It’s not uncommon to hear about making good first impressions and how to introduce yourself well when it comes to applying for and getting a new job. However, what few people think about, is that how you present yourself on paper, is actually the first impression you make at all, and arguably the most important one! Hence, formatting a cover letter correctly is part of ticking the boxes when it comes to getting the job.
Jobseekers prepare for a job interview by researching the company well, rereading the job specification and understanding the position properly, deciding what to wear and how much time you need to get there, amongst other ways of preparing to present yourself to possible employers. Writing a cover letter may seem tedious or an unimportant task, but it is actually one of the most crucial moments of presentation and deserves the same amount of time input. An effective and professional cover letter makes your first impression for you, so it’s crucial that you get it spot on, first time round.
Don’t forget! An impressive cover letter can sway a recruiter to shortlist your application, regardless as to whether your CV fits the job specification perfectly or not.
This makes it crucial for all applicants to take time and care writing a cover letter for a job application, and also to make sure they tailor each cover letter to each job application.
This guide explains how to format a cover letter, as well as how to start a cover letter, how to end a cover letter and tips for formatting a cover letter.
How to start a cover letter
Similar to different CV templates and formats, there are also different format options for a cover letter. In addition to a cover letter format, there is also a specific style guide you should follow when writing a cover letter.
It’s easy to assume that writing a cover letter is a matter of putting pen to paper, but when push comes to shove, you might start to question a number of things.
- Is it necessary to write my full address?
- How should a cover letter be written if you’re sending it via email?
- How should I address the letter?
- Is it acceptable to address a hiring manager on a cover letter by their first name?
For answers on the above queries and more tips on how to start a cover letter, read the following tips:
- You should include your personal details at the beginning of the cover letter. Although, it is not entirely necessary to leave your address as most job applications are sent via email or online applications. This means leaving your email address and telephone number is sufficient.
- The candidate may choose to include a header in the cover letter. However, this is optional and much more frequent in the U.S. than in the U.K.
- Date your letter and remember to change the date if you use the same document to write a new cover letter.
- The company address should be written (not entirely necessary if sent via email) and the name with appropriate title of the recruiter/recipient. If you’re not sure who this might be, you can research the company website (there is usually an “About Us” section) or their social media page.
Addressing a cover letter
If you are applying for a job directly to a company, without an online platform or prior information, it may be tricky to decide or find out to whom you need to address your cover letter. There are several possibilities when it comes to deciding the best way to go about doing this. Read the following tips before to find out the best way to address your cover letter.
- A good candidate will always research the company before their interview. The same goes for writing a cover letter. It’s crucial to research the company and through doing this, you can often find the director of Human Resources or a recruiter who works for the company. Most company websites have an “About Us” section or more information on their social media webpages.
- In the case that your search is unsuccessful, you can address the letter, Dear Sir/Madam. This title is appropriate if you really have no clues at all as to whom you could address your cover letter.
If upon reading the job listing, you notice that the recruiter has referred to themself by their first name, you can follow this register in your cover letter. However, in any case it is usually always better to use a title and their full name or surname depending on the formality of the company. You should be able to decide this from reading the job listing, the company’s website, social media pages and/or press releases, news articles.
How to end a cover letter
Ending your cover letter on a strong and positive note is the best way to finish your cover letter. There’s no point writing a fantastic cover letter and finishing it on a low or boring note. Ideally, you should leave recruiters on a good note, wanting to pick up the phone to call you! Here is some advice for ending a cover letter.
The last paragraph of a cover letter is your conclusion. Here, you can summarise the strong points you have made about your personal profile, work experience and abilities. Note: it’s important to reiterate, but not repeat. Try to reword or form a short and powerful sentence reinstating why you are the right person for the job.
Make sure you specify whether you have attached any other documents with the application, such as your CV, references (if they have been requested), or any academic documents or CVs which may be necessary depending on the type of job.
Lastly, the applicant should sound interested and invite the recipient to contact them.
Here are a few ways of finishing your cover letter:
- Yours sincerely
- Yours faithfully (usually if the recipient is unknown)
- Kind regards or Regards
- You may choose to sign off with something such as Thank you for your consideration
TOP TIP: If you feel that the register of your cover letter permits a P.S. note after you sign off, add something short which will catch recruiters by surprise or encourage them to pick up the phone or email you back. If you’re worried about the formality of your cover letter, leave it out and stay on the safe side.
Don’t forget: Just like when writing a CV, you should use the job specification to form a selection of keywords and phrases which complement the job profile. Use these words and adjectives to show employers you are suitable for the job role.
Tips for formatting a cover letter
This section covers the more technical side of formatting a cover letter and advice for jobseekers writing a cover letter for the first time or improving an existing cover letter.
- All cover letters should be in A4 format and must not exceed one page. Half a page to a whole A4 page is considered standard cover letter length.
- Alignment should be to the left for all text, apart from the header and addresses which can be aligned to the right or centre.
- Letter spacing should be standard, 1,5 is probably as much as you should go. Single is simple and a standard letter spacing amount for your cover letter.
- Cover letter font should always be simple. Don’t pick a “fun” font to seem interesting or kooky. Professional fonts are best, such as Arial, or Times New Roman. The size of the font should also be standard, with text no smaller than 11 (you don’t want recruiters to squint at your cover letter) and not obviously large either, as recruiters may think you are trying to take up space.
Cover letter margins should range from 1” to 1.5”.
- All cover letters should include the date and applicants should double check the date if they use the same document to write their cover letters! Note: in emails, it’s less common to use a date.
A top tip for writing a professional cover letter is using the job description to list key points and keywords which link you with the job specification. You want recruiters to understand your work mentality and abilities, so using similar adjectives and key phrases from the job description or company website helps boost compatibility between your personal profile and the job specification.
There is more reasoning behind this theory, as recruiters now use Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to filter candidates for job positions. This software tracks keywords and phrases used in your job profiles, helping employers to track down ideal candidates. Hence, it is always a good idea to use relevant vocabulary and pass through these systems.
Similar to listing abilities or examples in the work experience section of a CV, you can list examples, facts and figures to wake up hiring managers. This technique isn’t often used by jobseekers, yet can be effective if done well.
Bullet points in a cover letter, similar to the listing technique mentioned above, is seldom used by candidates applying for jobs. However, this technique allows you to include key points, while cutting out any fuzzy or bumbling phrases and helps you get to the point. Sometime short and snappy is a handy technique for catching employer’s attention.
The T cover letter format consists of a table where you list the job requirements in one column and your skills and qualifications in another. This way of formatting a cover letter essentially seeks to tick the boxes of the job requirements. It’s an effective and simple way of demonstrating your capability and compatibility. Note: this is a more American standard, yet can still be used in British cover letter formats. Alternatively, you can use the T cover letter format as a way of planning your cover letter.
This advice can be used to create a professional cover letter from scratch, although you can also use a cover letter template to write a cover letter. This could be particularly useful for first time jobseekers or for those who would like to improve their cover letter writing skills or formatting.
In addition to using an online cover letter maker, you can also view cover letter examples which may generate some inspiration or ideas for your own cover letter.