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Written by Karl KahlerKarl Kahler

Cover letter format: the best formatting tips for cover letters

20 min read
Cover Letter Format: The Best Formatting Tips for Cover Letters
When you have a blank page that you need to fill with your career story, the cover letter format choices that you make can be as important as the words that you choose. We hope that our cover letter formatting tips will help you to create a structure for your job search sales pitch that is impactful and memorable.

This blog will consider the following aspects of a great cover letter format:

  • Cover letter formatting: example styles
  • How to format a cover letter
  • Cover letter format tips
  • Formatting a cover letter for email

Creating an effective visual frame for your cover letter could make all the difference.

The Perfect Cover Letter Format 

Here is what a great cover letter format looks like:

Cover Letter Formatting: Examples

Resume.io has four visual styles for their cover letter formats: modern, creative, simple and professional. These visual looks fit seamlessly with our CV templates and offer a different way to influence your potential future boss.

Modern Cover Letter Format

Modern Cover Letter Example

Creative Cover Letter Format

Creative Cover Letter Example

Simple Cover Letter Format

Simple Cover Letter Example

Professional Cover Letter Format

Professional Cover Letter Example

How to Format a Cover Letter

The format of a cover letter is fairly standard across most countries and industries. There are certain bits of information that are required and certain expectations for how a candidate’s career story should be set out.

Header: Contact Details

The first part of the cover letter format is the header section at the top of the document. This contains your name and full contact details. Although this information will be on your CV, it is essential to include it again in your cover letter.

  • Name. Your full name should focus the eye at the top of the cover letter format. Use a bold font where possible and a larger size. If you so wish, you may decide to include your personal pronouns (i.e. she/her).
  • Mobile. Include your mobile phone number with full area and international dialling code if you are applying to an international company.
  • Email. You should always provide a personal email address at the top of your cover letter. It should be a simple format that is easy to copy with your name (or initials) and surname with a recognised email provider such as gmail.
  • Social account(s). Links to social profiles such as LinkedIn or a personal website will save your future boss a job as they will want to check you out. Make sure that your activity history is appropriate.
  • Portfolio link/url. Creative professionals will want to share a virtual portfolio with their application. Including a link to this in the cover letter header is sensible. If you can - make the link short and/or easy to remember (in case your cover letter is going to be printed out and passed along physically).

Header: Employer Details

Many cover letters will include the employer details after the date of the letter. This is what is typically included:

  • Today’s date. It doesn’t matter which format you choose for the date, but you might want to consider using just numbers in the date format, as this gives less for the hiring manager to have to visually process.
  • Name of hiring manager. Double checking both the title and spelling of the hiring manager – phoning for such details shows off your initiative.
  • Company name. You might be applying for a role in a company, but your CV may be read by other parties, so include the company name for clarity.
  • Company address. In an age of electronic correspondence, it isn’t essential to include an address, but if you wish to be overly formal, then you can do so.

How to Format a Cover Letter Greeting

Getting the greeting right at the beginning of the cover letter format is not the toughest part of writing it, but if you are not careful you can get it wrong. Opting for a “Dear Surname” variant is a safe bet.

If you do not know to whom the letter should be addressed, starting with a greeting like “Dear Company team” is so much better than a cold “To whom it may concern.”

Cover Letter Introduction

You should start your cover letter with a relevant and compelling introductory paragraph that includes a relevant achievement, personal story, connection with the company or a shared value that makes you want to work there.

Consider using a strong action verb or impressive number to make your achievements stand out that little bit more. The more context you give to your descriptions, the more you will fire your imagination of your potential future employer.

Example

As a one-time foster kid, I know that a dedicated case worker makes all the difference in a child’s trajectory. That’s why I want to bring my passion and perseverance to a role with the Baltimore DSS in order to inspire kids and set them up for a healthy future.

Copied!

Cover Letter Middle Part

The middle couple of paragraphs of a cover letter should delve deeper into your accomplishments and complement your CV by exploring the cultural and personality fit of your application. This is your chance to speak directly to the hiring manager in free-flowing language:

  • Why should they hire you?
  • Why do you want to work with them?
  • What can you do that other candidates cannot?

Use action verbs to describe your skills, be specific in terms of what you achieved and quantify the outcomes for your previous employers. Past success is a great indicator of future potential - creating a compelling story will be a great prelude to your interview. You control the cover letter narrative, so what do you talk about?

