Formatting Tips for Professional Cover Letters
Along with your resume, a cover letter provides an opportunity to impress a potential employer with both your professionalism and how well you would fit in with the company's mission and culture.
How you format your cover letter, both from a content (the information you include) and a presentation (what your cover letter looks like) perspective is important. Even when applying online or via email, your cover letter needs to be properly formatted, readable, and without any mistakes.
Cover letters for job applications follow the format of a formal business letter. They are written in paragraph form and include a formal salutation, closing, and signature. It's important to write a targeted cover letter that shows how you are qualified for the job for which you're applying. Each cover letter you write should be unique and customized.
What Content to Include in Your Cover Letter
1. First Paragraph - Why you are writing
2. Middle Paragraphs - What you have to offer
3. Concluding Paragraph - How you'll follow-up
Paragraph 1: Why You Are Writing
- If you are writing in response to a job posting (review samples), indicate where you learned of the position and the title of the position. More importantly, express your enthusiasm and the likely match between your credentials and the position's qualifications.
- If you are writing a prospecting letter (review samples) in which you inquire about possible job openings - state your specific job objective. Since this type of letter is unsolicited, it is even more important to capture the reader’s attention.
- If you are writing a networking letter (review samples) to approach an individual for information, make your request clear.
In some cases, you may have been referred to a potential employer by a friend or acquaintance. Be sure to mention this mutual contact by name in your first paragraph to encourage your reader to keep reading!
Paragraph 2: What You Have to Offer
In responding to a job advertisement, refer specifically to the qualifications listed and illustrate how your particular abilities and experiences relate to the position for which you are applying.
In a prospecting letter, express your potential to fulfill the employer's needs rather than focusing on what the employer can offer you. You can do this by giving evidence that you have researched the organization thoroughly and that you possess skills used within that organization.
Emphasize your achievements and problem-solving skills. Show how your education and work skills are transferable, and thus relevant, to the position for which you are applying.
Paragraph 3: How You Will Follow Up
Close by reiterating your interest in the job and letting the employer know how they can reach you. Include your phone number and email address. Or bid directly for the job interview or informational interview and indicate that you will follow-up with a telephone call to set up an appointment at a mutually convenient time. If you mention that you will be in touch, be sure to make the call within the time frame indicated.
In some instances, an employer may explicitly prohibit phone calls, or you may be responding to a “blind want-ad” which precludes you from this follow-up.
Unless this is the case, make your best effort to reach the organization. At the very least, you should confirm that your materials were received and that your application is complete.
If you are applying from outside the employer’s geographic area, you may want to indicate if you’ll be in town during a certain time frame (this makes it easier for the employer to agree to meet with you).
How to Format Your Cover Letter
A cover letter should be three or four paragraphs at most, and shouldn't be longer than one page. If you need to you can adjust the margins (see below) to fit your letter on a single page.
Pick a Simple Font
Cover letter presentation matters as much as what you include. When writing cover letters, it's important to use a basic font that is easy to read. Depending on the hiring process your cover letter may be viewed in an applicant tracking system or other online hiring system. Those systems work best reading simple text rather than fancy formatting.
Using a basic 12 point font will ensure that your cover letter is easy to read. Basic fonts like Arial, Verdana, Calibri, and Times New Roman work well. Your cover letter font should match the font you use in your resume.
Set Your Margins
The standard margins for a business letter are 1". However, if you are having trouble condensing your letter to fit on a single page you can shorten up the top, bottom and side margins to 3/4" or 1/2" or even a little tighter.
Leave Plenty of White Space
Don't forget to leave space below your greeting, between each paragraph, and after your closing.
Carefully Proofread the Letter
Take the time to proof your letter before you send or upload it. It can be easier to double check if you print out a copy or read it out loud.