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How to Structure a Cover Letter

What to include in each part of a cover letter.

Alison Doyle is one of the nation’s foremost career experts.

structure of your cover letter

The Structure of a Cover Letter

  • What to Include in a Cover Letter

Sending an Email Cover Letter

Cover letter template and example.

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.

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.

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 “[email protected].” 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.

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

Mary Barnes (Your Signature)

Mary Barnes

Email Letter Signature Example

Mary Barnes Address City, State Zip Email Phone

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

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.

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More From Forbes

20 key elements to include in your cover letter.

Forbes Human Resources Council

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When it comes to landing your dream job, your cover letter can be your strongest ally. A well-crafted cover letter goes beyond just reiterating your resume—it's a chance to showcase your personality, highlight your relevant skills and explain why you're the perfect fit for the position. In a competitive job market, standing out is crucial and a thoughtfully written cover letter can catch the right attention.

Below, Forbes Human Resources Council members share advice on 20 essential components that every potential employee should include in their cover letters to make a lasting impression and increase their chances of securing an interview.

1. Tailor Your Cover Letter To A Specific Role

If asked for a cover letter, make it meaningful and use the opportunity to show a potential employer you did your homework. Don't miss an opportunity to bring your unique voice to your application, and be sure to make it relevant to the specific role. Employers, if you want to read something interesting, ask for it! Put the effort in, too—ask candidates to respond to a creative prompt. - Tory Clarke , Bridge Partners

2. Share The Context That Supports Your Resume

Cover letters are tricky. I don’t just want your sales pitch. I want to see the context that supports and informs your quantifiable impact and accomplishments in your career. The cover letter is your opportunity to share the context that supports the resume, not regurgitate it. - Christopher Courneen , M S International, Inc. (MSI)

3. Let Your Personality Shine Through

Your cover letter is an excellent opportunity to highlight your past accomplishments and how they can benefit this potential employer. All accomplishments should be personalized to the specific role you're applying for. It's also a great way to let your personality shine through. Doing something a little different will often catch the hiring manager's eye and make you stand out. - Hazel Kassu , