Cover Letter Words How Many

Cover Letter Workshop - Formatting and Organization

The cover letter is one of the most challenging documents you may ever write: you must write about yourself without sounding selfish and self-centered. The solution to this is to explain how your values and goals align with the prospective organization's and to discuss how your experience will fulfill the job requirements. Before we get to content, however, you need to know how to format your cover letter in a professional manner.

Formatting your cover letter

Your cover letter should convey a professional message. Of course, the particular expectations of a professional format depend on the organization you are looking to join. For example, an accounting position at a legal firm will require a more traditional document format. A position as an Imagineer at Disney might require a completely different approach. Again, a close audience analysis of the company and the position will yield important information about the document expectations. Let the organization's communications guide your work.

For this example, we are using a traditional approach to cover letters:

  • Single-space your cover letter
  • Leave a space between each paragraph
  • Leave three spaces between your closing (such as "Sincerely" or "Sincerely Yours") and typed name
  • Leave a space between your heading (contact information) and greeting (such as, "Dear Mr. Roberts")
  • Either align all paragraphs to the left of the page, or indent the first line of each paragraph to the right
  • Use standard margins for your cover letter, such as one-inch margins on all sides of the document
  • Center your letter in the middle of the page; in other words, make sure that the space at the top and bottom of the page is the same
  • Sign your name in ink between your salutation and typed name

Organizing your cover letter

A cover letter has four essential parts: heading, introduction, argument, and closing.

The heading

In your heading, include your contact information:

  • name
  • address
  • phone number
  • email address

The date and company contact information should directly follow your contact information. Use spacing effectively in order to keep this information more organized and readable. Use the link at the top of this resource to view a sample cover letter - please note the letter is double-spaced for readability purposes only.

Addressing your cover letter

Whenever possible, you should address your letter to a specific individual, the person in charge of interviewing and hiring (the hiring authority). Larger companies often have standard procedures for dealing with solicited and unsolicited resumes and cover letters. Sending your employment documents to a specific person increases the chances that they will be seriously reviewed by the company.

When a job advertisement does not provide you with the name of the hiring authority, call the company to ask for more information. Even if your contact cannot tell you the name of the hiring authority, you can use this time to find out more about the company.

If you cannot find out the name of the hiring authority, you may address your letter to "hiring professionals" - e.g., "Dear Hiring Professionals."

The introduction

The introduction should include a salutation, such as "Dear Mr. Roberts:" If you are uncertain of your contact's gender, avoid using Mr. or Mrs. by simply using the person's full name.

The body of your introduction can be organized in many ways. However, it is important to include, who you are and why you are writing. It can also state how you learned about the position and why you are interested in it. (This might be the right opportunity to briefly relate your education and/or experience to the requirements of the position.)

Many people hear of job openings from contacts associated with the company. If you wish to include a person's name in your cover letter, make certain that your reader has a positive relationship with the person.

In some instances, you may have previously met the reader of your cover letter. In these instances it is acceptable to use your introduction to remind your reader of who you are and briefly discuss a specific topic of your previous conversation(s).

Most important is to briefly overview why your values and goals align with the organization's and how you will help them. You should also touch on how you match the position requirements. By reviewing how you align with the organization and how your skills match what they're looking for, you can forecast the contents of your cover letter before you move into your argument.

The argument

Your argument is an important part of your cover letter, because it allows you to persuade your reader why you are a good fit for the company and the job. Carefully choose what to include in your argument. You want your argument to be as powerful as possible, but it shouldn't cloud your main points by including excessive or irrelevant details about your past. In addition, use your resume (and refer to it) as the source of "data" you will use and expand on in your cover letter.

In your argument, you should try to:

  • Show your reader you possess the most important skills s/he seeks (you're a good match for the organization's mission/goals and job requirements).
  • Convince your reader that the company will benefit from hiring you (how you will help them).
  • Include in each paragraph a strong reason why your employer should hire you and how they will benefit from the relationship.
  • Maintain an upbeat/personable tone.
  • Avoid explaining your entire resume but use your resume as a source of data to support your argument (the two documents should work together).

Reminder: When writing your argument, it is essential for you to learn as much as possible about the company and the job (see the Cover Letter Workshop - Introduction resource).

The closing

Your closing restates your main points and reveals what you plan to do after your readers have received your resume and cover letter. We recommend you do the following in your closing:

  • Restate why you align with the organization's mission/goals.
  • Restate why your skills match the position requirements and how your experience will help the organization.
  • Inform your readers when you will contact them.
  • Include your phone number and e-mail address.
  • Thank your readers for their consideration.

