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Cover Letter Formats: Tips for 2022

Just like on a resume, using a professional cover letter format is critical to making a strong first impression. If you are unsure about your cover letter’s layout, follow these basic guidelines to ensure your cover letter format is on point.

Here, we explain everything you need to know about a cover letter structure, from section order and fonts to margins, spacing and length, so that you are sure that the format of your application letter is correct. Read on to explore everything you need to know about cover letter formats and to see professionally written cover letter format examples that show you exactly how it’s done.

5 elements of a strong cover letter format

When you are looking for a new job, your cover letter format counts. While the details of your application letter will be different from job to job, what’s the same is your cover letter layout.

Whether you are applying for a job, requesting an informational interview or networking, all cover letters are formatted the same way. A professional cover letter structure consists of five sections which should be written in order and include the information indicated below. Once you have all the sections, you’ll have accomplished the first task of creating the proper format for a cover letter.

Customer Service Anatomy Cover Letter

When creating a cover letter format for a job application, review this diagrammed cover letter example to learn more about the elements of a well-formatted cover letter for a resume.

  • Header

    The header of your cover letter should contain your current contact information, your name, email address, city and state and phone number. If applicable, consider adding a link to your LinkedIn profile and your website or online portfolio to your cover letter layout.

  • Salutation

    The salutation sits toward the top of your cover letter structure and is where you greet the intended reader of your letter. Do your best to address the application letter to the appropriate recruiter or hiring manager. If the job ad doesn’t list a name, do research on the company’s website or on LinkedIn to find the appropriate person. Avoid the generic “To whom it may concern” whenever possible.

  • Introduction paragraph

    Every professional cover letter format contains an introduction paragraph. The cover letter’s opening paragraph should mention the job you are applying for and why you are interested in the role. Use this section to make a good first impression but keep it succinct — three to five sentences should do it.

  • Body paragraphs

    The body of your cover letter should be made up of one or two paragraphs that highlight the relevant experience an employer will find on your resume. Here, use data and relevant metrics to show the impact your work has had on a past employer. To keep the length in check, feel free to use bullet points in this section. Take a look at our cover letter format examples to learn how to write this section.

  • Closing paragraph

    In the final section of your cover letter application for a job, recap your skills and experience and summarize your goals. In the last sentence, thank the employer for considering your qualifications and state your intention to follow up.

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Cover letter formatting checklist

When considering your cover letter format for a job application, use this handy checklist to be sure your application letter’s format is as clear and well-organized as possible.

  • Choose a readable font.

    Choosing an easy-to-read font is critical to the success of your cover letter layout. After all, if a hiring manager can’t read the contents, you likely won’t get an interview. Avoid fussy fonts like Comic Sans or Script, and opt for a simple font, such as Arial, Times or Calibri. Write your application letter in 11- or 12-point font size to make it easy on the reader’s eyes.

  • Carefully consider spacing.

    While you want to pack your application letter with information about your skills and experience, the proper format for a cover letter requires plenty of white space, too. Your cover letter layout should contain short paragraphs rather than blocks of text to offer the eye something to land on and make your content more digestible.

  • Add visual appeal.

    The best cover letter formats are pleasing to the eye. Adding bullet points and indenting text can also break up long blocks of text. Using this technique gives the eye something to land on and helps critical information stand out.

  • Watch your length.

    The best cover letter formats are a single page, translating to between 250 and 400 words. This means that each sentence must pack a punch. Use your letter to highlight elements of your background that relate directly to the job ad. Leave out the details of your job duties since these appear on your resume.

  • Manage your margins.

    Margins are a common pain point of an application letter format. Margins should be between 1 inch and 1.5 inches, depending on the length of your letter. Wider margins will make a letter appear longer, while smaller margins will help a longer letter fit onto a single page.

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Select and customize a cover letter template

​​Our cover letter templates make formatting a snap. Just choose a template, input your information, and our templates take care of the rest!

