Structuring and Formatting a Cover Letter

This is a follow-up to a previous post in which we discussed what a cover letter is, when to use one, and the different ways in which it could help you. Today, we’ll look at the proper structure and formatting of a cover letter. As you read along, check out our template for an example of the techniques discussed.

formatting a written cover letter

  • There are 7 sections to a cover letter: Heading, Date, Address, Salutation, Body, Closing, and Signature. Make sure to skip a line after each of the sections, and after each paragraph of the body of the letter. Skip two-three lines after the closing, so that you have room to hand-write your signature.
  • Begin with a Heading – your name, contact info, etc. – which matches the heading on your resume.  Below that, put today’s Date.
  • Add an Address which will include the name, job title, company name, and company address of the person to whom you are sending the letter.
  • Include a Salutation such as “Dear Mr. Smith.” It is important that you find the actual name of the person – do not just say, “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
  • The Body is the content of your letter. More on that later.
  • Your Closing will probably say something like “Sincerely” or “Yours Truly”. Below that you will add your Signature, with a hand-written signature above your typed name.

formatting an emailed cover letter

  • Emailed cover letters are much less formally formatted than printed cover letters, but the content should still be professional and not too casual.
  • Omit the Heading, Date, and Address.
  • Type the Salutation, Body, and Closing in the email message.
  • Add a Signature which includes your printed name, email address, LinkedIn profile, and phone number.
  • Include your resume as a PDF attachment.

Structure of a Cover Letter

  • Each paragraph answers a question.
  • Paragraph 1: What job are you applying for? Be direct and specific with why you’re contacting them.
  • Paragraph 2: What makes you the best candidate for the job? Explain why you’re uniquely qualified, giving examples of relevant skills/accomplishments/experience. This will likely be your longest paragraph. If it gets too long, break part of it up into bullet points.
  • Paragraph 3: Why do you want this job with this company? Talk about your passion for doing this kind of work. Also make sure to say something specific about the company – what seems appealing about them? (Good customer reviews, state-of-the-art-technology, high growth rate. etc.) It’s a good idea to do research on the company before writing this section.
  • Paragraph 4: What are the next steps? This may look something like, “Enclosed please find my resume. I would love to meet with you to interview for this position. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time.”

a final word of caution

Resist the impulse to create one cover letter and use it for everything. A well-written cover letter is tailored to a specific job opening, focusing on the most relevant skills and passions for that particular job. It’s a good practice to write a brand new cover letter for each and every job you apply for. You can still use the 4-paragraph structure listed above – think of it as the skeleton of your cover letter. But the details of what you write – the meat on the bones – will change.

The Career Center is here to help! You can visit us at 7711 Goodwood Blvd for one-on-one help with writing and polishing cover letters.

Written by Lynnette Lee