Example

Both expectant and experienced parents alike tend to stop for that little bit longer in the baby section of RetailMart. 34% longer, according to the research. Analysing customer flow patterns, I estimate that over the past thirteen years, I have helped over half a million of them make the best decisions for their little people. That is a lot of baby chat. At an average of 16% YOY sales growth.

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An effective cover letter acts as a complement to your CV by adding some much-needed personality, highlighting your fit within the specific role, and setting the tone for your interview.

Cover Letter Ending

No cover letter format should end with a whimper. How you end a cover letter will dictate the final thoughts that you leave in a hiring manager’s head before they move onto the next one (and there will be a next one). A strong cover letter ending makes sure that they are still thinking about you long after they have moved on to the next potential candidate.

  • Address the hidden needs of the hiring manager one last time.
  • Link your personal “why” to the company’s mission or values.
  • Use the mechanism of repetition to create an impact.
  • Begin a story (tease it) that you wish to continue at the interview.

The format of every cover letter ending should finish with a call-to-action request for an interview. If your cover letter has been impressive enough, it isn’t overly arrogant to mention that you are looking forward to the opportunity of meeting up and finding out more about the role.

Example

Should we have the opportunity to meet for an interview, I would love to elaborate on how I managed to increase store footfall by 95% with a unique promotional strategy. Our competitor’s stores were empty for a month.

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Cover Letter Format Tips

Here are 5 cover letter format tips to help you achieve a great result:

  • Font style. The font that you use in a cover letter will undoubtedly make an impact on the reader. Whether you pick a serif or sans-serif variant, you can’t go wrong with the likes of Arial, Calibri, Cambria, Garamond, Georgia or Verdana. Avoid “childish” fonts such as Comic Sans or Courier.
  • Font size. Some people may seek to reduce the font size in order to fit more content onto their one-page cover letter (it should never be two pages). Different fonts come in slightly different sizes, but a size 11 or 12 should work for most fonts. Stick at one font size for the whole cover letter.
  • Spacing. Each typeface comes with a default amount of spacing between lines, but many word processing programs will allow you to change this. Cover letter templates are often specifically designed with this in mind to maximize the visual impact.
  • File format. This is non-negotiable. Always send your cover letter over in a PDF format unless a Word document has been requested by the employer. PDFs are easier to “read” for the ATS software and they will not corrupt the formatting depending on the browser used to view them.
  • File name. The file name for your cover letter will show up in the header of many emails, so, rather than being creative, stick with a sensible format such as A.N.Candidate_CoverLetter.PDF – keep it short and simple.
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Formatting a Cover Letter for Email

If you are applying for a role outside of a formal process, if you are writing an email directly to the hiring manager it might make sense to include the text of the cover letter in the email rather than ask them to open a separate attachment.

This is not something that we would recommend as emails are easily lost and impossible to store in an ATS system for others to read, but if you do decide to opt for the email cover letter format, here are a few things to bear in mind:

  1. Email title. You obviously want the hiring manager to click through to the body of your email, but don’t get too needy with the title. Just the title of the role and your name will be fine. They will read your email (just as they would read any cover letter that they get sent – it is then up to you to retain their interest so they read to the end.
  2. Formal greeting. As with a cover letter, get their name and salutation right.
  3. Introductory paragraph. You have less space to be expansive in an email. An email cover letter should be 30-40% shorter than a PDF version, so keep your introduction to a snappy one-liner that cuts to the very heart of your value.
  4. Middle paragraph (just one). Signposting the middle of your cover letter email with 4-5 lines of text will show that this is the place where your core arguments will reside. Give a context to your relevant accomplishments and show some personality.
  5. Conclusion and call to action. The main bulk of your sales pitch should be in the middle paragraph, so the conclusion should give one last reason to consider you and you should then not shy away from saying that you are looking forward to the opportunity of meeting for an interview. Hint that they need to take the next step now.
  6. Contact information in footer. An email cover letter will not have the same format as a PDF cover letter, so include links to your email, mobile, social and any portfolio information at the bottom of the email after your sign-off.

Key Takeaways

Put simply, packaging matters. The cover letter format will definitely have an impact on how your story is received. Get it right and your application will have a little extra impetus behind it. But neglect your cover letter format at your peril – if it is visually unappealing the logical conclusion will be that the context isn’t worth much either.

Polishing the cover letter format is the equivalent of shining your shoes, brushing your hair or dry cleaning your clothes before an interview.

If you take care of the cover letter format, the cover letter format will take care of you.

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