Your cover letter will help you get the job…but only if the formatting of your cover letter helps the recruiter and hiring manager quickly locate critical information and understand the skills you have that makes you the best candidate for the job. See the best cover letter formats below.
Job-winning Cover Letter Formats
The simple cover letter format, pictured here, gets the job done without any bells, whistles, or gimmicks. Here’s how:
- This cover letter format uses three short paragraphs that are easy on the eyes and, even more important, easily uploaded and filed by company resume review systems and database management software.
- Keeping the graphics and complex details to a minimum ensures that each sentence of your letter will come through exactly as you send it.
Remember: Don’t let lengthy exposition, blocks of unbroken text, or tricky images and characters stand between you and your next interview invitation.
The professional cover letter format can do something that simpler formats can’t: Help you stand out from the crowd. Here’s how:
- This format brings a bit of professional flair and a dash of color to your message that takes your presentation up a notch and sets you apart in a competitive field of highly qualified applicants.
- This eye-catching cover letter format ensures your reader will notice your name first, followed by your succinct introductory summary and a bulleted list of your most important credentials.
Remember: With the professional cover letter format, your name and your most impressive qualifications will stand out in your reader’s mind long after they’ve closed your file.
The executive cover letter format relies on the strength of tradition and corporate protocols that predate the days of digital communication to make your qualifications shine. Here’s how:
- This format recalls the style of an old-school professional letter sent via snail mail
- Its formality adds an element of gravity to an introductory message that could otherwise feel like a dashed-off email.
Remember: If you choose this format, your letter can easily be printed, filed, and shared among teams of hiring managers without losing its sense of professionalism.
4 Fundamentals of a Winning Cover Letter Format
What makes one cover letter format work and another fall flat? Once you’ve determined exactly what you’d like to share with your potential employers and which details of your background best align with the needs of your target job, how can you arrange that information in a visually compelling and attention-grabbing way?
First, break your letter down into sub-sections. These sections are typically as follows: a greeting, a strong opening statement, a body of important content, and a closing statement that leaves a lasting impression. Let’s examine each one separately.
San Francisco, CA 94110
4150-000-0000 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Ms. Dougherty,
I am interested in the author’s assistant position at ABC Company, as advertised in XXX.
I am currently employed as legislative director for Assemblywoman XXXX. I believe that the skills and experiences I have gained at this position make me an ideal candidate for the job of author’s assistant.
I am always eager to learn more about state legislation, reading up on these topics on my own time to become more knowledgeable.
I look forward to meeting with you and discussing my qualifications in more detail.
- Your greeting or salutation is your first chance to grab your reader’s attention and differentiate yourself from everyone else in the running.
How to accomplish this:
- Do your research to find out the name of the hiring manager, and then addressing your cover letter directly to that person. So rather than writing a dull, generic ‘To Whom It May Concern,’ start strong with a ‘Dear Ms. [Last Name]’. This kind of extra effort doesn’t go unnoticed.
- If you’ve searched high and low and you can’t find a specific name, use a modern stock-standard opening. In this case, your greeting should be in line with the times; so don’t use a salutation that’s outdated, sexist, or both (like ‘Dear Sir’). Keep your greeting lean and straightforward, like ‘Dear Hiring Manager.’
Your greeting or salutation is your first chance to grab your reader’s attention and differentiate yourself from everyone else in the running. How? By doing the research, finding out the name of the hiring manager, and then addressing your cover letter directly to that person. So rather than writing a dull, generic ‘To Whom It May Concern’, start strong with a ‘Dear Ms. [Last Name]’. This kind of extra effort doesn’t go unnoticed.
Of course, if you’ve searched high and low and you can’t find a specific name, you’ll have to begin with a stock-standard opening. In this case, your greeting should be in line with the times; so don’t use a salutation that’s outdated, sexist, or both (like ‘Dear Sir’). Keep your greeting lean and straightforward, like ‘Dear Hiring Manager’.
The first paragraph of your cover letter should hook your reader and quickly and succinctly spell out why you’re excited about this job and why you’re the perfect candidate. Additionally, if someone who works at the company referred you, you may want to mention that as well.
Keep in mind that employers want to know how you can meet their needs and the job requirements; they’re not interested in your personal future goals or far-off hopes and dreams (even if they may pretend to be). So be sure to focus in on what unique value you can bring and why your skills and past experience make you a perfect fit.
