How to Format a Cover Letter (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar and Experts - Aug. 31, 2020

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In the job search process, there are a few critical steps that deserve special attention. You should be sure, for example, that your resume is polished and completely up-to-date before you pass it along to a hiring manager. Similarly, if you’re asked to participate in a job interview, you should make it a top priority to familiarize yourself with all of the most recent interview dos and don’ts.

In addition to nailing the resume and the job interview, it’s essential for any job candidate to put in the effort to create an ideal cover letter.

First and foremost, this document will be your opportunity to catch a hiring manager’s eye by outlining some notable details of your professional experience. It will also give you the chance to call attention to the specific skills, qualifications, and attributes that make you uniquely well-suited to the role that you’re applying to.

What Is The Purpose Of A Cover Letter?

Your cover letter should explain, in some detail (but not too much detail, as we’ll see), how the unique experiences in your career thus far have made you singularly equipped to take on the responsibilities of the new role that you’re coveting.

The function of a resume is primarily to provide an employer with a chronological breakdown of your education and work experience. It’s important to bear in mind that a cover letter should never replicate, word-for-word, the information that’s conveyed in your resume. A cover letter, on the other hand, should provide additional background and clarity to the more technical details that were provided in your resume.

Steps To Formatting A Cover Letter

With all of those themes in mind, the goal of this article is to provide you with a framework for understanding how to format an effective cover letter. Over the course of the following pages, we’ll break down:

  • Why it’s important to format a cover letter appropriately;

  • The small details to pay attention to when drafting a cover letter that can ultimately make a big difference;

  • The information that you should always include in a cover letter as well as the information that you should avoid including;

  • How to make sure that your finalized cover letter is not too long (and not too short);

  • A template for you to reference and to use as a guide as you prepare to draft your next cover letter;

Why is it Important to Properly Format a Cover Letter?

As we’ve already mentioned, the primary goal of a cover letter is to convey to a hiring manager the specific abilities and attributes that make you uniquely qualified for a given role.

As you can probably imagine, it’s all too easy for job candidates to get somewhat carried away in the process of writing about such a topic. For example, if you’re applying for a position as a project manager, you may ask yourself:

Should I mention the time that I was briefly appointed editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper?


What about the time that I was asked to take the lead on an important project in my previous role?

When it comes to writing a cover letter, some pieces of information are worth including, and others aren’t. You have limited space in your cover letter – and thereby a limited amount of time to grab and hold your reader’s attention – so you should be careful to only

include those pieces of information that will be directly relevant to the role that you’re applying to. Try to put yourself in the reader’s shoes, and ask yourself:

If I were assessing a job candidate’s suitability for a role, what information would I absolutely need to know, and what pieces of information would be superfluous?

In the example above, your best bet would probably be to ditch the tidbit about your experience in high school and to briefly mention the experience that you gained at your previous role.

Okay, so far so good. But of course, formatting is more than about just understanding which pieces of information to include and which to omit. It’s also about having a firm grasp of the small details that need to be included. On their own, any one of these small details might be seen as insignificant, but taken together they have the potential to make a cover letter stand out from the competition.

Important Details to Keep in Mind When You Format a Cover Letter

When you put in the time and the effort to properly format your cover letter, it will communicate to your reader that you’re a candidate that can be relied on to pay close attention to detail and who understands the importance of organization. And as it turns out, attention to detail and organization – not to mention communication skills – happen to be qualities that most employers are always looking for in a job candidate.

Here are three formatting tips that you should always implement in the process of drafting a cover letter:

  1. Give your cover letter a clipped, professional look. Make sure that you choose a font that’s traditional and easy to read. As a general best practice, it’s usually a good idea to go with something basic like Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman. Also, the font size of your cover letter should be large enough to read legibly, but not so large that the type takes up too much space. Ideally, your font size should be somewhere between 10 and 12.

    In addition, you should make sure that your cover letter document has margins that are set to either 1″ or 1.5″. It may seem inconsequential, but this simple step can make the contents of your cover letter appear more condensed and readable.

  2. Don’t let the length of your cover letter exceed a single page. Hiring managers tend to be very busy people, and they typically don’t have the time (or desire) to read through a dissertation-length cover letter. Limiting your cover letter to a single page will:

    • Make it much more likely that a hiring manager will actually read your entire cover letter, and;

    • Demonstrate to a hiring manager that you understand the demands of their job and that you respect their limited bandwidth.

  3. Avoid sending carbon copies of the same cover letter to multiple employers . Remember, your main goal when drafting a cover letter should be to communicate to a prospective employerhow andwhy you’re uniquely well-suited to be an asset within their company. You should also keep in mind that no two employers are exactly alike.

