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Written by Debbie BrideDebbie Bride

Why you need a cover letter outline and how to write one (tips + examples)

20 min read
Why you need a cover letter outline and how to write one (tips + examples)
Artwork by:Varya Schuka
A cover letter outline lets you focus on the quality of what you’re writing, while keeping the quantity of words in check. Resume.io is here to help with step-by-step practical tips for cover letter outlines, along with adaptable examples.

Dreading writing that cover letter? Wondering if “cover letter optional” means the employer doesn’t really care if you submit one? (Spoiler: they do.) Before you close the browser in despair, consider creating a cover letter outline. 

A cover letter outline can save you time and allow you to write an even more targeted cover letter. This blog will walk you through each step of the process and offer copyable examples that you can adapt. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • The purpose of a cover letter outline
  • Why and how cover letter outlines can be helpful
  • What to include in each cover letter section
  • Adaptable examples for your own cover letter outline
Expert tip

Have a look at our field-tested cover letters . Our free cover letter templates and cover letter examples follow the exact ‘cover letter outlines’ employers look for. 

The purpose of a cover letter outline

Tomorrow is the deadline to apply for that awesome job. You’ve already polished your resume into perfect shape, leaving only a persuasive cover letter to complete the package. There’s still plenty of time today and it shouldn’t take long. So why are you fighting the sudden urge to clean the fridge and organize your kitchen spice shelf while baking a batch of cookies?

We’ve all been there. No matter how simple the writing task — and even if not left until the last minute — getting started is typically the hardest part. You may feel blocked for a few different reasons including:

  1. You’re not sure what to say
  2. You know what you’d like to say but aren’t sure where to begin, what to say next or when to stop
  3. You don’t really get the intent of a cover letter and how it’s different from your resume

A cover letter outline can come to your rescue on all three counts. Although it may seem counterproductive  — especially if you thought those outline-writing exercises in middle school were a pointless waste of time and energy — the extra effort you put into this initial cover letter step is well worth the struggle you are spared getting to the end.

Expert tip

While we’re on the topic, you may find it worthwhile to check out these writer’s block-busting hacks. Whether you’re writing a novel or a cover letter, having a roadmap for “what happens next” lets you pay full attention to the quality of your writing while the words flow much faster.

By design, cover letters are like a written handshake setting the stage for your resume to secure an interview. They can even make a difference in whether your resume gets read at all.

Cover Letter Resume
Forms immediate, direct employer connection by addressing the recipient by name Not addressed to anyone
Story-telling device illuminates the person behind the professional Relatively impersonal synopsis of qualifications, in list format
Bridges past achievements and future potential so employers envision the benefits of hiring you Background-oriented
Piques the reader’s curiosity without giving away too much Reveal details to readers intrigued by cover letter
How to write a cover letter - expert guide [2022]
Related article
How to write a cover letter - expert guide [2022]

Here is exactly how you can write a cover letter that will stand out from the crowd, and help you land that interview.

At-a-glance cover letter outline

The simplicity of a cover letter outline may come as a pleasant surprise. Just seeing the framework laid out so neatly and efficiently into these bite-sized components can make this writing task seem a lot less daunting:

  • Header (Your name and contact information)
  • Date
  • Recipient address
  • Greeting / salutation
  • Introduction
  • Body paragraph(s)
  • Closing (conclusion)
  • Sign-off

The following outline provides an at-a-glance overview of what all cover letters should look like and contain.

Example

Header:

Your Name
Occupation
Street Address
City, State/Province/Country, ZIP/Postal Code (as applicable)
Email and phone
LinkedIn Social media (optional)
Other Social media (optional if relevant)

 

Date:

Month xx, xxxx

 

Recipient:

Recipient name 
Position title
Employer name
City, State/Province/Country as applicable, ZIP/Postal Code
Email (if submitting online)

 

Greeting:

Dear Mr./Ms/Dr.:____________,

 

Introduction:

Instantly hook the reader by launching your employer-targeted case for being an ideal job match. Hit only the highest notes in this preview of your most compelling qualifications in a way that instantly resonates and encourages further reading. 

 

Body paragraphs:

Reinforce the bridge between your past, present and future success stories by painting this hiring organization into the longer-term picture. Pinpoint the most relevant experience, training and transferable skills that you know recruiters are keenly interested in. 
 

