A cover letter, also called an application letter, is a standard, one-page business letter. The format of an application letter for most job applicants never deviates and everyone follows established guidelines when writing a cover letter for a job. On this page, we’ll show you how to format a cover letter correctly and we’ll provide useful tips, templates and cover letter format examples to help you create a professional application letter that will make employers want to hire you.
Anatomy of a cover letter format
Below is a section-by-section example of a proper format for a cover letter. A good cover letter format should include, in order:
The applicant’s contact information.
Depending on the cover letter layout you use, you can put this information on the left, right or center of your cover letter heading, but you must always place your contact information at the top in a visible manner.
The current date.
A professional cover letter format will always show the date in long form, like October 14, 2021.
The employer’s address.
Like your contact information, you can write the employer’s address on the right, left or center of your application letter format, but always place it below the date. Dig around for the hiring manager’s name to use it at the top of the address. If you can’t find it, then address it to the company’s name.
It’s best to greet the hiring manager by name if you can find it. If not, then “Dear hiring manager,” is second best.
The body of a cover letter layout is where you introduce yourself, express your interest in the position, provide details about your qualifications and tell the employer how you plan to help them succeed. It should be at least three and no more than four paragraphs long.
It should include:
An introductory paragraph: A strong introduction communicates enthusiasm for the position and the company.
One or two middle paragraphs: A cover letter’s body paragraphs should demonstrate your personality, describe specific aspects of your related experience, including measurable achievements and explain employment gaps.
A closing paragraph: The closing paragraph is where you reiterate your interest, thank the hiring manager for their time and invite them to contact you.
This section is where you sign off respectfully and professionally: “Regards,” “Sincerely,” “Respectfully,” and “Thank you for your consideration,” are all excellent cover letter closers.
If you send your cover letter through email or a digital job application portal, type in your full name. If hiring managers ask you to send your cover letter through postal mail, it is appropriate to sign your full name in blue or black ink, followed by a typed version.
Cover letter formatting basics
Proper cover letter formatting is critical to appearing professional and well-organized when applying for a job. Here is what you should keep in mind when it’s time to create the format of your application letter.
Cover letter format fonts, spacing and margins
A solid cover letter structure is defined by correct use of margins, white space, and font style and size.
Not all fonts work well on cover letters. Some, like Times New Roman, are easy to read, while others, such as Comic Sans, Courier New and Impact, are not. Your job application letter must be both professional and easy to read, so choose one of the acceptable business-style fonts: Arial, Calibri, Verdana or Times New Roman and use only that font throughout.
Font size matters, too! We recommend using only 11- or 12-point fonts because those sizes are easiest for most people to read.
Professional cover letter formatting uses one space between lines of text and between words, two spaces between paragraphs and two spaces between each section.
Margins and alignment
The standard rule of thumb for cover letter layouts 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 complimentary close to the left.
A bulleted list is a clean way to break up paragraphs, call out top achievements and is proper format for cover letter body paragraphs. Use simple bullets — nothing fancy — and make sure they match the style you used in your resume.
T-format cover letter variation
You have the basics for how to format a cover letter for most jobs, but there is another option. If you have over 20 years of experience or a highly specialized position, such as a small-aircraft technician, you might want to put the focus on your skills and use your application letter to show employers exactly how each one matches the job requirements. You can do this easily with a T-format cover letter. But before you use this cover letter layout, you should be certain it is the best cover letter format for the job you seek.
The cover letter structure for the T-format:
Add a header to the top of your cover letter layout, followed by the date, employer’s name and address and a salutation.
Write a one-paragraph introduction below your cover letter salutation.
To execute the next cover letter format, divide the page into two columns — one with a bulleted list of job requirements (with “Your Job Requirements” as the header) and the other with a list of your qualifications (with “My Qualifications” as the header).
Wrap up your T-format job application letter with a paragraph summarizing your interest with confidence and an invitation to connect with the hiring manager.
Conclude your application letter format with a professional and respectful closing statement like “Respectfully yours,” and your name. If you are mailing your letter via post, then hand-sign it above your typed name.
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Tips for formatting a cover letter properly (with examples)
Follow instructions.Read the job description carefully. Some employers prefer employment application 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, digital cover letters and resumes have become standard, so if you’re not instructed otherwise, attach your application materials along with your resume 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. Employers sometimes ask for a particular file format and reject application letter formats not sent as requested, so save your document as a PDF unless otherwise indicated.