    In light of that, you should always make it your goal to tailor a cover letter so that it specifically addresses the needs and concerns of the employer who will be receiving it. Sending out a general, one-size-fits-all cover letter may enable you to send out a greater number of job applications each day, but it also comes with the risk that you’ll come across as lazy and unaware of the specific requirements of the job that you’re applying to.

  4. Cover Letter Format Walk-through

    Keeping those three general formatting and composition tips in mind, here is a basic template that you can use as a guide as you prepare to draft your next cover letter:

    1. Standard greeting.

      [Your name]
      [Your email address]
      [Your phone number]
      [Your mailing address]


      [Hiring Manager’s name]
      [Company address]
      [Company phone number]
      [Hiring Manager’s email address]

      Dear [Hiring Manager’s name],

    2. Opening Paragraph. The opening paragraph should include your name, an explanation of your primary professional expertise, how you first encountered the job posting, and why you’re interested in being considered for the role. This introductory paragraph should not exceed three or four sentences.

    3. Second Paragraph.The purpose of the second paragraph should be to speak directly to the specific job description that was highlighted by the hiring manager in the job posting. This is where you should call attention to how your academic and professional experiences up to the present moment have made you uniquely qualified to take on the demands of the role that you’re applying to. Be sure to highlight specific experiences, accomplishments, and personal qualities that make you well-suited for the job and for the broader company as a whole. Whenever possible, you should make it a point to include numbers and concrete data when you’re describing your previous experiences.

    4. Third Paragraph. This third paragraph is optional, but it can make a big difference. Here, you have the opportunity to elaborate a bit on the current challenges that the company that you’re applying to is facing, and how you will be able to help with the process of overcoming them. This is a great way to show a hiring manager that you’ve put in the time and research to familiarize yourself with the company’s current position. It will also show them that you understand why they’re looking to hire someone who possesses the skills and qualities that were listed in the original job posting.

    5. Concluding Paragraph. Finally, the concluding paragraph – often referred to as the “call-to-action” – is your chance to provide the reader with the contact details that they will need if they’re interested in following up with an interview. It should also let them know that you’ll follow up with them if you don’t hear back from them in a week (following the date of your cover letter’s submission). This paragraph should end with a sincere “thank you.”

    6. The Sign Off.


      [Your name]

    Cover Letter Format Example

    [Your name]
    [Your email address]
    [Your phone number]
    [Your mailing address]


    [Hiring Manager’s name]
    [Company address]
    [Company phone number]
    [Hiring Manager’s email address]

    Dear [Hiring Manager’s name],

    I am writing because I am interested in the Business Analyst position at QuintilesIMS.

    For the last three years I have been a part of the business development team at ZippiaILM, a well known IT company in Virginia. While working with ZippiaILM, I have repeatedly shown an ability to perform all of the range of skills and abilities a Business Analyst is expected to have. Some of these key abilities are expressed below:

    • System and business analysis

    • Data analysis

    • Managing multiple teams with all varieties of people

    • Acting liaison between IT teams and the clients

    • Consult on systems limitations

    • Implementation of business process models and decision models

    Given my experience, and prior accomplishments, I believe I am in a position to assist you in quickly meeting your goals.

    My resume is enclosed and I look forward to your reply. Thank you for your consideration.


    [Your name]

    Key Points When Formatting A Cover Letter

    Here are the four big things to keep in mind as you prepare to draft and submit a cover letter in 2020:

    1. Your cover letter should not simply regurgitate and restate the information that’s included in your resume. It should provide additional clarity to the basic themes introduced in your resume, and it should also highlight the specific reasonswhy you’re interested in – and qualified for – the role that you’re applying to.

    2. Paying close attention to the “small” details of your cover letter – such as font size and page margins – is a simple and effective way to show a hiring manager that you’re a candidate that’s able to pay close attention to detail. This, in turn, will make it much more likely that your cover letter will stand out from the rest in the pile of documents on your hiring manager’s desk.

    3. Hiring manager’s are busy people, which means it’s important to always limit a cover letter to one page, single spaced.

    4. The cover letter is your opportunity to show a prospective employer that you understand the challenges that they’re facing within their industry, and that you’re uniquely well-suited to help the company thrive in the future.

    Taking the time to properly format your next cover letter does not take a lot of time, but it can ultimately mean the difference between being lost in the crowd and being selected for a job interview. Good luck!

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.


Matt Warzel, CPRW, CIR

Matt Warzel a President of a resume writing firm (MJW Careers, LLC) with 15+ years of recruitment, outplacement, career coaching and resume writing experience. Matt is also a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR) with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (Marketing Focus) from John Carroll University.

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