Cover Letter Format

An Overview

In some ways, your cover letter is as important as your resume. As most employers only skim over resumes, you should use your cover letter to bring attention to what makes you the best person for the job. A cover letter should accompany each resume sent out, whether it’s by email, fax, or mail. Cover letters should be customized to the specific job and employer.

The Goal of a Cover Letter

The goal of your cover letter, in addition to your resume, is to convince an employer to spend the time and energy required to interview you. Therefore, your cover letter should not be a superficial overview, a detailed biography, or a letter full of self praise. Its purpose is to support your resume and get you an interview – no more and no less.

Employers are searching for answers to basic questions such as: Can you do the job? Would you be right for the job? Can you bring any other special experiences or skill sets with you? The cover letter can also be a good place to explain away any points of concern or fill in the gaps that may be found in your resume. For example:

  • Why did you change jobs so many times?
  • Why do you want to work overseas?
  • Will you or would you be able to commit to long term?
  • Are you able to work in a new enviroment having only worked in one company so far?
  • The resume lists manager roles, but are you able to manage people from a different culture?
  • There is a long list of computer languages, but have you actually written in all of them?

Types of Cover Letters

There are various formats of cover letters for each situation. Every person has their own style, but basically you can break them down into the following:

  1. Standard cover letter
  2. Response to an advertisement
  3. Cold solicitation
  4. Networking
  5. Follow up/Thank you letter

Cover Letter Format

Regardless if you are sending your cover letter via mail or email, cover letters should be neatly typed, formatted, and include:

  1. Your location and contact information 
  2. The date
  3. Addressee’s name 
  4. Their title within the company 
  5. The company name
  6. The company’s address

After filling in the address information, begin your cover letter with Dear Mr. or Ms., and the addressee’s last name.

If you do not have a specific contact to address your letter to, address it to the Human Resources Department or Hiring Manager.

You should try and keep the body of the letter as simple as possible while still conveying all the salient points you wish to convey to the reader. As a general rule, try to keep it to no more than four brief paragraphs. 

They should include:

First paragraph:

  • The desired position
  • Where/how you learned about the position/company
  • Your interest in the position/company

Second/Third paragraph:

  • Describe related experiences and skill sets
  • Explanation of how and why you are qualified for the position
  • Identify something significant about the company
  • Draw parallels between the company and your career objectives

Fourth paragraph:

  • Reiterate your interest in the position and company
  • Include follow up (will call; expect call)
  • Thank them for their time and consideration

Lastly, end your letter with a simple closing. Type your closing, leave a space for your signature, and below that space, type your name. You can digitally input your signature, or print and physically sign your name legibly in the space between the closing and your name.

If being sent by mail, the cover letter should be printed on quality paper and neatly placed into an envelope with your resume. If being sent via email, it should be saved as a PDF and attached as an attachment to the email. In addition, it could be copy and pasted into the body of the email without the address lines. 

Follow Up

If you have not heard from an employer within two or three weeks of submitting a resume, it is acceptable to follow up by letter, email, or telephone. It is important to bear in mind that although some employers will acknowledge receipt of resumes, others simply do not have time to respond – do not jeopardize your chances by getting upset if you haven’t heard back for a while. Keep copies of cover letters for reference when following up with employers.