover letter to friends and colleagues. Ask them for ways to improve it; listen to their suggestions and revise your document as you see fit.
If you are a Purdue student, you may go to the Writing Lab or CCO for assistance with your cover letter. You can make an appointment to talk about your letter, whether you need to begin drafting it or want help with revising and editing.
Click on the link at the top of this resource for a sample cover letter. Please note that this sample is double spaced for readability only. Unless requested otherwise, always single space your professional communication.
The following are additional Purdue OWL resources to help you write your cover letter:
Learn How to Format a Cover Letter
When you submit your resume, you will typically need to write a cover letter as well. In this letter, you'll make a case for your candidacy, highlighting your relevant skills. Since a cover letter is a formal document, there are set guidelines for what information to include in the letter, as well as how to format it.
Hiring managers read a lot of cover letters, so while their most important goal is to find strong candidates, they will definitely notice if the letter is formatted incorrectly or does not adhere to the usual cover letter style guidelines.
Use the cover letter format below as a guideline when you create customized cover letters to send to employers. It lays out which information to include, and where. Then, review cover letter samples, a cover letter template, and tips for formatting hard copy and email cover letters you can use to write your own letters.
Cover Letter Format
Your Contact Information
City, State, Zip Code
Employer Contact Information (if you have it)
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name,
- Cover Letter Greeting Examples: Note: If you do not have a contact name, you can skip the salutation entirely. Or, you can use Dear Hiring Manager, To Whom It May Concern, or one of the other examples listed in the link. Ideally, you will be able to address your cover letter to a specific person. Doing research can help you figure out who is the most appropriate person to receive the letter. Note: If you do not know the gender of your contact, you can write out the person's full name, e.g., "Dear Cory Smith"or "Dear Jordan Parish."
Body of Cover Letter
The body of your cover letter lets the employer know what position you are applying for, why the employer should select you for an interview, and how you will follow-up. Organize the body of your cover letter into the following paragraphs:
- First Paragraph
The first paragraph of your letter should include information on why you are writing. Mention the position you are applying for and where you found the job listing. Include the name of a mutual contact, if you have one.
- Middle Paragraph(s)
The next section of your cover letter should describe what you have to offer the employer. Mention specifically how your qualifications match the job you are applying for. Think of this section of the cover letter as where you're making a pitch for your fit as an employee and show makes you a great candidate. Keep in mind that employers will be more interested in what you can do for them, than a list of your background. Make the connection between your qualifications and the job requirements clear. Use this section to interpret your resume—don't repeat from it verbatim.
- Final Paragraph
Conclude your cover letter by thanking the employer for considering you for the position. Include information on how you will follow-up. Optionally, you can briefly restate why you would be a good fit for the position.
Handwritten Signature (for a hard copy letter)
Email Subject Line
When you're sending an email cover letter, include a subject line that enables the hiring manager to recognize who you are and the job for which you are applying. Here are sample subject lines that are appropriate to use in your emailed job application.
Formatting Tips for Cover Letters
Here are some formatting tips to keep in mind when you are writing your letter:
- Email versus hard copy: The example letter above is formatted for a printed out hard copy. If you are emailing your cover letter, you'll need to pay particular attention to the subject line of your email. See more tips for formatting your email cover letter.
- Font choices: The details count when it comes to cover letters, so choose a professional font in a 10 or 12 point size. This is no time to break out emoticons or emojis!
- Spacing: Your letter should be single-spaced. Include a space between every paragraph, and in general, a space between each section of the letter. (That is, there should be a space between the address and the date, and then again between the date and the salutation.) In an email cover letter, where many sections are left off, you will want to include a space between the salutation and between each paragraph, and another space before your complimentary close.
- Proofreading: Remember that note about details counting in cover letters? Make sure to avoid errors by carefully proofreading your letter. Use your word processor's spell check to catch common errors, and then consider reading your letter aloud — or having a friend review it — to catch additional errors. Here are guidelines for proofreading your cover letter.
Cover Letter Examples
Examples of cover letters for a variety of different types of jobs, types of job seekers, and types of job applications.