Resume & Cover Letter Formatting

Modern Cover Letter Formatting

When applying for professional jobs you always need to include a cover letter. Yes, there are some hiring managers who don’t care about them, but more will reject your application if it’s missing. A cover letter is a business letter that follows certain conventions and is designed to make an argument (in the rhetorical sense) about why the hiring manager should interview you. It’s more than just a narrative addition to a resume, it gives you a chance to respond directly to the job posting and explain how you connect with it. The cover letter gives them the first impression of you and shows how you fit the specific job they are hiring for and how you can contribute to the company.

A cover letter is a piece of persuasive writing that is responding directly to the job posting. It needs to be specific to that particular job or company, and it will be ignored if it’s too generic.

Cover Letter Conventions

  • Targets the specific position
  • Business letter formatting
  • Normally 1 page long unless applying for jobs requiring substantial amount of past experience
  • 5 paragraphs (opener, 3 body, conclusion)
  • Easy to read font (not smaller than 10.5)
  • Tone: how you can contribute to the company NOT what they can do for you


The example below uses traditional business letter formatting. You can of course replace your address block on the cover letter with a heading (though not in a header) that matches the formatting you use for your name and contact information on your resume, but the date and their address block should be in the business letter format. This does decrease the total space you have to work with, which means your writing needs to be focused and concise.


Cover Letter Template

Your Name
Your Address
Your Phone Number
Your E-Mail

Current Date

Employer Name
Employer Title
Company Name

Dear (Employer Name) [or] Hiring manager:

Introduction paragraph: State what you’re applying for first and maybe how you heard about it. Many people like to mention their relevant or required education next. The point of this paragraph is to get them to want to read the rest. It needs to include the top three things you bring to the role. It’s giving an overview of the rest of the letter and showing that you have done some research about the organization and its goals or mission. Focus on how you can contribute to the company, not what they can do for you.

Middle paragraphs: Write one paragraph per important thing you bring to the job (that you mentioned in the introduction). Use this space to show how effective you could be in the job by telling them about the impact you have had on prior jobs or in your education, volunteer, or hobby experience. Make sure you mention the transferable and technical skills they ask for in the job posting. Be specific and tie your experience to their specific goals, activities, or outcomes. Each paragraph should be three to five sentences showcasing your writing and communication abilities.

Conclusion: Thank them for reading your cover letter and resume, restate or summarize your suitability for the position, and provide your contact details all in two to three sentences.




Typed Name

If this sounds familiar it’s because you are writing a persuasive document, similar to how you can write an essay or anything else that uses rhetoric, so it can be broken down using the same structure that is used in other persuasive documents:

  • Intro
  • Overview of points
  • Evidence of points
  • Summary of points
  • Closing

With that structure then the cover letter looks like this:

  • Introduction
    • What you’re applying for
    • Get them to want to read it
    • Top three things you bring
  • Body 1
    • Explain first thing you bring
    • Use some of the key words from the posting
  • Body 2
    • Explain second thing you bring
    • Use some of the key words from the posting
  • Body 3
    • Explain third thing you bring
    • Use some of the key words from the posting
  • Conclusion
    • Restates why you’d be good
    • Thank them
    • Ask for an interview
    • Restate contact info (optional)

Finally, remember that short and clear is better than long and wordy.


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