You'll get plenty of advice when it comes to drafting your resume, but it's just as important to write a professional, appropriate cover letter that will get you the attention of employers. Unfortunately for many job seekers, they do not know how to properly format their cover letter, and unintentionally make mistakes that may cause a potential employer to reject their application.
Keep in mind that this is a formal letter and should include your contact information at the very top of the page. This should include your name, address, phone number and email address.
Be sure to address the letter to the appropriate hiring manager for the position. Some job listings will provide you with a specific individual and that person's title with the company. You may do a quick look at the company's website to find out what department name the company uses for hiring (such as human resources) or whether they name someone as a hiring manager.
Begin with "Dear Mr./Ms. X:". If you do not know the specific individual, begin your letter "To Whom It May Concern:". This is the step you should begin with if you are sending an email in place of a traditional cover letter.
The body of your letter
In your first paragraph, be sure to mention the position you are applying for, and where you found the job posting. This is also a good place to demonstrate your knowledge of the business, and why you're interested in working for the company or organization.
Your second paragraph should also tell the employer a little about yourself, but with a focus on your skills and experience that most relate to this particular employer and position. Combine the knowledge of the business and the position you have mentioned in your first paragraph with examples of how you can apply these skills to the job and how they offer you a special insight or that make you a unique candidate for this job.
Your final paragraph should make mention how you can be reached. It should also reiterate that you are interested in the position and thank the employer for his or her time. The safest conclusion is a simple "Sincerely," followed by your signature when possible and your typed name.
Formatting your completed letter
With the content of the letter completed, now you are ready to begin the more traditional manner of formatting your cover letter. This can change greatly depending upon how you are going to submit your resume. Some companies use an electronic system where you paste your cover letter into a text box on their website. Complicated fonts or graphics will be lost in such a format, so keep to simple text. Likewise, email does not always convert formatting identically; keep that in mind before you hit send.
For other submission formats like regular mail or as an uploaded attachment to an online system or email, you can afford to be more complex with your style. You should use the same font as your resume for consistency, but as this is a letter, you can use a stylistic letterhead with your contact information and the date below it. For everything following the date, use justified formatting with a space between each paragraph. Your signature is the one exception and may be placed at the left or near the right of the page.
The final step in how to format your cover letter is to proofread it for any errors. No matter how professional the layout may look or how proud you are of your header, grammar and spelling errors can cost you a job. However, if you finish with a clean, visually appealing letter, it can be a great first impression. For examples of cover letter formats, check out LiveCareer's Cover Letter Examples.