Learn how to format a cover letter

If you need to write a cover letter to accompany your CV/resumé, you will need to know how to format a cover letter.

Formatting your cover letter

Steps to follow: -

  1. First of all, at the top left of the page write the date.
  2. Next, under the date write your name and address.
  3. Miss a line and write the name, position, and address of the recipient.
  4. Miss another line and begin your letter, either with Dear Sir/Madam or with Dear Mr/Ms and the person’s name if you know it.
  5. Begin the letter by describing your experience and suitability for the job you are applying for.
  6. Explain how you could be an asset to the company.
  7. End the letter Yours faithfully if you began it Dear Sir/Madam. If you started with Dear Mr/Ms then you end it with Yours sincerely,
  8. Finally sign the letter with your usual signature and in brackets under that, print your name.

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If you don’t know who you should send the cover letter to, do some research into the company and find out who the hiring manager is. Alternatively, find out who the personnel manager is. Showing that you have done some research will be a positive point that the person who could hire you will note.

When you write any cover letter, you should have the job advertisement to hand. It is useful to refer to it so that you cover everything that is required. Use phrases and some words directly from the advertisement or the job description.

Find out exactly what the company does and how it goes about its operations. Ask yourself how you would fit in and how you could help take the company forward. Explain this in your cover (or covering) letter.

In your final paragraph thank the person for spending time reading your cover letter and say that you hope to hear back from them shortly. You could, if you wish, inform them that you will contact them in a week’s time if you don’t receive a reply from them. Although at first sight, this might seem a little too pushy, it shows that you are keen to get the job. It also implies that you have sent other cover letters and job applications, indicating that you are something of a go-getter.

It is important to print your name under your signature, as most signatures are difficult to decipher.

It is important to make a good first impression with your cover letter. It is rather like the first impression you make in a face-to-face meeting when you begin by shaking hands firmly and looking the other person in the eye.

Think carefully about the following points: -

  • Use headed paper
  • The font(s) you use
  • The margins
  • What points do you need to expand upon from your CV/resumé?
  • Explain certain things that may be unclear of your CV/resumé.

If you use headed pages for the first page of your business letters, this creates a good impression on the reader. Headed paper conveys an impression of professionalism. It also dispenses with the problem of setting margins and fonts (at least at the start of the cover letter).

You can use a larger font for the addresses at the top of the letter. For example, you can use a 14-point font, and then a 12 point one in the body of the letter. Also, you should use a font that is easy to read. You can try Times New Roman, Ariel, but not Algerian or Bauhaus 93, as these are not always easy to read, although you may think that they look good. The font you use needs to be simple, not fancy with curlicues and so on.

Set your margins carefully before you start your cover letter. One, or one point five-inch margins are usually preferred.

It is better to find out the name of the person you should be writing to, as the impersonal ‘to whom it may concern’ is sometimes not liked. You want to create a good first impression, not a negative one. To whom it may concern is very formal and this opening may not fit in with the company’s general philosophy.

Before the first paragraph, write the job title you are applying for and underline it. That makes it easier for a secretary to know to whom the letter should be forwarded.

In the first paragraph you need to introduce yourself and explain where you found the advertisement for the job. Employers use various online and print sites to advertise employment opportunities. They want to know which of these is most effective in the recruitment process. Tell the truth as there are many ways you might have come across the job advertisement.

  • LinkedIn. While searching this site you may have come across a company’s job board, or careers website and so on. Say precisely where you found the advertisement.
  • A colleague or friend may have told you about the job, or that the company was currently hiring. Perhaps the friend works in the company.
  • Alternatively, your friend/colleague may have worked in the company in the past and has kept abreast of its news through former colleagues. Your friend may have suggested/recommended that you apply for the position vacant.
  • You may have read a press release or article and so on saying that the company was hiring.
  • You may have been contacted via LinkedIn or another site by a recruiter.
  • You were directed to the company’s career page(s) when you visited its page.
  • Perhaps you were curious to find out if the company had any job opportunities because you were interested in working for the company.
  • You saw an advertisement for the position that you are applying for on social media pages.

In the first paragraph you need to give details of your qualifications, area of expertise and how you would be an asset to the company. Explain how you can help to move the company forward.

In the second paragraph you need to sell yourself. Tell the reader(s) of your letter about the experience you have gained because of your past (and present) employment. Tell your reader how this has stood you in good stead and how it will help if you are employed by the new company. Describe your skill sets and say what abilities you have that will help you in the new position. In this paragraph you can reuse the words and expressions that were used in the job description.

In a third paragraph you can explain, after doing some thorough research into the company, how you could easily fit in to it. Say how you could help the company achieve its goals.

Finally, you need to add a ‘call to action’ as mentioned above.

These days it is increasingly likely that a company uses an applicant tracking system or ATS to read CVs and resumés. This means that tour cover letter will be read by a ‘robot’ rather than by a human being. It seems that 70 percent of jobs are now filled in this way. Around three-quarters of job applicants are rejected when the ATS screening of their applications is complete.

Why do companies prefer to use ATS? That’s an easy question to answer. In a business world where time means money, having a robot read cover letter and applications is quicker than having a human read them and working out an applicant’s suitability for a position. The systems can identify the key skills a candidate for a job has which are desirable for the position to be filled. Once the systems have rejected candidates, humans only need to read a handful of letters and applications.

It is better not to use pdfs for your resumés or CVs as some systems can’t read them. this means that they are automatically rejected, even though you may be a perfect match for a job. Use or Word or Text file to be on the safe side. The software also might reject headings that don’t conform to standard ones. Being creative in an attempt to make your CV or letter stand out may have the completely opposite effect. Use headings such as ‘Work Experience’ or ‘Skills’ rather than, for example, ‘Relevancy of Experience’ or ‘Major Abilities.’

If you read the job description carefully, you can discover the key words used. Reusing these in your cover letter will improve its chances of not being rejected by the ATS software. Use them so that the system will approve.

A cover letter with the appropriate company jargon will have a good chance of getting through the initial stages of vetting. Work out what the appropriate jargon is and use it in your cover letter.

If you follow this advice, your cover letter and resumé could well land you the job you have applied for.

If you feel that you still need assistance to write a cover letter, we can assist you in several ways. At least now you have a better idea of how to format a cover letter. However, if you don’t feel confident about writing it, our professional writers can do it for you. Alternatively, we can proofread and edit your letter.

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