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

When and Why Do I Need a Cover Letter?

what is it?

A cover letter is a one-page letter that accompanies your resume. It’s designed to let you introduce yourself to the hiring manager in a more personalized way than the resume will allow. Many online applications say that it is optional to attach a cover letter, so many people see it as a pointless step, an unnecessary hurdle. Yet it can be a very effective job search tool.

Can’t i just skip it?

Maybe, depending on the kind of work you’re looking for. Generally, blue-collar trades such as construction rarely expect cover letters. Usually, neither do entry-level retail and food-service positions. Often, these types of positions will only ask for an application and not a resume. On the other hand, if you apply for any type of office work (including entry-level), or for a supervisory role in any industry, you’ll definitely want to include a cover letter. If you’re not sure whether or not it’s appropriate, err on the side of caution and include a cover letter. They’ll appreciate the effort.

General rule: If they ask for a resume, submit a cover letter too.

How could a cover letter help me?

A tailored, personalized, well-written cover letter can:

  • Make you seem more human to the hiring manager
  • Showcase your excellent written communication skills
  • Highlight your most impressive accomplishments
  • Display your passion for this type of work
  • Express your enthusiasm for that company
  • Allow you to say, in your own words, why exactly you’d be a great fit for the job
  • Set an expectation for what will happen next
  • Show that you care enough to take the time to write a cover letter
  • Explain anything unusual about your work history or circumstances.

Please note: Cover letters are especially important if you have a gap in your work history, you’re changing careers, or you apply for a job that you’re overqualified for. Addressing those issues in your cover letter can soothe hiring managers’ fears about your resume.

How Could a cover letter hurt me?

A cover letter can only hurt you if it’s BAD. A bad cover letter might be:

  • Generic – if you use the same cover letter for every position you apply for
  • Vague – if you don’t include specific details about your qualifications
  • Poorly-written – if you have grammatical mistakes, fragments, misspelled words, etc.
  • Meandering – if you have no clear focus, rambling run-on sentences, etc.
  • Robotic – if you use overly formal or complicated language and generally don’t sound human

Stay tuned for a follow-up post about proper structure and formatting for cover letters. In the meantime, check out our cover letter templates, and feel free to come see us at the Career Center for one-on-one help with your cover letters.

Written by Lynnette Lee