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The 9 Essential Elements of a Cover Letter + Templates, Examples, and Tips

Free Resources Oct 21, 2021
Learn why and how to write a cover letter, including how to structure the format and content, with free examples, templates, and tips.
In this article

What is a professional cover letter?

Job hunting is a tough business. You spend hours each week finding relevant opportunities, retyping your entire résumé even after you’ve uploaded it (ugh!), and then, on top of all that, most hiring managers want you to write a cover letter.

You might think cover letters are archaic and jump at the chance to apply where you don’t need one, but today we will challenge you to change your perspective and appreciate the opportunity to submit a cover letter.

Okay, now you think we’re crazy. But, think about it, why would anyone want to write a cover letter anyway? It’s because your résumé conveys your accomplishments, qualifications, and personality in a very finite way, while a professional cover letter gives you the chance to make new connections between your experiences and how they make you the best person for the open position.

Doodle of a guy begging for a job under the guise of a cover letter
Take yourself seriously, and others will do the same. (Source: viccareers.com)

It also allows you to highlight your best career moments, show off your communication skills, and demonstrate your personality in a way that (hopefully) makes people want to work with you--or at the very least, interview you.

Cover Letter Format and Structure

There is a generally accepted format for how cover letters are laid out, which is much like a formal letter. The document must be left-justified and single-spaced, with a space between paragraphs and other pieces of content, such as the greeting. Also, in most cases, hiring managers like to see a polished letter that is succinct and kept to one page total.

Content-wise, the structure of what to talk about and when is less generalized. Below we have laid out an overview of the usual formatting, plus our take on the content structure. The most important content elements of a cover letter are discussed in more depth in the following section.

Cover Letter Format

Starting at the top of the page and working downwards:

  • Your contact details
  • Your Full Name
  • (Optional) Your Role or Title
  • Email Address
  • Phone Contact
  • Location or Address
  • (Optional) Website
  • (Optional) Portfolio
  • (Optional) LinkTree
  • LinkedIn URL
  • (Optional) Other Social Media Link/Handle
  • (Optional) To:
  • Name of Hiring Manager or Contact Person
  • Their Title/Role
  • Name of Company
  • Company Address
  • (Optional) Re: Name of Open Position
  • (Optional) Date
  • Greeting to Hiring Manager
  • Opening sentence that encapsulates you, your interest in the position/company, and/or why you’re the one for the job
  • First paragraph that further describes who you are, why you’re a great candidate, what drew you to the company (values, mission, innovation, etc.), name drops any contacts you have there, and demonstrates that you could hit the ground running in the role and could contribute to the company meeting/exceeding their goals from the start
  • Body paragraph(s) that define you as the perfect candidate by linking your qualifications to those called for in the job description
  • Closing line or short paragraph that sums up your fit for the position, excitement, and gratitude for being considered, and can also include stating when you will follow up
  • Formal Goodbye
  • Your Signature and Full Name

Cover Letter Content Structure (+ Examples & Templates)

While there is no one ‘right’ way to write a cover letter, we’ve listed the 9 ingredients that make for a truly great one. Each is discussed in detail below, and this information, format, and structure are also included in our cover letter templates*: Template 1, Template 2, and Template 3.

Below is an example of Template 1 in action, as Quilly QuillBot vies for a new opportunity in the brand ambassador world.

Follow the guidelines below or the shortened versions in the template, and you’ll be well on your way to a brilliant cover letter for any job or internship.

The 9 Elements to Include in a Cover Letter:

  1. Your contact details

a. This is so they can call you in for an interview, duh!

2.   The name of the hiring manager, plus their department, contact info, credentials, etc. Or, if you can’t find this information online, you can just add the company name and contact information.

a. The reason for adding this is two-fold. First, it shows that you are invested in the position and company already. You did the work to find and include this information to make a professional-looking cover letter, even if it took a bit of extra time and searching.

b. Second, especially with regard to finding the hiring manager’s details, you can use this information to follow up directly with them and refresh yourself on the position, plus why you are interested in and qualified for it, before your follow-up email or interview.

c. Two OPTIONAL suggestions here are to add a “Re: Name of Open Position” line and/or a line with the date of either writing or submitting your cover letter/application packet. Adding these details makes it even easier to quickly look back to gauge follow-up dates and remember what the specific name of the position was that you applied for. The “Re:” line, which is short for regarding, can go before or after the date, whichever looks better with your formatting, but I (Emily), personally, like it before the date.

3.   A greeting or salutation to the hiring manager, correct contact person, team, etc., followed by a colon or comma, ( : or ,)

a. A good example would be something like this: “Dear Mr. Dave:” or “To Ms. Khan and the Growth Marketing Team,”. Note the colon or comma after the greeting.

b. A bad example would be: “To the hiring manager:” or “To whom it may concern,”. Note, we’re still using the colon or comma, but we sound a bit lazy since we didn’t search online for who will be reviewing the application packages for this position.

