The majority of recruiters agree that to land the job you want, you’ll need to have both a standout resume and cover letter. A cover letter, also called an application letter, is a standard, one-page business letter.
Cover letter formatting isn’t as complicated as most job seekers think. Most applicants will never deviate from the basic cover letter formats, which have long-standing and clear guidelines. However, to create a proper cover letter format, you have to know how to do it right! Here, we show you how.
This formatting guide covers:
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Structure of a cover letter
Before we get into formatting specifics, all professional cover letter formats should look like this cover letter format example:
Cover letter formatting basics
Formatting your cover letter correctly will help you appear professional and well-organized. Keep the following points in mind as you structure the page. Whether you are looking for information on an internship cover letter format or a professional cover letter format, these basic rules will apply.
Fonts, spacing and margins
A great cover letter is defined by proper use of margins, white space, and font style and size.
Not all fonts are equal. Some, like Times New Roman, are easy to read, while others, like Comic Sans, are not. To be safe, choose one of the standard business-style fonts like Arial, Calibri, Verdana or Times New Roman and use only that font. We recommend using only 11- or 12-point fonts because those sizes are easiest for most people to read.
Cover letters should have one space between lines of text and between words, two spaces between paragraphs and two spaces between each section. Consistent use of spacing keeps a cover letter well balanced.
Margins and alignment
The standard rule of thumb for cover letters is that margins should be 1 inch, and text should be aligned to the left of a document. Some cover letter designs allow headers to be centered or right-aligned but always align the salutation, body and closing to the left.
A bulleted list is a clean way to break up the paragraphs and call out top achievements in the body of your cover letter. Use simple bullets — nothing fancy — and make sure they match the style you used in your resume.
T-format cover letter variation
A few job seekers may benefit from the variation known as T-format. This format puts the job requirements side by side with a candidate’s qualifications, making it very easy to compare the skills to the company’s needs. Best for those with at least 20 years of experience or work in a highly specialized field, like small-aircraft technicians.
The 6 types of cover letters [+ formatting tips]
Before you start formatting your cover letter, you should know what you plan to write. The type of cover letter you write will depend on the context of your application. Your goal is to land the job, but how do you get there? Do you have a professional reference? Are you seeking help from your network? Are you sending the cover letter over email?
Your answers to these questions will help you choose from the six key types of cover letters, which are:
- Application cover letter: This type of cover letter is the most common, with a straightforward mission of getting an interview for a publicly listed job. You should send it directly to the hiring manager whenever possible, and make sure to include a copy of your resume. Consider using bullet points to list your achievements in the body of the letter.
- Prospecting cover letter: When the job you want isn’t listed, you should consider sending this type of cover letter. Prospecting letters introduce you to the company, list your qualifications and ask whether there are any openings. If possible, connect with someone at the organization before you write the letter so you can address them personally.
- Email cover letter: An email cover letter format varies slightly from the others. When emailing your cover letter, you should attach your document in the format the employer requested — a PDF is the safest bet if you aren’t sure. In the email itself, you can write a condensed version of your letter. Ensure your subject line is relevant (e.g., Applying for a marketing position at XYZ) and your email address is professional.
- Networking cover letter: You send a networking letter to a professional contact in hopes of discovering unlisted job opportunities and getting advice and support in your job search. The formatting will be similar to other letter types — include a header with contact info, a bullet-point list of your best qualifications and a professional signoff.
- Referral cover letter: When you have a mutual connection with a company’s hiring manager, write a referral letter. The connection can be someone who works at the company, a friend or a professional acquaintance. Before you hit send, make sure the person is comfortable with you mentioning them in your opening paragraph.
- Career change cover letter: Switching career paths requires a little explanation. While the formatting of a career change letter is the same as the other letter types, the substance will be different. Put the focus on how your accomplishments apply to a different industry or job, using the job description as a guide for how to word your qualifications.
5 tips for formatting a cover letter properly
- Understand what the employer prefers. Read the job description carefully. Some employers prefer cover letters written in the body of an email rather than attached. Others might want you to send your document through postal mail or via their online application system. That said, if you’re not instructed otherwise, attach your application materials to an email message.
