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Proper Cover Letter Format: How-to Guide & 12+ Ready-to-Use Layouts

Tom Gerencer
Career Writer
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We'll talk about the best cover letter format in just a sec, but, first, imagine this:

 

You show up for the interview.

 

It's for that dream job with the stratospheric pay, the flexy schedule, and full benefits.

 

You're wearing a Ratt t-shirt with ketchup on it and you haven't washed your hair since Michaelmas.

 

Think you'll get the job?

 

The wrong cover letter format can have a similar effect.

 

Your job application letter is a first impression. It must show your NASA-level chops right off the launchpad.

 

This guide will show you:

 

  • How to format a cover letter so it looks professional.
  • The best way to format a cover letter.
  • 10 great cover letter format examples.
  • How to learn the basics of formatting cover letters quick.

 

Below, you'll see a cover letter format. It's presented on a cover letter made with our fast online builder. Want to write your letter in 15 minutes? Use our cover letter templates and build your version here.

 

How to Format a Cover Letter
Cover Letter Format

 

That cover letter format above will get your resume a careful read. Now let me show you how it works, and how to do it perfectly—

 

Want to make sure every cover letter you send lands you an interview? Get our free checklist: 37 Things You Need to Do Before You Send Your Cover Letter.

 

1

What's the Best Format for a Cover Letter?

 

The hiring manager – we'll call her Barbara. She just had a nightmare.

 

In it, you were working for her.

 

She had to hold your hand a lot. Explain things. Correct all your mistakes.

 

She has the wrong idea about you. Why?

 

Because of a sloppy cover letter format.

 

Your cover letter paints a picture. Make sure it's the right one.

 

There is no standard, formal, proper cover letter format. That said, the three paragraphs format is best. It's clean, professional, and lets you make an offer they can't refuse.

 

Cover Letter Format Example and Professional Letter Template

 

Use this properly-formatted cover letter template to create your own job magnet now.

 

Mary Chao

4710 Oak Way

Omaha, NE 68102

 

11/8/17

 

Ashley Alameda

Software Development Team Leader

Avanix, Inc.

3509 Hall Valley Drive

Omaha, NE 72662

 

Dear Ashley,

 

[First Paragraph – A "Hook" and Why You Fit the Job]

 

[Second Paragraph – Your Offer]

 

[Third Paragraph – Call to Action]

 

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Mary Chao

 

There's your basic cover letter format. Follow it, and at the very least it won't look like Peter Griffin's hunting a new job.

 

Next, I'll show you what to put in that professional letter template to make it sizzle.

 

Pro Tip: Need tips for what to put on a cover letter? Want help with email cover letter formatting, with margins, or "To whom it may concern" letters? You'll find those lower in this article.

 

Need more salutations than, "Dear Ashley?" Want more on how to format a cover letter address? See our guide: How To Address A Cover Letter [Complete Guide With Examples]

 

2

How to Start a Cover Letter Right

 

Blank screen.

 

Winking cursor.

 

Wink. Wink. Wink.

 

Wait. Did it just giggle at you?

 

There's nothing worse than trying to start a cover letter and failing. You've chewed your lip so many times you're contemplating putting duck sauce on it.

 

Once you're past the address and the greeting, what do you write next?

 

Well, think about the hiring manager.

 

She's read a lot of cover letters.

 

You need to shake her. Wake her.

 

In other words, your cover letter needs a hook.

 

Cover Letter Format Examples [The Hook]

 

wrong

I'm an enthusiastic digital marketing manager with seven years experience. I'm applying for the position of marketing manager at Avanix, Inc. I think I'd be a great addition to the team because...

  

Makes your eyes water, doesn't it? One look and the manager will realize she's got better things to do, like get her teeth scraped.

 

right

Two months ago, I hit a goal I never thought I'd reach. I pushed SEO traffic to 20 million monthly views.

 

Bam. The manager just sat bolt upright. She even stopped daydreaming about playing Angry Birds.

