When you’re applying for a job, it’s common for employers to request both a resume and a cover letter. In around three paragraphs, your cover letter should highlight what makes you a great fit for the job and motivate the hiring manager to set up an interview.
Below, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about formatting a winning cover letter—plus cover letter examples to help you create your own.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document you might send to employers with your resume to apply for jobs. Typically, a cover letter’s format is three paragraphs long and includes information like why you are applying for the position, a brief overview of your professional background and what makes you uniquely qualified for the job. While some employers might require a cover letter to apply, others might make it optional or exclude it from your application entirely.
Cover letter format by section
Date and contact information
There are two ways to list contact information on your cover letter, depending on whether you’re providing a digital or hard copy.
If you’re submitting a digital copy online, feel free to leave off your specific address and just use your city and state, phone number and email—and leave off the company and hiring manager’s contact information altogether:
Although it’s becoming less common, there may be a time when you’re required to submit a paper copy of your cover letter. In this case, the top left-hand side of your letter should include the following elements:
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email Address
Hiring Manager’s Name
Company City, State, ZIP Code
Salutation / greeting
Start your cover letter off on the right foot by addressing the hiring manager. If you can, find out the name of the hiring manager for the role you’re applying for. Reread the job description to see if it’s listed there or check the company website. It’s also an option to call the company and ask for the hiring manager’s name. Explain that you are applying for a job and would like to address your cover letter to the correct person. It’s not necessary to add Mr., Mrs. or Ms. since it may require some guesswork about gender and marital status on your part—just use their first and last name: “Dear Alex Johnson.”
If you can’t find the hiring manager’s name, stick with “Dear Hiring Manager.” Avoid outdated greetings, such as “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
The opening paragraph is your chance to catch the hiring manager’s attention, introduce yourself and enthusiastically tell the employer why you’re applying for the job. You’ll want to make this paragraph specific to each job listing you apply for. Include why you’re excited about the job and the company, and how the job lines up with your career goals. Avoid making this paragraph sound formulaic by including keywords from the job posting and matching your skills to the employer’s requirements.
If you were referred to this job by someone who knows the hiring manager or already works at this company, you may want to mention this referral in your opening paragraph.
Now that you’ve introduced yourself and established your enthusiasm, it’s time to dig into your most relevant experience and talk about the specific qualifications and skills that make you the perfect candidate. In one or two paragraphs, make the connection between your previous accomplishments and your readiness for this new role. Think of these paragraphs as a way to pitch yourself as the ideal match for the role. Employers will likely have read your resume already, so avoid repeating the bullet points. Instead, include details that more deeply illustrate those highlights.
The main goal of your closing paragraph is to thank the employer for their time and consideration. You also have the option of making any clarifications. For example, you can justify any major gaps in your employment history. You can also use this space to sum up your qualifications for the role and express an interest in continuing to the next stage in the hiring process.
Complimentary close and signature
Choose a complimentary closing that is friendly yet formal, followed by your first and last name. Closings you might consider include:
- Thank you
- Thank you for your consideration
Avoid closings like Cheers, Warm regards, Thanks a ton or Yours truly, as these may be considered too casual or affectionate.
If you’re providing a hard copy of your cover letter, make sure to handwrite your signature, plus your full typed name.