How To Format a Cover Letter (With Outline and Examples)
By Jennifer Herrity
Updated December 2, 2022 | Published April 23, 2019
Updated December 2, 2022
Published April 23, 2019
Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.
Video: How To Write a Cover Letter: Top 3 Tips, Format & Examples
In this video, Holl explains what employers want from a cover letter, the optimal cover letter format, and 3 key strategies for success.
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?
A cover letter usually is three paragraphs long and outlines why you are applying for a specific 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
Date and contact information
Salutation or greeting
Letter ending and signature
Cover letter outline
Here is an outline of 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:
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:
Your city, state, ZIP code
Your phone number
Your email address
Hiring manager’s name
Company city, state, ZIP code
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" Alternatives
"Greetings," "Hello," "Hi there," "Dear [Team or Department]," "Dear [Job Title]," "Dear [First Name]," or "Dear [Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr./Professor] [Last Name]"
The opening paragraph is your chance to catch the hiring manager’s attention, introduce yourself and express your enthusiasm to a potential employer. Include why you’re excited about the job and the company and how it 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
Use the middle paragraph 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.
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 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:
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, handwrite your signature and also include your full typed name.
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.
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.)
Keep your cover letter to a single page made up of three paragraphs. You can add an extra middle paragraph if 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 3/4-inch or 1/2-inch, but avoid going smaller than that.
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:
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.
Thank you for your consideration and time. I look forward to learning more details about the position and company.
Cover letter samples for common job titles
Here is a list of cover letters for common job titles:
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