A sample closing:

I believe my coursework and work experience in electrical engineering will help your Baltimore division attain its goals, and I look forward to meeting with you to discuss the job position further. I will contact you before June 5th to discuss my application. If you wish to contact me, I may be reached at 765-555-6473, or by e-mail at jwillis3@e-mail-link.com. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Although this closing may seem bold, potential employers will read your documents with more interest if they know you will be calling them in the future. Also, many employment authorities prefer candidates who are willing to take the initiative to follow-up. Additionally, by following up, you are able to inform prospective employers that you're still interested in the position and determine where the company is in the hiring process. When you tell readers you will contact them, it is imperative that you do so. It will not reflect well on you if you forget to call a potential employer when you said you would. It's best to demonstrate your punctuality and interest in the company by calling when you say you will.

If you do not feel comfortable informing your readers when you will contact them, ask your readers to contact you, and thank them for their time. For example:

Please contact me at 765-555-6473, or by e-mail at jwillis3@e-mail-link.com. I look forward to speaking with you. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Before you send the cover letter

Always proofread your cover letter carefully. After you've finished, put it aside for a couple of days if time allows, and then reread it. More than likely, you will discover sentences that could be improved, or grammatical errors that could otherwise prove to be uncharacteristic of your writing abilities. Furthermore, we recommend giving your cover letter to friends and colleagues. Ask them for ways to improve it; listen to their suggestions and revise your document as you see fit.

If you are a Purdue student, you may go to the Writing Lab or CCO for assistance with your cover letter. You can make an appointment to talk about your letter, whether you need to begin drafting it or want help with revising and editing.

Click on the link at the top of this resource for a sample cover letter. Please note that this sample is double spaced for readability only. Unless requested otherwise, always single space your professional communication.

The following are additional Purdue OWL resources to help you write your cover letter:

A good covering letter introduces you to the employer and explains why you are one of the best candidates applying for the jobs advertised. By avoiding the following no-nos, you can create a covering letter that stands out from the crowd.
Forgetting to proofread your letter for errors and tone before you send it.
Make sure your letter has no spelling, typing, or grammatical errors. Job applicants are frequently deselected because of such mistakes.

Addressing the letter to the wrong person.
Call the company and find out the name and title of the person to whom you should address your letter. It shows initiative and resourcefulness, and will impress your reader that you figured out a way to address them personally. Use their name and title and don't try to guess their gender.

Using someone else's words.
Make sure that your letter sounds like you, not like something out of a book. Covering letters, as well as CVs, should be accurate reflections of your personality. Employers are looking for knowledge, enthusiasm, and focus.

Betraying your ignorance about the company and the industry.
This is where your research comes in. Don't go overboard - just make it clear that you didn't pick this company out of the phone book. You know who they are, what they do, and you have chosen them.

Being too informal.
Promote yourself as a professional. Your letter should be as close to a business proposal as you can get - not a plea for an interview. What do you offer that is of value? What objectives can you help them achieve?

Talking too much about yourself.
Downplay 'I' and emphasise 'you'. Try to convert 'I haves' into 'you wants' for the employer. What can you do for the organisation that will create interest and arouse a desire for an interview with you?

Being too cocky.
If you meet all the stated requirements for the job, spell this out in your letter - but don't lay it on too thick. Accentuate the good match between your skills and their needs.

Lacking focus.
Structure your letter so that each part achieves a particular goal. State the purpose of your letter in your opening paragraph. Keep the letter organised. Decide on the focus of your letter and ensure that all points reinforce the topic.

Boring presentation.
Draw attention to your skills and attributes by underlining them, bolding them, or indenting them in lists with bullets. You have to be careful with underlining because the line is often printed too close to the word, and reduces its readability. Use these kinds of emphasis sparingly just to make the highlights stand out when the reader gives your letter a quick skim.

Droning on too long.
Keep it simple and clean - not cluttered. Use no more than seven lines, and preferably five or fewer, per paragraph. Vary the sentence length. None of the sentences should be very long, but you don't want a staccato stream of very short sentences. One page is the maximum for letters.

Sending photocopies.
Send original letters. Don't send copies that look mass-produced. Don't use typewriters or dot matrix printers and never hand-write your letter.

Forgetting to include a copy of your CV.
Remember that the one purpose for a covering letter is to get your CV into the hands of the employer and to obtain an interview.

Enclosing a photo.
Unless you are seeking employment in modelling, acting, or other performance industries, it is not appropriate to send a photograph with your covering letter. An employer will see what you look like, should you reach the interview stage. Until then, a photo won't help you get a foot in the door.

Forgetting to ask.
If you don't ask... The primary goal of your covering letter is to get an interview. Be sure to ask for one at the end of your covering letter. Be prepared to initiate the follow-up communication yourself and let your prospective employer know you will be doing this. This may be just enough to get them to hold onto your letter and give it a more thorough reading.

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