 

Don't have achievements of that magnitude?

 

Don't nibble off your fingernails just yet. Your hook can be almost anything, including:

 

  • A big accomplishment you're proud of.
  • A fact you love about the company.
  • A recent award or news item the company was honored by.
  • A powerful name to drop.
  • An interesting fact that shows your passion, skill, or other great quality.

 

Pro Tip: Don't go for "zany" with your hook. Get attention with something great you did, even if it's just a glowing compliment from management.

 

Plus, a great cover letter that matches your resume will give you an advantage over other candidates. You can write your cover letter in our resume builder here. Here's what it may look like:

 

matching set of resume and cover letter

See more templates and create your resume and cover letter here.

 

 

Need more help with how to format a cover letter? Want more tips for how to hook the hiring manager? See this guide: How to Start a Cover Letter: Sample & Complete Guide [20+ Examples]

 

3

Does Your First Paragraph Make Employers Yawn?

 

Here's the smell test:

 

Imagine you're the hiring manager.

 

You desperately need to fill the job opening.

 

You've read 200 cover letters. You're bored stiff.

 

Then you see your cover letter. You read the first paragraph.

 

Be honest. Does it bore you?

 

Your first paragraph should tell your story in a way that shows you're perfect for the job.

 

Cover Letter Format Examples [First Paragraph]

 

wrong

I developed a roadmap for creative development and targeted several audiences through digital creative. I also collaborated with and led XD teams to develop creative ideas that drove business. I facilitated developing and refining strategies and...

 

What's wrong with that example of formatting a cover letter? It's too scattershot. The customer ordered steak, and you delivered burgers, veal marinara, pumpkin pie, and Fritos.

 

right

One year ago, traffic for our four sites -- all of which I manage through a team of 25 employees -- rested at just 4 million per month. Upper management challenged me to lead the team toward doubling our traffic. We hit that goal in just six months, blowing away our sales revenue forecasts in the process.

 

See that? The hiring manager's pulse just quickened.

 

Pro Tip: To personalize this cover letter format, pull the best achievement from your resume. Tell the story of it briefly in a way that sells your power.

 

Want to move past cover letter formatting? Need more cover letter help? See our guide: How To Write A Cover Letter [Complete Guide With Examples]

 

4

Here's What to Put in Your Second Paragraph

 

Meet two kids, Ted and Anne.

 

Ted is always asking you for something. Candy. Soda. A ride somewhere.

 

Anne helps out constantly. She does the dishes. Sweeps the floor.

 

Which one is more fun to have around?

 

Your professional letter needs to make an offer.

 

That happens in the second paragraph of your perfect cover letter format.

 

Cover Letter Format Examples [Paragraph #2]

 

Check out these two cover letter formatting examples:

 

wrong

In my last job, I used insights from creative experiments to identify and inform opportunities that improved performance. I worked directly with our Analytics partners to drive understanding of performance. I also...

 

Like a homework assignment, right? The hiring manager has to read it, but what's in it for her?

 

right

With over seven years experience in internet and social media marketing, and as someone who is passionate about staying on the leading edge of tech, I'm confident I can repeat the growth I created for Ladd & Leadbetter as your new Marketing Manager.

 

Now that's more like it. That example fills our cover letter format with goodies the manager actually needs.

 

Pro Tip: Not sure what to offer in your cover letter? Search the job description. Zero in on the most important thing it calls for. Offer to deliver that.

 

Figured out how to format a cover letter? Just need to wrap it up? See this guide: How To End A Cover Letter [Complete Guide With Examples]

 

5

How to Spice Up Your Format with Bullet Points

 

There's mustard on your cover letter.

 

It's there because it's in the trash.

 

You fit the job like Isotoners, but the manager doesn't know it.

 

You buried the one thing that would've wowed her in a word pile and she missed it.

 

Bullet points add zing to your accomplishments.