6 tips for building a better cover letter for a job application

Learning how to write a cover letter is a skill. But unlike learning a language or a computer program, this is a competency that is easy to learn. To create a standout application letter for each job to which you plan to apply, follow these guidelines:

    1. Target your letter to the specific job.

      When writing a cover letter for a job application, pick out the employer’s primary requirements from the job posting. Then pinpoint your own qualifications that match this list and use them in your letter. For instance, to address a job that emphasizes being a self-starter, mention a previous achievement that underlines your ability to excel as an independent worker. Then, follow the instructions above to be sure your cover letter layout is structured properly.

    2. Show you are a cultural fit.

      Every company has a particular culture and mission. Study up on the company’s goals, its current challenges and what it looks for in its employees. Based on this research, describe how you can benefit the company in your letter, providing examples of how your work ethic and personality fit the company’s culture. Demonstrate how you have specific skills or experience that can help solve a challenge the company is facing. Peruse our cover letter format examples to learn how to articulate that you are a fit.

    3. Use your cover letter to complement your resume.

      Your cover letter shouldn’t repeat information from your resume. It should enhance and expand on the information. The two documents should work together to give a hiring manager a complete picture of who you are as a candidate. Use your letter to detail your most relevant skill and experience and connect them to the requirements laid out in the job ad to get a recruiter’s attention. For inspiration, examine our resume cover letter examples.

    4. Study cover letter examples.

      Examine our professionally written cover letter samples to see firsthand what a strong cover letter layout looks like. Search LiveCareer’s library of cover letter examples by job title or industry to see exactly how a standout letter should read and how it is formatted. Using a strong cover letter sample as a guide can set you apart from other candidates.

    5. Find a great cover letter template.

      Do your best to match your cover letter design to your resume design. This gives your job application a more cohesive look and shows your professionalism. To save time, choose a free or premium cover letter template and a similar resume template from our library of designs to make your application shine. Our templates make applying the best cover letter formats effortless.

    6. Use a cover letter builder.

      Want to make sure your format of an application letter is proper? Skip the cover letter formatting hassle and use LiveCareer’s Cover Letter Builder, which will take care of all the details for you. All of our cover letter templates are professionally designed to ensure they are optimally formatted.

Learn more about cover letters

Cover letter format FAQ

Is a cover letter ever optional?

Savvy job seekers include a customized cover letter for every job application. Writing one, even when they are not mandatory, allows you to show off your communication skills and your willingness to go the extra mile. Additionally, writing a cover letter gives you the opportunity to draw direct connections between your skills and experience and the requirements of the role. A cover letter is optional only if the job ad explicitly states not to include one with your application.

Can I include my cover letter in the body of an email?

Including a cover letter in the body of an email is fine unless the job ad states that it should be included as an attachment. However, the rules for an email cover letter structure are slightly different. Here are five tips for formatting a cover letter sent via email:

  1. If you are sending your cover letter as an email, you don’t need the header of the letter. Simply cut and paste the contents of the letter into the composition field and write a Subject line.
  2.  If you want to send your application letter as an attachment, save your letter as a PDF file or Microsoft Word document (.doc).
  3. Be sure to include your name when naming the file so that hiring managers can quickly identify it as yours.
  4.  In your email, let the recipient know that you’ve attached your resume and cover letter.
  5. Choose a straightforward subject line that mentions the job title to which you are applying, such as “Application for Legal Assistant role.” If the job ad includes a job number, include that in your subject line, as well.

How personal should I make my cover letter?

While your cover letter should be customized to each job you apply for, it should never contain personal information. Mentioning marital status, religious beliefs, political views, and similar personal information should never happen on an application letter. Including this type of personal information can introduce bias into the hiring process. However, if you have been out of the workforce for a period of time due to a layoff, because you’ve been raising children, or for other personal reasons, it is OK to explain the gap in your cover letter. Just keep it brief and don’t go into great detail.

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