The PDF file format is the safest bet because:
- It is compatible with most systems, browsers and applications.
- It is easy for applicant tracking systems (ATS) — a software companies use to scan resume and cover letter format for the best matches to job descriptions — to read.
- Because they can’t be altered, so your cover letter formatting and content are preserved.
Give it an appropriate name.Naming your cover letter file is an important part of overall cover letter 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 and/or dashes or underscores in between each part to make it easy to read.
Examples of the best cover letter file names:
- Jane Doe_Medical Assistant_Cover Letter
- Pat Sommer — History Teacher — Cover Letter
Use an email address that sounds and looks professional.Remember to use a professional email address in writing your cover letter contact information. Some good examples are: YourName@email.com, Your_Name@email.com and Your-Name@email.com, not SoccerMom20@email.com or Golfer517@email.com.
Write a relevant subject line if you send your application letter by email.Otherwise, your professional cover letter may go to the employer’s spam or trash folders without ever being read.
- Read the instructions in the job description. Employers often specify how to write a cover letter email subject line.
- Be clear. Specify that you are applying for a job along with your name and the specific job you are applying for; something like: “Construction Job Inquiry — Joe Smith" or “Receptionist Job Application — Sam Jones.”
- Keep it short. The Nielsen Norman Group recommends that you limit your subject line to 40 characters.
- Proofread it! Even one typo in the best cover letter format could cost you the interview.
Don’t forget to add a message for the hiring manager to explain why you are contacting them if you are attaching your cover letter to an email.The format for your job application email is just as important as the format of your application letter, so be mindful of how you craft yours. Your email message should be brief and to the point. In two short paragraphs, let the employer know that you are writing with an interest in a specific position and that your resume and cover letter are attached. You might also let them know how you can be contacted should they require additional information.
How to send a cover letter (so it retains its formatting)
While some companies still ask job applicants to send their cover letters and resumes by postal mail, most modern employers expect them directly through online applications or by email.
Below, we provide best practices for submitting your cover letter through a website or via email, including formatting tips, naming conventions and which file formats to use.
Uploading a cover letter to an employer or job board portal
If you’re submitting an attachment:
Choose the right cover letter file format. Most employers will tell you exactly what file format they need in the job ad. In the rare case there aren’t any specific instructions, use a PDF or DOCX file, both of which are better at retaining formatting than a Word file or Google Doc.
Give your file a sensible name. Your cover letter file should have a professional name. We recommend the following structure: First Name-Last Name-Job Title-Cover-Letter. Avoid spaces and unusual characters, both of which can show up awkwardly on the employer’s end.
If you’re pasting your cover letter into a text box:
Be careful with formatting your cover letter for a text box. Occasionally, you will be asked to submit your cover letter via a text box. Since you have no idea whether the employer’s system will retain your formatting, strip any special styling (like bullet points or italics) from your letter. Use plain, simple paragraphs to guarantee a hiring manager will be able to read the text.
Read through your job application letter before you submit it. It’s easy to make a mistake when you’re copying and pasting. Take the time to read your cover letter when it’s in the text box to make sure the text is complete and in the right order.
How to send a cover letter by email (tips and examples)
Emailing your cover letter is easy. Simply follow these steps:
Use a professional email address. If you don’t have an email address set up specifically for job applications, then take the time to create one with a standard email provider. Employers will take you more seriously if your email address consists of your first and last name or a combination of your name and initials, like: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Never use personal email monikers with nicknames like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, and avoid numbers like email@example.com. Employers will notice and they may pass you by without reading your job application letter.
Follow the instructions in the job description. Employers often provide instructions in their job descriptions for sending your cover letter and resume, so read it carefully. You might be asked to write a cover letter in the body of an email or you might be asked to include it as an attachment in a specified file format (most often as a Word document or PDF). Not following instructions is grounds for most employers to dismiss your job application.
If the employer requests a cover letter formatted in the body of an email, then copy and paste the text of your cover letter as a message. Pay close attention to the format of the application letter. You might have to reformat it after pasting it. Keep the same margins, spacing and alignment but use your email provider’s default font and style.
