How to Structure a Cover Letter

What to Include in Each Part of a Cover Letter

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When writing a cover letter to apply for a job, it's important to include all the requisite information clearly and efficiently.

Your cover letter is a way to grab the hiring manager's attention and it's important to be sure that it's polished, professional, and complete with the information the reader expects to see. If any elements are missing, it could even disqualify you from consideration for the job.

The Structure of a Cover Letter

A cover letter is comprised of several sections: your contact information, a salutation, the body of the cover letter, an appropriate closing, and a signature.

Review the structure of a cover letter, what to include in each part, and examples.

Screenshot of a cover letter
©TheBalance 2018

What to Include in Each Part of a Cover Letter

Your Contact Information

  • What to include: The first section or header includes your contact information: name, address, phone or cell phone number, and your email address. It has also become common to include your LinkedIn address so that employers can immediately access your professional profile, resume, and networking contacts.  In an email, you can also list your contact info below your signature.
  • Choose a style: Go with a simple block, centered header, or get a little fancy with the design if you're sending a hard copy. 
  • Keep it professional: Also, keep in mind that your email address should sound simple and professional. Ideally, it would look like “Firstname_Lastname@gmail.com.” Never use a “cutesy” email address that refers to your hobbies or political opinions or is off-color—your email address needs to reflect your professional identity, not your sense of humor.

You may want to create an email account dedicated solely to your career search. It can be easier to track all your correspondence when you have a dedicated email address for job hunting.

Employer Contact Information

  • You can also include the employer's contact information. This is most appropriate to include on a formal, hard copy cover letter submitted through snail mail or by hand.
  • If you are sending a job application by email or through an employer’s online application system, it is not as necessary to include this contact information.
  • As a general rule of thumb for email applications, use the formal contact address if you know it, but don’t worry too much about omitting it otherwise.

Cover Letter Salutation

Although you may not need to know whom to address when sending a cover letter via email, getting a name to address your letter to is important. Do your research to avoid having to use the generic "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam," which can make things look like you didn't make an effort to learn more about the job or the employer. The best ways to learn contact names are to call an organization’s front office or to review their website.

To get in gear, review samples of cover letter salutations. If you can't find a contact person, there are options you can use instead.

Cover Letter Body

The body of your cover letter lets the employer know what position you are applying for, why the employer should select you for an interview, and how you will follow up. This section of your cover letter includes:

  • First paragraph: Why you are writing. This is "the grab," your chance to grasp your reader by the collar and get their attention. Offer some specific, focused information regarding the job you're seeking and a few core strengths that demonstrate your suitability for the position.
  • Second paragraph: What you have to offer the employer. This is your hook where you highlight examples of the work performed and achieved results. Draw on your key competencies from your resume, although don't copy it word for word. Bullet points in this paragraph are extremely effective in drawing your reader's eye to your successes.
  • Third paragraph: Your knowledge of the company. Show that you did your research and know something about the business and how you can contribute to its mission.
  • Fourth paragraph: Your closing. Summarize what you would bring to the position and suggest next steps by requesting a meeting or suggesting a call.

You can boldface quantifiable achievements like YOY sales figures in order to make these “pop” on the page.

Closing

Finish your letter with a formal closing like "Sincerely" or "Yours truly." A cover letter is professional correspondence, so don't use informal closings like "Cheers" in the letters you write to apply for jobs.

Your Signature 

How you sign your cover letter will depend if you're sending a paper or email letter. If you're sending a paper letter, type your name after the salutation, leaving a space for your handwritten signature. If you're sending an email cover letter, type your name and contact information after your salutation.

Signature for a Hard Copy Letter Example

Sincerely,

Mary Barnes (Your Signature)

Mary Barnes

Email Letter Signature Example

Sincerely,

Mary Barnes
Address
City, State Zip
Email
Phone

Sending an Email Cover Letter

When you're sending a cover letter via email, include your name and the job you're applying for in the subject line of the message. That way, you'll be sure your message gets opened and read.

Subject: Mary Barnes - Marketing Assistant Position

Cover Letter Template and Example

Download a cover letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) or see below for more examples.

Cover Letter Example

Lucius Applicant
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345
555-555-5555
lucius.applicant@email.com

August 12, 2020

William Lee
Lead Mechanic
Acme Auto
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321 

Dear Mr. Lee:

I’m writing to apply for the position of diesel mechanic at the City Transit Agency, as advertised on the city’s careers web page. I’ve included my resume for your consideration.

In addition to experience as a diesel mechanic, I have an excellent knowledge of gasoline engines and electric systems, and I hold a CDL drivers license. Most recently, I worked for Trailer Transfer in Middletown as their lead diesel mechanic. While I was there, I developed a training program for new hires. However, I had to leave my job due to a move to your city.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I will follow up next week to see if I can offer any more information about my skills and experience. My cell phone is 555-555-5555 and my email is lucius.applicant@email.com. 

Best regards,

Lucius Applicant (Signature hard copy letter)

Lucius Applicant

Need more examples? Here are more cover letter examples, including templates you can customize to create your own cover letters.