How to Write a Job Application Letter

Job Application Letter Writing Guidelines and Format Advice

Businessman working on laptop outside of office building
••• Dan Dalton / Getty Images

Do you need to write a letter to apply for a job? Most of the time, the answer is yes. Even in the rare cases when employers don’t require a job application letter, writing one will help you highlight your skills and achievements and get the hiring manager’s attention.

Tips for Writing a Job Application Letter

A job application letter, also known as a cover letter, should be sent or uploaded with your resume when applying for jobs. While your resume offers a history of your work experience and an outline of your skills and accomplishments, the job application letter you send to an employer explains why you are qualified for the position and should be selected for an interview.

Writing this letter can seem like a challenging task. However, if you take it one step at a time, you'll soon be an expert at writing application letters to send with your resume.

How to Get Started

Before you begin writing your job application letter, do some groundwork. Consider what information you want to include (keeping in mind that space is limited). Remember, this letter is making a case for your candidacy for the position. But you can do better than just regurgitating your resume — instead, highlight your most relevant skills, experiences, and abilities.

To include the most convincing, relevant details in your letter, you'll need to know what the employer wants. The biggest clues are within the job advertisement, so spend some time decoding the job ad. Next, match your qualifications with the employer's wants and needs. Make a list of your relevant experience and skills. For instance, if the job ad calls for a strong leader, think of examples of when you've successfully led a team. Once you've jotted down some notes, and have a sense of what you want to highlight in your letter, you're ready to get started writing.

Writing Guidelines for Job Application Letters

Writing a job application letter is very different from a quick email to a friend or a thank-you note to a relative. Hiring managers and potential interviewers have certain expectations when it comes to the letter's presentation and appearance, from length (no more than a page) to font size and style to letter spacing:

Length: A letter of application should be no more than one page long.

Format and Page Margins: A letter of application should be single-spaced with a space between each paragraph. Use about 1" margins and align your text to the left, which is the standard alignment for most documents.

Font: Use a traditional font such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. The font size should be between 10 and 12 points.

What to Include in Each Section of the Letter

There are also set rules for the sections included in the letter, from salutation to sign-off, and how the letter is organized. Here's a quick lowdown on the main sections included in a job application letter:

Heading: A letter of application should begin with both your and the employer's contact information (name, address, phone number, email) followed by the date. If this is an email rather than an actual letter, include your contact information at the end of the letter, after your signature.

Salutation: This is your polite greeting. The most common salutation is "Dear Mr./Ms." followed by the person's last name. Find out more about appropriate cover letter salutations, including what to do if you don't know the person's name, or are unsure of a contact's gender.

Body of the letter: Think of this section as being three distinct parts.

In the first paragraph, you'll want to mention the job you are applying for and where you saw the job listing.

The next paragraph(s) are the most important part of your letter. Remember how you gathered all that information about what employers were seeking, and how you could meet their needs? This is where you'll share those relevant details on your experience and accomplishments.

The third and last part of the body of the letter will be your thank you to the employer; you can also offer follow-up information.

Complimentary Close: Sign off your email with a polite close, such as "Best" or "Sincerely," followed by your name.

Signature: End with your signature, handwritten, followed by your typed name. If this is an email, simply include your typed name, followed by your contact information.

Simple Formatting Using a Template

Overwhelmed by all these formatting and organization requirements? One way to make the process of writing a job application easier is to use a job application letter template to create your own personalized job application letters for applying for a job. Having a template can help save you time if you are sending a lot of application letters. Do be sure that each letter you send is personalized to the company and position.

Tips for Writing an Effective Letter

  • Always write one. Unless a job posting specifically says not to send a letter of application or cover letter, you should always send one. Even if the company does not request a letter of application, it never hurts to include one. If they do ask you to send a letter, make sure to follow the directions exactly (for example, they might ask you to send the letter as an email attachment, or type it directly into their online application system). Following application directions is the first step to getting selected for an interview.
  • Use business letter format. Use a formal business letter format when writing your letter. Include your contact information at the top, the date, and the employer’s contact information. Be sure to provide a salutation at the beginning, and your signature at the end.
  • Sell yourself. Throughout the letter, focus on how you would benefit the company. Provide specific examples of times when you demonstrated skills or abilities that would be useful for the job, especially those listed in the job posting or description. If possible, include examples of times when you added value to a company. Numerical values offer concrete evidence of your skills and accomplishments.
  • Use keywords. Reread the job listing, circling any keywords (such as skills or abilities that are emphasized in the listing). Try to include some of those words in your cover letter. This will help the employer see that you are a strong fit for the job.
  • Keep it brief. Keep your letter under a page long, with no more than about four paragraphs. An employer is more likely to read a concise letter.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Employers are likely to overlook an application with a lot of errors. Therefore, read through your cover letter, and if possible ask a friend or career counselor to review the letter. Proofread for any grammar or spelling errors.

    Sample Job Application Letter

    Review sample job application letters and edit them to create your own. Customize each letter you send – include information on your skills and experience that are relevant to the job you are applying for.

    Remember: your letter should show the hiring manager, at a glance, why you are a good candidate. Match your skills to the job posting to emphasize your aptitude for the role.

    Elizabeth Johnson
    12 Jones Street
    Portland, Maine 04101
    555-555-5555
    email@emailaddress.com

    January 14, 20__

    Mark Smith
    Human Resources Manager
    Veggies to Go
    238 Main Street
    Portland, Maine 04101

    Dear Mr. Smith,

    I was so excited when my former coworker, Jay Lopez, told me about your opening for an administrative assistant in your Portland offices. A long-time Veggies to Go customer and an experienced admin, I would love to help the company achieve its mission of making healthy produce as available as takeout.

    I’ve worked for small companies for my entire career, and I relish the opportunity to wear many hats and work with the team to succeed. In my latest role as an administrative assistant at Beauty Corp, I saved my employer thousands of dollars in temp workers by implementing a self-scheduling system for the customer service reps that cut down on canceled shifts. I also learned web design, time sheet coding, and perfected my Excel skills. 

    I’ve attached my resume for your consideration and hope to speak with you soon about your needs for the role.

    Best Regards,

    Handwritten Signature (for a hard copy letter)

    Typed Signature