First impressions matter. That’s why a cover letter exists. It’s often the first thing a potential employer sees after they check your name, email, and possibly where you’re from, which is why it’s important to get your cover letter format just right.
Yet, it’s surprising how many job-seekers don’t customize the cover letter for the job. Without a customized cover letter for a specific job, you might as well use a stock photo for your picture, call yourself John or Jane Doe, and list your location as Anytown, USA. Your cover letter format won’t matter if the content doesn’t impress the hiring manager.
In fact, the more specific you can be in a cover letter, the better.
What is the perfect cover letter format?
First in cover letter format: Nail the greeting
Many people don’t know how to address a cover letter properly, but it’s not that hard to do. The best rule of thumb for a cover letter is to make it as specific as you can, and that goes for addressing it, too.
If you can find who the hiring manager is, it’s best to address the letter directly to them. If you don’t know who the hiring manager is, and are unable to find out via online research, then you can use one of the following greetings:
- Dear Hiring Manager,
- Dear HR Manager,
- Dear Sir or Madam,
- To Hiring Team at (Company),
Second in cover letter format: Introduce yourself
Before diving right into the job description, you should introduce yourself and explain your background. You might discuss how you found this job posting and why you are interested. If you are making a career change, you can use this time to explain why your resume might not match up perfectly with the job description.
Take this time to set the scene and allow the reader to get a sense of who you are, your professional background, and your future goals.
Third in cover letter format: Discuss how you fit the job description
Make sure to read the job description over a few times. Your cover letter should reflect a deep understanding of the requirements and explain how you meet and exceed those requirements. You can’t do that with a generic cover letter you use for every job. You have to literally start over for every new job lead, detailing out how you are a match.
Amazingly, people do not do this. They copy and paste the contents of a cover letter to speed up the process. The problem is that employers can spot a generic cover letter from a mile away.
It lacks personality, it doesn’t seem like it was created for this particular job, and it’s a bit mind-numbingly familiar. Explain why you like the company and location, cover the basic job requirements, and describe what you have done to go beyond those requirements.
Fourth in cover letter format: Explain why you are the best fit
In the meat of your cover letter format, make sure you also get specific about who you are. Really hone this part to focus on your own experiences and skills in order to highlight what makes you unique. It’s important to explain why you meet the requirements, but don’t forget to explain what makes you special beyond the actual job description. Is this a management job and you are an amazing leader? Point out a couple of quick examples of that.
Fifth in cover letter format: Thank you
Throughout the entire hiring process, it is important to show exemplary manners. At the end of your cover letter, make sure to thank the reader for their time and consideration. Of course, you should also provide your contact details again and encourage them to reach out. Make sure to express your excitement about this position and company.
Extra tips for making your cover letter stand out
Add some flair. Let’s say the job is in Alaska. Okay, what is it about Alaska and this particular job that you like? Employers take pride in being from a certain area and the fact that you will need to physically relocate there. Do you like the mountains or the sea? A quick mention of those things if they apply will help you stand out.
The cover letter doesn’t need to be multiple pages. In fact, it’s recommend that you keep it fairly trim and on one page. The key is to cover the important details, but also keep things short enough for people to scan through.
To nail each cover letter, you should start with a blank page for every single job application. It might take more time. Yet, it forces you to think about how this job is a good match. While it is acceptable to use the same cover letter format for each application, you should not be using the same exact letter for each job.
Here’s the secret to every job search. It’s all about finding the ideal match. When your skills and experience match the job description almost perfectly, that is the job you will likely obtain. So why not take the time? If you really are a good match, then explain why that is. If you are not actually a match, then skip that job application entirely. Don’t force what isn’t a fit.
Use this cover letter example to see the perfect cover letter format
This is a cover letter format example for someone with three to five years of experience:
Dear [company] hiring team/[Hiring manager’s title and last name],
I was extremely excited to see that [company] is searching for a [open role title] to join the team. As an experienced [your title], I believe I would be a great asset to the team at [company]. My passion for [what’s your passion?], experience at [where’s your experience?] and [what strength is the company looking for?] make me a perfect fit for the position.
At [company you work for now], I focus specifically on [what do you focus on? Include details]. In the [open role title], it’s clear that the company is looking for someone who can [what is the company looking for?]. In my current role, I have been responsible for creating [what did you create?] and managing [what did you manage?]
Throughout my [how many years have you been at the company?], I have recognized my strengths of [strength #1] and [strength #2]. [Strength #1] was extremely useful when [here is when you want to tell the concrete story of what happened at your company and how you used this strength.]
[NOTE: In the above paragraph, it’s important to get specific. Ideally, your strengths line up with the skills and traits that they mention in the job description. Make sure to tell strong stories about how this strength has solved an issue for an employer in the past.]
While I have enjoyed my experience as a [what was your role?] over the last [number of years], I have realized through my experience that, given my strengths, I would be much better suited as a [what role do you want to tackle next?] I would love to join the team to explore this role and learn more about this aspect of the industry.
Through my experiences at various companies, I have learned that quality results are produced through my own individual hard work as well as collaboration with my team, and I am excited by the possibility of joining the [team name] at [company]. Please let me know what else you might need on my end or if you have any questions. I can be reached at [your phone number] or [your email]. Thank you for your time and consideration.