There's no shortage of cover letter advice out there. Even so, no matter how many tips you take in before starting to write, you're bound to encounter the unexpected somewhere in the application process.
While it's impossible to fully prepare for the unexpected, we've done our best to gather miscellaneous (yet no less helpful) cover letter formatting tips to help prepare you for what lies ahead.
Scenario #1: When you need to copy and paste into a (tiny) text box
Instead of requesting emailed or otherwise digitally attached documents, many employers use online application forms that require your carefully curated cover letter text to be manually typed into a tiny box.
Since most of these convert your cover letter into plain text, there's no avoiding that this invalidates most of the formatting choices you made when crafting your document.
However, there are ways to ensure your plain text "cover letter" will still be legible – and no less impressive – on the receiving end.
You just have to take a few extra steps to replicate the original formatting of your letter's body text once you've pasted the copy into the text box.
Here is how:
- Don't worry about including headers or addresses.
- Go back after you paste and do your best to properly space your paragraphs.
- Look for familiar, text-altering toggles like italics, bold, or any other buttons that let you control the appearance of individual words.
- If your document contained now-unembeddable URLs, start by reconsidering if a link is truly necessary to include. If you can't go without it, place the web address in parentheses following the previously link-anchoring word.
- Finally, be sure your salutation is included at the top.
Scenario #2: When they ask you to send your cover letter as an email
Often in the interest of saving time, some (usually smaller) employers prefer your cover letter to be in the body of an email with a resume attached. While not quite as tough as reformatting your work to fit into a text box, this still requires some finessing to preserve the critical parts of your letter's format.
Here is how to proceed:
- First, concentrate on your subject line. Follow the job ad's directions exactly. If no directions are provided (i.e., to provide the job title or the job ID number), write a sensible subject line that references the name of the position to which you are applying.
- Since email will allow you to use many of the same formatting options as Word, such as the ability to use hyperlinks and bullet points, you'll just need to make sure that they were preserved during the copy and paste process.
- Don't bother including a header at the top. Instead, move your contact information to the bottom of the letter by creating an extended, professional-looking email signature.
- Like in a Word document, stick to normal cover letter formatting rules. In the letter's body, don't italicize or bold text or use flashy graphics.
- Before submitting, first send your cover letter email to yourself as a test, to a different inbox if possible. This will give the best sense of how your cover letter's formatting will hold up after hitting the hiring manager's inbox.
Scenario #3: When you're applying for a job in another city
When you are looking to relocate, there is one minor difference in how to format your cover letter. Typically, modern resume and cover letter formats don't require the inclusion of a full physical address. However, the rules change when you are applying for a role that will require relocation.
- If applying for a job in another town or city a non-negligible distance away, you'll want to include your physical address to your header.
- While including your city and state is mandatory in this case, using your full street address is not. Only add it if you feel comfortable doing so.
- When formatting your cover letter, consider saving space to add a sentence or two to the letter explaining that you are looking to relocate. This will ensure that the recruiter understands that you are not a local candidate.
- If you're applying internationally, research the cover letter formatting norms of your potential destination country. In addition to possibly adjusting spelling and word usage, pay close attention to any differences in how foreign cover letters are organized. For example, while resumes and cover letters in places like the U.S. or Canada should never contain photos of the applicant, some European nations' norms require their inclusion.
Scenario #4: When your cover letter is too long (or too short)
You thought you knew exactly how much to say in your cover letter, but now that it's time to put words on the page, you find you can only fill it halfway. Or worse, perhaps it's twice as long as expected.
Before you panic, consider using these cover letter formatting tricks to massage your text into better matching what you had in mind.
- Altering font and margin size can help shrink or spread your writing across your cover letter. Acceptable fonts typically range between 10- and 12-point sizes, so if you're only a little bit over or under, tweaking this could mean an immediate solution.
- Cover letter margins fluctuate between 1-inch and 1.5-inches. Choose a margin that will shorten or stretch your cover letter as needed.
- Reformatting a paragraph's points into a bulleted list can increase or reduce the amount of space used, depending on your desired level of detail.
- Peruse different professional cover letter templates. Experimenting with different styles can help your content fit on the page better.
If you're in need a cover letter template or want step-by-step guidance on how to format a cover letter, LiveCareer's Cover Letter Builder can shepherd you through the process. Or, if you need a hand with writing the body of the letter itself, take a look at our advice on how to write a cover letter.