Closing / Call to Action:

Close off in a manner that’s confident, courteous and concise but not entirely conclusive. Thank recruiters for their time and interest in your application, adding a reminder of why you are perfect for the job. 

Then, be sure to include a call to action that puts some onus on the employer to respond and follow up, not cast your application aside.

 

Sign-off / Signature:

Sincerely,
Signature (Only if it’s a printed hard copy)

Your Name 

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Expert tip

For both writing inspiration and design ideas to suit your job search situation, browse Resume.io’s collection of more than 160 occupation-specific writing guides and corresponding cover letter examples .

Step-by-step tips and samples 

Now let’s look at how to optimize the value of each cover letter outline component.

Header

Your cover letter stands out from the rest with a distinctive-looking header that identifies who you are and how recruiters can reach you. As long as you incorporate the same information that appears in the basic outline presented above, the header space allows creative leeway in your layout and design choices.

Expert tip

Create an unmistakably matched pair of cover letter and resume documents by aligning the header styles, and other design and formatting elements. The reader-friendly visual consistency sends a message that you take all work details seriously.

Greeting / salutation

Start off on a friendly, but professional, note by connecting directly with your cover letter recipient. If you have no luck coming up with the right individual’s name, a group or position title greeting may be your next best option. Try the least generic-sounding approach along these lines: “Dear (Position Name) Hiring Team” or “Dear (Department or Job Role) Search Committee.

Introduction

Again, your goal is to catch and hold the reader’s attention by connecting your key qualifications to what this employer needs and wants. Mention what sparked your interest in the job and suggest why recruiters might be mutually interested in what you offer. 

Specify how you could contribute if hired and convey enthusiasm about the opportunity to do so, demonstrating your awareness of the organization’s achievements, goals or reputation. A complimentary remark in that regard can go a long way, as illustrated in these sample cover letter introductions from computer science, occupational therapist and architect cover letters.

Computer Science Cover Letter Introduction

The network administrator role at Scion Technologies is a direct continuation of the work that I have been doing at Longwell. Your proactive approach to business support and innovative cross-functional collaborations attracts me to what I hope will be the next step in my computer science career.

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Occupational Therapist Cover Letter Introduction

Working as an OT in a small private practice for nearly a decade has taught me the value of individual patient care. After my move to Atlanta, I feel that the Lindell Clinic would be an ideal place to continue my OT career with a dedicated group of likeminded therapists.

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Architect Cover Letter Introduction

After four years working with one of the leaders in sustainable construction in the UAE, I want to work with one of the leaders back in America. Eco-structure has worked on some fantastic projects and I would like to bring my award-winning sustainability expertise to your commercial and residential teams.

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Body

This meaty middle section of your cover letter is the place to show, not just tell, what makes you an ideal job match. Describe abilities and achievements that prospective employers would relish seeing replicated with you on board. 

Here is a sample body section for an administrative assistant cover letter.

Administrative Assistant Cover Letter Body

You expect your administrative assistants to be familiar with the latest technology, utilize the most cutting-edge communication methods and organize their time so that they can be of the most use to the most people. My weekly productivity blog has 5,500 subscribers, so the latest thinking and practice is not foreign to me.

Five years of administration experience make me the perfect candidate: 

  • Exclusive experience in consumer fashion. I know the demands of the industry.
  • Work ethic – complete 80-100 individual tasks a day – I just love ticking them off.
  • Ambitions to grow. Am about to complete a distance learning business degree.
     

Busy days put a smile on my face. When tasks are coming at me thick and fast, I don’t let anything drop off the table unless I know that I have done my best. In my role as an administrative assistant, adopting a service-first attitude with all those I work with helps me to make their working days more successful by filling in the gaps.

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Examples pulled from your resume should never be rehashed, but rather reframed in directly relatable terms, Cite facts and figures to quantify impressive outcomes. Anecdotes and “lessons learned” also have a valuable place here in revealing your passions and purpose. The middle section below from a pharmacy technician cover letter illustrates.

Pharmacy Technician Cover Letter Body

After gaining my associate degree in Pharmacy Technology at Loreto College, my PTCB certification followed soon after, but it was during my first job after college that I realized just how important the client service aspect was in the role. You might run a brilliant process, but if you don’t make the pharmacy clients feel welcomed and comforted, they won’t come back. We increased daily footfall by 180% over the seven years at NeoPharm.