Finally, try your best to have your writing reflect your personality and align with the culture of your target company (as you see it). If the company brand feels fun and whimsical and they pride themselves on their laid-back culture, start with an easy joke or a clever hook. But if you feel like your target employers will respond to hooks and jokes with an eyeroll, trust your instincts and play it straight. Use your judgement and don’t make a grab for showmanship if you suspect that a no-frills attitude will earn you more respect. And vice versa, some hiring managers want a candidate who doesn’t fit the mold and isn’t afraid to say so. If you aren’t sure which path to choose, check the job post for cues and clues.
The body content includes the central paragraph of your letter (which might actually exceed one paragraph, depending on the cover letter format you choose). In this portion of your letter, you’ll use either sentences or bullet points (again, depending on your chosen format) to expand on your accomplishments and job history, including your education, your relevant non-workplace experience, or your previous professional jobs.
Before you draft this section, you’ll want to read every line of the job post carefully to assess what your target employers are looking for. Then you’ll want to comb through your notes and review your background so you can highlight the details that your readers are most likely to care about or find impressive.
For example, some of your proudest honors and awards might push you into the spotlight. The same might apply to a rare skill—or a set of overlapping skill sets—that your employers might have a hard time finding anywhere else in the candidate pool.
Whatever you do, don’t simply regurgitate your resume. Rather supplement it with stories that show more of your capabilities. And lastly, if you need to, use this to explain any glaring anomalies, like gaps in employment or work visa issues, that employers may have questions about.
While first impressions can be critical, last impressions are often just as important. As your cover letter draws to a close, you’ll want to leave your audience with a memorable statement that can help you stay top-of-mind as you walk out the door. Restate your most important qualifications and let your readers know exactly where they can look to learn more about your background and current projects. Direct their attention to your website or online resume if you have these things.
Close your letter with a friendly but formal invitation to take the next step: sitting down with you in a face-to-face interview. Issue a suggestion, not a command, and let your readers know that you’re receptive and available to meet.
Fatal Cover Letter Format Mistakes to Avoid
A sleek and professional cover letter format can give you an edge over your competitors, but a few easy and unfortunate mistakes can knock you down to a lower position on the list. Watch out for these blunders and stay on track to success.
Solid Blocks of Text
Most employers (and most readers in general) are turned off by long paragraphs of unbroken text that give the eye no place to rest and provide no breaks or shifts in the stream of information. Turn one long paragraph into two or even three if you need too, and position these breaks in places where one thought ends and the next begins.
Generic, Untailored Content
One of the worst mistakes you can make is submitting a generic cover letter that doesn’t relate to the job or employer at hand. Hiring leaders read this as the work of a lazy, uninterested individual. Rather take the time to customize your document and make it a dynamic testament to your value and potential. This also communicates your enthusiasm for the role and the company.
Echo Your Resume
Hiring leaders read cover letters to gain additional information about your accomplishments, personality, and communication skills. So rather than repeated what’s on your resume, wow them with stories of your success that bring to life your professional accomplishments. Alternatively, use the cover letter to explain any highlights or issues that can’t be explained on a traditional resume.
Cover Letter Format Tips for Unadvertised Positions
While some of your job applications will be responses to a posted ad, others might be for unadvertised roles, like one you’ve heard about through the grapevine. It’s okay to submit a resume and cover letter for a job that hasn’t been publicized, or to ask an employer to hire you for a position that doesn’t exist yet.
However, if you’re pursuing an unadvertised job, your cover letter will need to be even sharper, and your cover letter format decisions will play an even more crucial role in the outcome. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Clarity is key
Be specific about the department and in which role you’d like to work. Explain exactly what you want to do in this role, and exactly how your contributions will help your employer.
Share your source
If you know about an unadvertised job opening because a friend or industry contact told you about it, share this person’s name. Your reader may know the person and value his or her opinion, and if you’re naming a current employee, your contact may receive a bonus or some thanks for recommending you.
Research, research, research
As you won’t have an advertised job posting to look to for information regarding employer needs and values, it’s essential to thoroughly research these elements using other sources. Make sure your cover letter reflects the fact that you’ve taken the time to investigate what’s important to the company and why you’ll be able to help them accomplish their goals.