File format matters. If you are sending your cover letter digitally, you need to know which file format to use when saving it. Without specific instructions, a PDF file is your safest bet.
The PDF file format is best because:
It is compatible with most systems, browsers and applications.
It is easy for applicant tracking systems (ATS) — software companies use to scan cover letters and resumes for the best matches to job descriptions — to read.
They can’t be altered, so your formatting and content are preserved
- Give your document a proper name. Naming your cover letter file is an important part of overall formatting — it’s got to be legible and professional. For best results, use the standard convention: your first and last name, the job title you are applying for and close it with “cover letter.” Put spaces, dashes or underscores between each part to make it easy to read. Here’s an example: Jane Doe_Medical Assistant_Cover Letter.
- Send your document from a professional email address. Use an email address like YourName@email.com, Your_Name@email.com and Your-Name@email.com, not SoccerMom20@email.com or Golfer517@email.com. Remember to use a professional email address in your cover letter’s contact information as well.
- Write a relevant subject line for your email. Otherwise, your cover letter may go to the employer’s spam or trash folders without ever being read.
Here’s how to write the email subject line:
Read the instructions in the job description. Employers often specify what they want applicants to write in an email subject line.
Be clear. Specify why you are writing along with your name and the job you are applying for; something like: “Construction Job Inquiry — Joe Smith.”
Keep it short. The Nielsen Norman Group recommends limiting your subject line to 40 characters
Proofread it. Even one typo could cost you the interview.
More cover letter format resources
Need more support? We’ve got you covered with guides on how to write cover letters effectively using our library of examples and an appropriate template.
Cover letter examples
These cover letter examples demonstrate how a cover letter should be formatted and what information about you it should include. Pay attention to fonts, space and margins and paragraph treatments within each letter.
Cover letter templates
Formatting comes in different styles depending on your cover letter template. Check out a few of our most popular templates suited for different types of professionals, and select a matching resume template for a cohesive look. Keep an eye on how the format differs based on the template, from the header down to the bullet points.
When you apply for jobs, you should submit a cover letter with your resume. Cover letters give you an opportunity to share your goals, list your most relevant skills and qualifications, and explain why you are interested in the company. Since some job seekers neglect to write a cover letter, submitting one can also make you a more desirable candidate.
Yes, you need a custom, professional cover letter for each job you apply to. You should submit one with your resume even when it isn’t required because cover letters are one of the best ways to set yourself apart from the competition. Considering that 85% of hiring professionals read cover letters, you can show a company you are professional and committed by including one and making the strongest possible case for your candidacy.
For most applicants, the best cover letter format for a resume would be the standard one-page business letter. Some job seekers with more than 20 years of experience and highly specialized jobs could opt for the T-format cover letter because it clearly displays how their qualifications match the job description on one page.
The best cover letter date format is month, day and year, written in long form. For example: May 14, 2021.
The best cover letter begins with a salutation like “Dear John Smith” or “To Jane Doe.” If you don’t know the recipient’s name, you can use a title such as “Head of Marketing.” Never use the generic “To whom it may concern” if you want to be taken seriously.
Always be professional when writing a cover letter closing. An email cover letter should close with a tasteful line, like “Kind regards,” “Sincerely” or “Thank you for your consideration,” and not informal phrases like “Later” or “Thx.”
That depends on what you mean by “personal.” You should personalize every cover letter to each job. This means including the relevant skills from the job advertisement and explaining why your career achievements make you a good fit for the role. On the other hand, adding irrelevant personal details to your application letter can turn off the employer and make you seem unprofessional. Personal details, such as life history, should only be invoked as it pertains to work.
We offer the best cover letter writing tool available online. You can select from many cover letter templates and easily tailor them. Our Cover Letter Builder abides by cover-letter-writing best practices and helps job seekers create application letters that bypass applicant tracking systems (ATS), which parse resumes and cover letters for relevance. To top it off, our builder helps you proofread your job application letter for formatting, spelling and grammar errors and make edits before downloading it.