 

They draw the eye, and slow the reader down. If you use them, add them to your second paragraph, like this:

  

  • Skyrocketed Inbound Marketing ROI by 43%.
  • Reduced Cost Per Lead by 35%.
  • Boosted Landing Page Conversion Rates by 55%.

 

Those bullet points stand out like neon on a darkened street.

 

Compare them to this alternate cover letter formatting choice:

 

wrong

I developed processes and procedures to ensure ROI growth for Inbound Marketing, growing ROI by 43%. I also worked to drive down Cost Per Lead through innovative idea generation and implementation, ultimately achieving a 35% cost decrease. I also drove internal and XD team creative processes to increase Landing Page Conversion Rates by 55%.

 

Now your great accomplishments are camouflaged like in that movie Predator. The hiring manager might stroll right past and never notice them.

 

Pro Tip: Some "experts" say to format your entire cover letter with bullet points. That's lazy. It looks like a sloppy resume.

 

Want more great cover letter tips and ideas? Want to know how to set up a letter? See this guide: Cover Letter - Guide, Tips and Free Examples. Read More!

 

6

Should You Use a Table Format?

 

One risky cover letter formatting choice can pay off big.

 

It uses tables.

 

A table in a cover letter can cut straight to the important things.

 

Cover Letter Table Format

You Need

I Accomplished

Someone who can grow SEO Traffic

Pushed SEO traffic from 4 million to 20 million in one year.

Someone who can grow Marketing ROI.

Grew Inbound Marketing ROI by 43%.

Someone who can increase Landing Page Conversion Rates.

Boosted Landing Page Conversion Rates by 55%.

 

Here are three big reasons why the table cover letter format works:

 

First, it shows you know exactly what the manager is looking for. You understand the needs. That's huge.

 

Second, it shows you've got the goods to make it work.

 

Third, it shows this information fast.

 

Here's one big, hairy reason why the table format can fail:

 

Some managers absolutely hate it.

 

So, should you use table formatting for a cover letter? Some job seekers swear by it. If you're interested, try testing it first with a few job offers your entire future isn't riding on.

 

Pro Tip: You can use your table just like bullet points. Put it after the second paragraph in your cover letter format. We don't sanction the "entire cover letter is a table" format.

 

Do you even need a cover letter? See this guide: Is a Cover Letter Necessary For a Resume in 2018?

 

7

How to Format a Cover Letter CTA

 

You wrote a great cover letter.

 

It's got a great format, hook, and first two paragraphs.

 

The recruiter loved it. Then she clicked delete.

 

You failed to ask for a next step.

 

Here's how to format the third paragraph of your cover letter so it gets the interview.

 

It's called the Call to Action (CTA).

 

First, reiterate your offer very briefly.

 

Then, in the same paragraph, ask for the interview.

 

How to Format a Cover Letter Examples [The CTA]

 

wrong

I would love to talk further with you about your needs.

 

Hmm. What's in that for the manager?

 

right

I'm adept at reading Google and user search intent, then translating that to measurable returns. Can we schedule a call to discuss ideas for growing your revenue by 25% in 2018?

  

Wow, right? You went from irritating telemarketer to someone bearing tantalizing gifts. The hiring manager just cleaned her glasses for a good look at your resume.

 

Pro Tip: The best call to action for your cover letter format should be something you can actually deliver. Pie in the sky smells fishy.

 

Not sure what to offer in your Call to Action? See this guide: How to Answer the "What Are Your Strengths?” Interview Question (Examples)

 

8

How to End Your Cover Letter

 

Don't leave the manager hanging.

 

The last part of how to format a cover letter is the ending.

 

Close with a thank you, a space, and then your name.

 

Like this:

 

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Do you have to say, "Thank you for your time?"

 

Absolutely not. There are a dozen ways to close a cover letter. Choose from:

 

  • Best regards,
  • Kind regards,
  • Sincerely,
  • Respectfully,

 

Have some other great cover letter endings? Tell us in the comments section.

