How to Format a Cover Letter (With an Outline and Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

November 29, 2021

A cover letter is a one-page document that highlights your qualifications and often accompanies your resume when you apply for jobs. In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about creating a winning cover letter, including an outline and examples for you to follow.

What is a cover letter?

Typically, a cover letter is three paragraphs long and outlines why you are applying for the position, a brief overview of your professional background and what makes you uniquely qualified for the job. While some employers require a cover letter to apply, others make it optional.

Read more: What Is a Cover Letter?

Cover Letter Format

Image description

Cover Letter Format

  1. Date and contact information

  2. Salutation or greeting

  3. Opening paragraph

  4. Middle paragraph(s)

  5. Closing paragraph

  6. Letter ending and signature

Cover letter outline

Below we outline a cover letter, section by section, so you can see how to write a cover letter yourself.

Date and contact information

There are two ways to list contact information on your cover letter, depending on whether you’re providing a digital or hard copy.

If you’re submitting a digital copy online, include your city and state, phone number and email. :

Date
Your Name
City, State
Phone Number
Email Address

Although it’s becoming less common, there may be a time when you’re required to submit a paper copy of your cover letter. In this case, the top left-hand side of your letter should include the following elements:

Date
Your Name
Your Address
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email Address

Hiring Manager’s Name
Company Name
Company Address
Company City, State, ZIP Code

Related: How To Send an Email Cover Letter (With Example)

Salutation / greeting

Start your cover letter by addressing the hiring manager. If you can, find out the name of the hiring manager. Reread the job description to see if it’s listed there or check the company website. Do not use ”Mr.”, ”Mrs.” or ”Ms.”, and instead use the hiring manager’s first and last name.

If you can’t find the hiring manager’s name, stick with “Dear Hiring Manager.” Avoid outdated greetings, such as “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”

To Whom It May Concern

Image description

"To Whom It May Concern" Alternatives
"Greetings," "Hello," "Hi there," "Dear [Team or Department]," "Dear [Job Title]," "Dear [First Name]," or "Dear [Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr./Professor] [Last Name]"

Opening paragraph

The opening paragraph is your chance to catch the hiring manager’s attention, introduce yourself and express your enthusiasm to the employer. Include why you’re excited about the job and the company, and how the job lines up with your career goals. Include keywords from the job posting and match your skills to the employer’s requirements.

If you were referred to this job by someone who knows the hiring manager or already works at this company, you may want to mention this referral in your opening paragraph.

Read more: 7 Powerful Ways To Start a Cover Letter

Middle paragraphs

Use the middle paragraphs to discuss your most relevant experience, highlighting specific qualifications and skills that make you the perfect candidate. In one or two paragraphs, make the connection between your previous accomplishments and your suitability for the role you are applying for. Think of these paragraphs as a way to pitch yourself as the ideal match for the role.

Closing paragraph

Use the final paragraph to thank the employer for their time and consideration and clarify any details from your resume. For example, if you have employment gaps due because you were caring for a sick loved one, you can briefly mention this here. You can also use this space to sum up your qualifications for the role and express an interest in continuing to the next stage in the hiring process.

Complimentary close and signature

Choose a complimentary closing that is friendly yet formal, followed by your first and last name. Closings you might consider include:

  • Sincerely

  • Regards

  • Best

  • Respectfully

  • Thank you

  • Thank you for your consideration

Avoid closings like ”Cheers,” ”Warm Regards” or ”Yours Truly,” as these may be considered too casual or affectionate.

If you’re providing a hard copy of your cover letter, make sure to handwrite your signature, plus include your full typed name.

Related: Creating the Perfect Cover Letter (With Template and Example)

Cover letter font

When it comes to font, keep it simple and professional. Choose a basic font like Arial, Calibri, Verdana or something similar. Avoid using fancy or decorative fonts.

Many employers use applicant tracking systems—software that allows automated sorting of job applications based on specific keywords, skills, job titles or other fields. Complicated fonts can make it harder for the software to read your letter, which might prevent your application from moving forward.

Use 10- and 12-point sizes for easy reading. In general, you should use the same font and font size that you used in your resume.

Read more: How To Choose Cover Letter Font and Font Size

Spacing within your cover letter

Good spacing is essential for your cover letter. White spaces on your letters will make it easier for the hiring manager to read quickly. Follow these guidelines:

  • Make your cover letter single-spaced.

  • Add a space between each section: contact information, salutation, opening paragraph, middle paragraph, closing paragraph and complimentary closing. (There’s no need to indent any of your paragraphs.)

Length guidelines

Keep your cover letter to a single page made up of three paragraphs. You can add an extra middle paragraph if absolutely necessary. Before doing this, however, always ask yourself if you can communicate the essential information in fewer words.

Read more: Q&A: What’s the Ideal Cover Letter Length?

Margins and alignment

Align your text to the left and use standard 1-inch margins all the way around. If your letter is spilling onto a second page, reread it and see if there’s anything you can cut. If you can’t cut anything, consider shrinking the margins to ¾” or ½”, but avoid going smaller than that.

File format

Since an applicant tracking system may be parsing your cover letter, make sure you save your document in a compatible file format such as a Word doc or a pdf. It’s also a good idea to rename your file to something specific, especially since hiring managers can see the file name of your online submission. Follow the format of First Name-Last Name-Cover-Letter (e.g. Jade-Young-cover-letter.doc) to make it more convenient for the person downloading your file.

Read more: How To Name Resume and Cover Letter Files

Cover letter example

Here is an example of a cover letter to help you create your own:

Anne Galindo
123-456-7890
anne.smith@email.com

January 23, 2021

Dear Hiring Manager,

I’m excited to be applying for the web developer position at [Company Name]. I’ve been programming websites and using CSS to create user-friendly experiences since I was in middle school, so it’s always been a passion of mine. I’ve also been intrigued by your company ever since it won Most Innovative at the National Web Development Awards two years ago. I strive to stay on the cutting-edge of web design and development, so when I saw this job posting, I knew I had to apply.

During my previous role at [Company Name], I built a website completely from scratch for a recently rebranded business, both ahead of schedule and within budget. I started by gathering requirements from my clients and holding a focus group to perform user research. My favorite part about web design is building a solution that impresses the client and meets the needs of users and customers.

My new website was responsive, lightning-fast, and included the latest e-commerce features. After launch, I continued to lead optimization efforts. Through A/B testing, I improved the click-through rate by 10% and reduced the bounce rate on the website’s landing page by 35%. As your web developer, I would bring these skills to develop websites that exceed the expectations of clients and customers, and drive real business results.

One of the factors that really attracted me to this role is that [Company Name] values giving back to the community. In my spare time, I run free web development workshops for at-risk youths. In these workshops, I teach them the basics of HTML/CSS and JavaScript and serve as a mentor. As I grow in my career, applying my skills to help others and make an impact on the world becomes more important—I believe this role would give me that opportunity.

Thank you for your consideration and time. I look forward to learning more details about the position and company.

Sincerely,

Anne Galindo

Cover letter samples for common job titles

Here is a list of cover letters for common job titles:

  • Administrative assistant

  • Consulting

  • Customer service

  • Design

  • Engineering

  • Human resources

  • Internship

  • Marketing

  • Nursing

  • Sales

  • Server

  • Teacher

  • Warehouse

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing(With Video)

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