Cover Letter Format: How to Structure Your Cover Letter

Cover Letter Format

A good cover letter format is important because the cover letter is your initial introduction, the first impression that you will make. Even before the hiring manager gets to your resume, he will already have formed an impression about who you are based on your cover letter.

It is important to understand the purpose of a cover letter. The cover letter is designed to introduce you to the employer and show that your experience and skills meet his needs. If you think about it, the resume is all about you. The job posting is all about the employer. The cover letter creates the link between the job posting and the resume. A good cover letter format will convince the employer to take the time to review your resume in order to evaluate how closely your skills and experience meet the requirements of the job.

Cover Letter Format: The Basics

A cover letter should be short and to the point. It should never be more than one page and can be anywhere from 3 to 5 paragraphs long. These paragraphs should include the introductory paragraph, one to three short explanatory paragraphs and a closing paragraph. This is the typical cover letter format that you should stick to, unless you have good reasons to deviate from it.

Introduction

You need to make sure to give a reason for the employer to keep reading. State which position you are interested in and show that you have the experience to be considered for the position.

Example 1: “Your advertisement for an XYZ computer programmer position caught my eyes, as I have over 5 years of experience in implementing XYZ programs.”
Example 2: “As a sales manager with an annual average of 5 Million dollars of sales in the past three years, I would be very interested in speaking with you regarding the open territory manager position.”

Explanatory Paragraphs

These are the paragraphs where you not only explain why you are a great fit for the position, but also how your specific skills and experience could benefit the company. You can use anywhere from 1 to 3 paragraphs depending on how you wish to format the cover letter.

You could use one paragraph to explain your education and then use bullet points to highlight your relevant experience or skills. Or you could use one paragraph to highlight your education, another to highlight your experience and a third to explain why you would fit into the company.

As you write the explanatory paragraphs, make sure you showcase your strengths and attributes and link them to the requirements of the position. For example, if you are applying for a customer service position where advanced Excel skills are required, you might write something similar to this:

“During my 5 years experience in inbound customer service, I have achieved a customer satisfaction rate that is over 90% positive. In addition, I have advanced Excel skills and can meet your needs when it comes to writing Excel macros to summarize daily report logs.”

Conclusion

The conclusion paragraph is where you bring your letter to a close, thank the employer and request that he take action. You need to reiterate how you would be a great fit for the position.

Example 1: “I believe I can make a positive contribution within company XYZ’s advertising department and look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.”
Example 2: “I would love to be able to meet with you in person to show how my experience can help you build a top-notch program department. Thank you very much and please let me know if you have any questions.”

Cover Letter Formatting for the Recent Graduate

When you’re a new graduate, you won’t have the documented professional experience others do, so it’s OK to be a little creative when it comes to relevant experience. You can take non-professional experience and couch it in professional language. For example, if you worked as treasurer of your class and kept track of income and expenses, it’s very appropriate to use this as evidence that you have bookkeeping experience.

The cover letter is not the place to highlight your GPA, class list or class rank, simply because these are usually not directly relatable to the requirements of the position. The place for that kind of information is in the education section of your resume.

Additional Tips

  • Keep the cover letter short and to the point. It should never be more than one page.
  • Always use spell check/ grammar check. Although one minor typo might be overlooked, it still puts you behind those who don’t have obvious errors.
  • Use keywords from the job posting. Many companies use automated programs to pick which cover letters and resumes to pull for individual attention. If the job posting is requesting experience in “direct marketing,” make sure you use those exact words in your cover letter.
  • If possible, address the cover letter to a specific person. If there is no contact person’s name in the job posting, call the company and ask.
  • Format the cover letter correctly. It should have a heading with the company information on it, your contact information, the date and the position to which you’re applying. Match the cover letter formatting with that of the resume.
  • Watch your fonts and keep it simple. Use plain fonts, size 11 or 12, and use single spacing in your letter. The only exception to this rule is if you are seeking some type of position requiring artistic skills. In this case, it would be acceptable to use your cover letter as a way to showcase your artistic skills.
  • If you’re applying for work far away from where you live or in a position radically different from your previous experience, provide a small, but pointed, explanation. The reason is that most employers will question a radical change and it’s always good to answer the question early on.
  • Sign the cover letter if you’re sending in a hard copy format and make sure you have it printed on nice paper.
  • If you know somebody at the company who is a great employee and would recommend you for the position, it’s OK to name drop so long as that person agrees you can use his name.

The cover letter will influence a hiring manager’s outlook on the resume. Although from your standpoint you are selling yourself, you must always keep the focus on the requirements of the position. Through the cover letter, you want the company to understand how you can be beneficial to them.

A good cover letter format is the key to catching the reader's attention, but also to keeping his attention, as he reads on. Don't rush through this step. Take your time to write a compelling letter.

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