 

Pro Tip: Steer clear of Cheers, Affectionately, and Take it Easy. Th ey're all a little too familiar. Likewise F ondly, Yours Faithfully, a nd Warmest Regards.

 

Need more help with selling yourself in a cover letter? See this guide: Why Should We Hire You? Best Answers (6 Proven Examples)

 

9

Cover Letter Formatting Tips

 

You were this close.

 

You almost got the interview.

 

Your cover letter had a great hook. Perfect three paragraphs format. Excellent sales pitch.

 

The trouble? On a grammar level, it looked like finely polished mud.

 

Make sure not to blow it on the small details. Follow these basic cover letter guidelines:

 

Match to Win

 

Match your cover letter format to your resume. They should both look similar. Go with the same margin width and general feel on your resume and cover letter.

 

Look at this cover letter vs. resume pairing:

  

What if You Don't Know the Manager's Name?

 

Can't write "Dear Alice" because you don't know the recruiter's name? Use these:

 

  • Dear Software Team Hiring Manager,
  • Dear Project Manager Hiring Team,
  • Customer Service Search Committee,
  • Computer Science Recruitment Team,

 

"Team Hiring Manager," "Hiring Team," "Search Committee" and "Recruitment Team" all keep it generic, but not too generic.

 

Grammar Level Cover Letter Formatting Tips

 

Need the nitty gritty details for how to format a cover letter? Here they are:

 

Best Font for a Cover Letter. Choose a 10-12 point professional font like Arial, Times New Roman, Cambria, or Calibri. Read What is the Best Font for a Resume (+10 Examples & Tips) to find out more.

 

Cover Letter Spacing. Single-space your cover letter format for a job application. Leave a line space after each paragraph, and between each different section.

 

How Long Should a Cover Letter Be? A cover letter shouldn't be more than 200 words long to deliver a great sales pitch. If it's longer, it lacks focus.

 

Proofreading. Use a spell checker on your cover letter. Nothing says, "I'm not detail-oriented" like simple grammar errors. Let it sit for a day, then be like Santa. Check it twice. You can even have a friend give it the eyeball test.

 

Formatting an Email Cover Letter

 

Most modern cover letters are digital. The email cover letter format is the same as paper formatting with one big difference.

 

Leave the address section off the top, and add your contact info to the bottom.

 

Include:

 

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Phone Number
  • LinkedIn Profile
  • Personal Website (If You Have One)

 

Dear Software Team Hiring Manager,

 

[First Paragraph – Hook and Why You Fit the Job]

 

[Second Paragraph – Your Offer]

 

[Third Paragraph – Call to Action]

 

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Mary Chao

maryzchao@gmail.com

402-214-2556

linkedin.com/in/maryzchao

 

Pro Tip: Use your PDF cover letter text in the email message body too. Recruiters will immediately know why you’re contacting them. Plus, they'll find you a lot easier if they search their email later.

 

Need to know the best cover letter format for an internship? See this guide: How To Write A Cover Letter for an Internship [Complete Guide With Examples]

 

Key Takeaway

 

Knowing how to format a cover letter is crucial to create a good first impression. Follow these cover letter best practices for maximum effect:

 

  • Start with a hook. The best cover letter format in the world will fail if no one reads it.
  • In your first two paragraphs, show why you fit the job and what you're offering. Everyone's more welcome when they bring something to trade.
  • Make your CTA stand out like a firework by making it specific. "Can we set up a call to discuss how we can improve your [Key Company Metric] by [XYZ]%?" works great.
  • Don’t use copy and paste cover letter templates. Recruiters can tell you didn’t customize your application.

 

Want to know more about how to format a cover letter? Maybe you found the best way to format a cover letter? Give us a shout in the comments! We love to help!

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Author
Tom Gerencer
Tom Gerencer is a full-time writer in the fields of personal finance and careers. He's been sharing expert advice on all stages of the recruitment process at the Zety career website for more than two years.