I am proficient in distributing prescriptions, verifying insurance, maintaining adequate stock inventories, labelling medicines, and using the various automated systems in a pharmacy setting. Without everything working seamlessly in the background, you have no chance at customer satisfaction, so when you have a busy day it is always a balancing act.

For example, my pharmacy manager was spending two hours a day with Medicare administration, so I set out to streamline our processes, introducing an element of automated software, which provided her with an extra hour a day to dispense medicines and we served 15% more clients as a result.

I have moved to Nashville to be closer to my elderly mother. As she has been a customer of your pharmacy for many years, I am well aware of your high standards of service. I would seek to delight every client as if I were serving her.

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Rely on action verbs in the active present or past tense to automatically make your writing tighter and more results-driven. The cover letter body sample below for a sales representative demonstrates dynamic descriptions, as well as bullet points for both showcasing and word-trimming.

Sales Representative Cover Letter Body

My career began with a sales management degree from Northwestern University and a graduate placement selling hot tubs. It was a perfect introduction to selling a high-value seasonal product and many conferences and events later, I had perfected my sales pitch. In my first two years as a sales rep, I skyrocketed my region’s sales by 80%, attracted 55 more customers and won the national sales prize in my second year.

I have just left a role with your competitor due to a change of company ownership – they brought in their own sales team. This was disappointing, as I took great pleasure in eating away at your market share (the net gain for my previous employer was 6%), but after an acrimonious exit and on finishing my gardening leave, I am keen to stay in garden furniture and feel that my three years of direct experience will prove useful.

My accomplishments there are readily transferable:

  • Developed a marketing brochure that increased ATV by 35% on tables and chairs.
  • Cultivated a sophisticated sales pipeline, including social media in the sales funnel.
  • Negotiated payment terms from 60 days to 51 days on average.
  • Sourced new products at exhibitions and sourcing trips with the company buyer.
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Cover letter tips: 20 ways to make yours work
Related article
Cover letter tips: 20 ways to make yours work

Cover letters are a critical part of the job application process, and yet many struggle with how to write them. The cover letter writing tips in this guide will help you move beyond amateur errors and into the realm of a job-winning professional.

Cover letter closing

As noted in the outline overview, a compelling call to action is how you leave the next step up in the air — or rather up to the recruiter — with some expectation of a response. 

It’s not out of line to indicate you would like to follow up with a phone call to arrange for a meeting, and perhaps even propose a mutually suitable time. Try to sound confident, hopeful and authentic, but not presumptuous or pushy.

Each of the following calls to action — from a social work, journalist and firefighter cover letter, respectively — is both personal and powerful.

Social Work Cover Letter Closing

Your organization is a beacon for social care in the city and I would love the opportunity of an interview to find out how I might play a part in your incredible impact.

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Journalist Cover Letter Closing

I enclose a portfolio of my most-read articles for your interest and would welcome the opportunity to share my passion for the sport of soccer.

Copied!
Firefighter Cover Letter Closing

Becoming a Howard County firefighter would be an honor to match anything that I achieved in my life to date. I would love the chance to discuss what skills I would bring to your team.

Copied!

Signature / Sign-off

Last comes a professional sign-off.

“Sincerely,” above your full-name is always appropriate. “Best regards,” or just “Best,” are fine also.

Leaving a space to sign above your name is only necessary if you are printing a hard copy of your letter to mail or deliver in person. Placing a scanned signature in an electronic document is optional and not expected.

Expert tip

Achieving high-quality results from your cover letter outline is a breeze using a cover letter template from Resume.io’s collection of field-tested designs. Besides taking care of all the layout and formatting decisions you would otherwise have to make when fleshing in your cover letter outline, our cover letter builder tool makes it a snap to drop in your own replacement text, section by section. 

Key takeaways for using a cover letter outline

  • As a clear-cut framework for organizing your cover letter into manageable sections, a cover letter outline makes the writing task seem less overwhelming.
  • By lifting the “what-comes-next?” mental barriers, cover letter outlines are a useful writer’s block-busting tool that lets you focus on the content quality.
  • Cover letter outlines make it even easier to apply Resume.io’s step-by-step writing tips and adaptable cover letter examples , especially alongside our cover letter templates and builder tool .
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