If instructions are not included, err on the side of attaching your cover letter as a PDF. Many employers consider an attached application letter more professional and since you will likely be sending your resume as an attachment, it’s consistent. PDFs are a safe bet because they maintain their formatting no matter what software is used to open them, while Word files run the risk of losing their formatting depending on how they are opened.
Name your file properly. Formatting a cover letter includes naming it. When sending your cover letter as an attachment, the file name should be professional, like your email address. The appropriate way to name a cover letter when saving it as a file is:
First Name-Last Name-Job Title-Cover-Letter
For example: Jane-Smith-Journeyman-Electrician-Cover-Letter.pdf (or .doc)
Include a brief email message. Always write a brief note when sending your cover letter as an attachment in an email. Pay attention to how you format your email message, keeping it brief and professional.
Your job application email message might be something like:
Dear Ms. Rodriguez,
I’m writing with interest in the catering position with Yummy Eats.
I’ve attached my cover letter and resume for your review.
Please let me know if you require any additional information.
Thank you for your consideration!
Add a relevant subject line. Increase the chance that the recruiter or hiring manager will notice, open your email message and read your job application letter. Be specific and succinct.
The best way to do this is: Job Title-Cover Letter-Your Name
Custodial Manager-Cover Letter-Sam Lyons
Cover letter format guides
How to write a cover letter
A well-formatted cover letter needs quality content. Our how to write a cover letter guide takes you through the process of writing a cover letter from start to finish (with sample cover letter text you can customize to your needs). The following cover letter sections are covered:
Cover letter format examples
These cover letter examples demonstrate how to properly format a cover letter, paying particular attention to fonts, space and margins as well as paragraph treatments within each cover letter.
Cover letter templates (with examples)
Cover letter formatting comes in different flavors depending on the cover letter template you choose. Check out a few of our most popular templates suited for different types of professionals. Keep an eye on how the format differs based on the template, from the header down to the bullet points.
How do I write an application letter format?
With Resume Now, you don’t have to worry about creating your own cover letter format. We have dozens of cover letter templates to choose from. You can use our tips to guide your cover letter writing, or you can use our Cover Letter Builder to take the work out of formatting a cover letter for each job application.
Do I need a cover letter?
Yes, you need a custom, professional cover letter for each job you apply to and you should submit one with your resume even when it isn’t required. They 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 a cover letter and making the strongest possible case for your candidacy.
What is the best cover letter format for a job application?
For most applicants, the best cover letter format is 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 format because it displays how their qualifications match the job description on one page very clearly.
Is a job application letter ever optional?
Sometimes writing a cover letter is considered optional. For example, sectors like retail and food service have high turnover and often need to hire workers on the spot. All employers in these fields want to know is whether you have the skills to perform the job, so a professional cover letter could not hurt if you want to really stand out. So, we recommend writing a cover letter for every job because it shows employers that you’re serious about the job and are willing to go the extra mile to get it.
What are the different types of cover letters?
Types of cover letters range from general job application letters to cover letters that address specific circumstances, including recently graduating, changing careers, job-hopping, being laid off/unemployed, unadvertised job openings and moving for a job among others. All cover letter layouts should be the same, no matter the circumstances.
Which is the best date format for a cover letter?
The best cover letter structure date format is month, day and year, written in long-form. For example: October 14, 2021.
How do I start a cover letter?
The best cover letter writing begins with a salutation like “Dear John Smith,” or “To Jane Doe.” If you don’t know the recipient’s name, then you can choose to use a title such as “Head of Marketing.” Never use the generic “To whom it may concern” if you want to be taken seriously.
Which are the appropriate closings for an email cover letter format?
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.”
Can I include my cover letter in the body of an email?
Yes, you can include your cover letter in the body of an email as long as you keep it short. Formatting a cover letter in the body of an email should be no different than how you format a cover letter in a Word document or PDF. That said, you may want to attach your cover letter to the email, and save the email message for a short, bullet-point summary of your cover letter’s highlights.
How personal should I make my cover letter?
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 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.
What is the best cover letter writing online tool?
Resume Now offers the best cover letter writing tool available online. You can select from many proven cover letter templates and easily tailor them from there. Our Cover Letter Builder abides by cover letter writing best practices and helps job seekers create cover letters that bypass applicant tracking systems (ATS), which parse resumes and cover letters for relevance with ease. To top it off, it helps you proofread your job application letter for formatting, spelling and grammar errors and make edits before you download it.