4.   An attention-commanding, compelling opening sentence that sums up why you’d be a great fit and why you want the job

a. The trick here is not to be boring or disingenuous. This sentence should encapsulate why you want the job, what makes you a great fit, and/or how you could move the needle for the company in this role--but it doesn’t need to answer all of those questions, necessarily. Challenge yourself to craft it perfectly and in a way that you can’t help but be proud of. Our paraphrasing tool can help you refine this easily and without undue frustration.

b. The goal of this sentence is to hook the reader into not only finishing your cover letter but also putting a big fat star at the top of yours to shortlist you for an interview.

5.   A first paragraph that further details who you are, why you’re the perfect candidate, and how you are the solution they’ve been looking for all along

a. Your first paragraph can be connected to your opening sentence or start fresh below it, whatever works better for the situation. If you can make them flow together, try it out. Read it aloud to see how it sounds. Separate them if the flow is off, or, if your opening sentence is #fire, then that’s also a great reason to keep it on its own.

b. In terms of content, you want to use this paragraph to show the hiring manager that you’re the solution to their problem. You need to prove, in just a few sentences, that you can not only succeed in the role but also can make a definite difference for the company/their goals right from the start. Here are some ideas to help you craft this important element, though you definitely won’t be able to include all of them in one paragraph:

i. Try using an accomplishment/anecdote/expertise of yours that could help the company reach a specific goal or position-related deliverable.

ii. Look at their website and try to find out what their mission, values, roadmap, and next company milestones are so that you can incorporate this info in where you can. Feeling crunched for time researching? Use our summarizer to help you get up to speed super fast.

iii. You can also point out, in a non-cringy way, what about the role or company is exciting for you above all other potential offers--is it their mission, how they embrace innovation, or a specific focus on XYZ that drew you to apply?

iv. This is also where you want to drop any names of contacts you have at the company who will vouch for you during the hiring process--but be sure to ask their permission beforehand.

6.   Body paragraphs (usually 1-2) that go into more detail about your qualifications and accomplishments, as they relate to the stated duties and responsibilities of the position

a. With respect to length, try to keep the entire cover letter to a page, even if it means you can only have 1 body paragraph. Make it count. Utilize online tools, like our paraphraser, to refine your language.

b. With respect to content, don’t just regurgitate your résumé; they have that on file. Instead, integrate your most relevant experiences, qualifications, and accomplishments with the details of the job announcement--specifically, the duties and responsibilities related to the role. Define yourself as the perfect candidate for the job.

c. Clearly separate your thoughts into paragraphs. That means, don’t talk about leadership or having managed direct reports together with how you’ve exceeded your sales goals for 4 years running, unless they are directly related. One paragraph on how you already perform and exceed the detailed responsibilities for one part of the role (such as sales) will suffice. Then, you can have a separate paragraph for your leadership qualifications and how those correlate to the demands of the position. If you try to mix unrelated topics, your points will be unclear, and your cover letter might get tossed.

d. Use a few keywords from the job announcement when you make your points so that the reader can clearly associate your qualifications with those listed for the role.

7.   A closing line or short paragraph

a. Consider closing with a line or two conveying your enthusiasm for the position. You can also include a call to action about following up with them, but state specifically when you will do it--and then be sure to actually follow up at that time. Make sure this is sincere and not just a generic, “Thanks for looking at my cover letter.”

b. If you include a call to action, add this follow-up date to your calendar and set a reminder so that you don’t forget.

8.   A formal goodbye, followed by a comma

a. Some good examples: “Sincerely”, “Best regards”, or “Thank you”, “Thank you for your consideration”, and “Thank you for your time”

b. Some bad examples: “Lator gator”, “Bye”, or “Talk soon”, “Thanks”, “Yours”, “Cheers”, and “Take Care”

9.   Your full name and signature

a. If you plan to print and sign the cover letter, add a digital signature, or paste in a photo of your signature, leave up to 4 blank lines open to accommodate this before typing your full name at the bottom of the document.

Thinking through and executing on these 9 elements might seem daunting at first, but as you put it all into practice and use our templates, it will become easier to remember. Check out another templated example, this time on Template 2, for a dream job opportunity.

Lastly, here is an example, using Template 3, of a journalism student applying for an internship with a company they already love. Notice how, because they lack work experience, Stu talks about their connection to the company, interests, awards, and skills to showcase that they would make an excellent Kibble Editorial Intern.

*To use the templates, open the Google Doc link, and go to File > Make a Copy. After that, you will be able to directly edit the copied template to add in your information.

Final Steps to Finish Your Cover Letter

Draft and refine the content within your cover letter before trying to proofread. The reason for this is because, if you change a sentence or reorganize a paragraph, you will continuously be going back and re-proofreading. Finalizing the content first will save you time and frustration, since you will only need to be concerned about grammar issues at the end of your workflow. Simplify!

