A cover letter is an opportunity!
Is this true?
A 2015 survey found that 55% of hiring managers consider cover letters inconsequential when making decisions. Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace, famously recommends replacing the cover letter with a letter that identifies the company’s weaknesses and offering to help.
But Allison Green of Ask a Manager claims that such letters are “generally cringingly off-base and sound like they were written by someone who will be all flash and no substance.” Green instead advocates for including a “compelling cover letter.”
Here’s the thing: if 55% of hiring managers aren’t concerned with your cover letter, then that suggests that 45% of your readers do care. That’s huge! Overall, it’s safer to write a strong cover letter than to include an alternative application letter.
Many factors go into creating a marvelous cover letter, but it starts with the format. Let’s go over the best cover letter format tips so you can get started writing your own.
2018 Cover Letter Format Do’s and Don’ts
1. DO start with a powerful, intriguing opening
Roach told us that he would advise a jobseeker to “show your personality in a professional way.” A great way to do this is to start with a powerful, intriguing opening.
Forget cookie-cutter openings
like, “I am writing to apply for the bank teller position.” You can find a better way to incorporate this information. Instead, express passion for your work, lots of interest in the company, or begin a story that argues why you’re the best person for the job. The point of this cover letter format tip is to encourage your reader to continue digesting your letter, not toss it immediately out of disinterest.
Now, you may work in an industry that requires formality, such as academia. In that case, abide by the rules of your professional tribe.
2. DON’T be generic in your opening paragraph (or anywhere else)
According to Business Insider, employers know when you use the same cover letter over and over again. If your opening paragraph rehashes the same song and dance that you use for every other cover letter, then forget about getting an interview.
Customize your message. A noteworthy cover letter format includes a first paragraph that is designed to pique the reader’s interest. Don’t waste this space. Set the stage here so that employers know that the rest of our letter will prove that you understand the role and how your skills could contribute to it.
3. DO use the body paragraphs to make a case for your candidacy
The best cover letter formats use the body paragraphs as a platform to assert the jobseeker’s fit for the role.
Don’t worry, this part is easy! All you have to do is refer directly to the job post and explain how your talents and experiences relate to their needs. There’s no need to be sly. Go ahead and write statements like, “You need a goal-oriented store manager who prioritizes store sales. Allow me to explain how I exemplified those traits when I managed the West Hollywood Banana Republic store.”
Remember that customizing your letter is critical. Ensure that your body paragraphs specifically refer to the job post as often as possible.
4. DON’T waste space
Your cover letter format for 2018 should allow for lots of extra white space. It’s easy to get carried away in your body paragraphs and write too much.
Follow Roach’s advice and focus on “what you can offer and how you will be an asset; [that’s] not just stating what you think, but proving insight based on experiences you can provide examples of.”
As you write, ask yourself if all of your sentences demonstrate Roach’s advice. Not sure? Read what you wrote and identify the purpose each statement. Keep the job description close by as you assess this section.
5. DO consider using bullet points
Utilizing bullet points will help you fit in your information without taking up too much space. If you are afraid of writing too much, then consider this approach.
“You also said that you need a store manager who can successfully train teenagers who have never had a job. During my two years managing the Santa Monica PacSun, I trained 15 high school students to do the following:
- Talk to customers about products in a friendly, non-pushy way
- Process sales on a cash register
- How to run a credit card when the internet went out (which happened a lot)
- Tricks for performing quick mathematical calculations to help customers
- How to manage their time to reduce the number of shift-switches”
See more examples of bullet formatting here.
6. DON’T get too creative in your cover letter format
Bullet points are fine. A professional header is also okay. But it’s not smart to insert pictures or other graphics in your cover letter.
Ultimately, the content of your cover letter format should be the most interesting part about your document.
Distracting graphics and pictures can take the attention away from your assets.
Some jobseekers have added fancy flourishes and gotten away with it, but it’s safer to stick to the basics. For one, automated tracking systems (ATS) may have trouble reading your letter and some of your words may be lost. On the other hand, hiring managers might not like your aesthetic and avoid reading your hard work altogether.
7. DO include a short conclusion paragraph
Your cover letter should not end abruptly. Instead, close with a quick summary of your qualifications, a reminder that you are interested in an interview, and an expression of gratitude for your reader.
Make it brief. Don’t introduce new ideas here.
8. DON’T tell employers that you will follow up with a call in your conclusion
You may consider it bold to write “I will call your office next Monday to schedule an interview,” but many others find this move aggressive.
Lily Zhang, Career Development Specialist at MIT, wrote in Muse: “I have no idea where this (threatening) advice originated from, but ending your cover letter like this will not give the impression that you’re a go-getter who takes initiative. It will, however, make you seem egotistical and possibly delusional.”
Yikes. Rather than commit this blunder, tell your reader that you are interested in an interview.
9. DO perform the squint test
How can you tell if your cover letter is formatted well? Hold your cover letter about arm’s length away and squint. Are your best skills and accomplishments easily visible? If no, then consider restructuring your letter so that they are easy to see. Make your paragraphs shorter, change the order of your sentences, or do whatever is necessary to complete this.
Remember that recruiters only look at your resume for six seconds. How long will they inspect your cover letter? As we stated in the introduction, you don’t know who will receive your cover letter, so it’s best to play it safe.
Ready to Write Your Own Cover Letter?
As you learned in our cover letter formatting tips today, you can’t predict who will read your cover letter, so it’s important to optimize the format as best as possible. Use whitespace. Remember that all three sections — introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion — serve a certain purpose. Stick to the basics.
For quick help, try Cover-Letter-Now’s cover letter builder. There’s no writing experience required to use this tool to make a professional cover letter.