Once you’re happy with your edits, read your cover letter aloud to check that your points flow and are clear. You can proofread at this time, too.

Our free grammar checker is a great option to help those feeling uncertain about their grammar skills. It will find and show correction options for everything from punctuation, spelling, and other grammar-related errors, as well as word use issues and formatting mistakes, like an extra space. It’s also nice to use if you ever feel like you’ve spent ages on a cover letter and don’t have the bandwidth for a final proofread.

Finally, always be sure that your contact information is correct and that you’ve removed the parts of the template that you didn’t use. Also double check that you’ve changed all of the company- and position-related information in your cover letter before submitting it. You don’t want to appear careless by mixing up or not updating this.

Do I really have to write a new cover letter every time?

Meme of a guy asking a girl if she writes a new cover letter for every application.
What's the opposite of a dealbreaker? (Source: Kapwing)

Yes...and no. Yes, for each position you apply for, you should make a cover letter that is specific to the opportunity. But no, you do not have to reinvent the wheel every time--semi-unique will do. That is easily accomplished using a cover letter template or even an annotated cover letter template.

A template will tell you what goes where, while an annotated template is when you use a template and gear it for a specific type of opportunity by pre-loading specific résumé information into the template that corresponds to the opportunity. This will save you tons of time and energy on the mundane aspects of creating cover letters, so you can focus on crafting the content.

Why can’t you reuse whole cover letters?

One cover letter will not work for applying to, for instance, both sales- and tutoring-related jobs because they are very different industries. Similarly, if you’re interested in digital marketing, you might be applying for both email marketing and social media management positions, and while it is the same field, the opportunities are very different.

Create an Annotated Template

In order to create annotated cover letter templates for each type of position or field/industry to which you’re applying, pick a type of role to target, and gather a few job announcements. Go through your résumé and note what specific skills, qualifications, and experiences are relevant or most important to highlight for the role. Then, use a template, and add the pertinent information to the body paragraph(s) section.

Check out our free templates* that will let you plug and play your information: Template 1, Template 2, and Template 3. We’ve also pre-loaded our notes on each of the different important cover letter elements for easy reference.

Refining the cover letter from this kind of annotated template is so much easier because you have already identified and added all of the information needed from your résumé for this particular type of opportunity. When you are ready to begin a new cover letter, review the information you already added to the template, along with the specific job announcement. Then, begin to pare down your résumé information, as needed, and work through writing the content sections.

Final Cover Letter Tips

WIle E Coyote business card
Simple. (Source: Twitter)
  • Do the work. Cover letters allow you to link your experiences, qualifications, and skills directly to the needs of the open position. Use the opportunity to write one to define yourself as the ideal candidate for not only the job, but also for the company's needs as a whole. Even if you don’t have to write a cover letter to be considered, doing so will set you apart.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use a cover letter template, like our 3 free options, for a professional, polished layout that also reminds you what goes where. If you’re applying to different types of positions or to different fields/industries, consider making annotated templates for each grouping by adding in relevant information from your résumé. This will help you remove some friction and hit the ground running with each new letter.
  • Keep it short. Your professional cover letter should be one page total in length. Sure, there are always exceptions to this, but think about how many letters the hiring manager will read for one position--lots! Take the time to hone your language and points to say more with less, since that will make you memorable. Remember, the paraphraser is your secret weapon for this!
  • Be the solution to their problems. Don’t focus solely on your past accomplishments. Instead, couple your qualifications with recognizing what the company needs and what their pain points are. Show them you understand their business by coming up with you-based solutions to their problems. This will make the company much more interested in bringing you to the table. Make yourself their missing ingredient; be what they need to succeed.
  • Don’t be afraid to be you. Of course, cover letters need to be professional━the whole point of writing one is to land a job. However, hiring managers also like being able to get a sense of who you are as a person. A funny anecdote or using a witty tone throughout your cover letter can set you apart from the competition and show yourself to be a three-dimensional person, rather than just another piece of paper with a list of qualifications. Keep it professional, but don’t forget to strike a balance with being true to your personality.
  • Follow through on the follow up. Add a reminder, along with the follow-up date you specified, to your calendar, if you included a call to action within the closing statement/paragraph of your letter.
  • Polish to perfection. Read your cover letter out loud to check for flow, clarity, and as a final proofread. If you’re not confident in your grammar skills, use a free grammar checker, like ours, for an easy final polish.
  • Double check the details. If you’re using a cover letter template, you’ll need to be careful that you’ve changed all the details for the current company you’re applying for. There’s nothing worse than sending off an application, only to realize that you left an old company’s name or position title on your cover letter to a different employer.

*To use the templates, open the Google Doc link, and go to File > Make a Copy. After that, you will be able to directly edit the copied template to add in your information.

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Emily Perry, PhD

Along with Paige Pfeifer

Emily Perry is a PhD, educator, and BD Specialist who loves all things science, education, and art. When she's not creating, you can find her outside doing something fun with her dog, Cass.

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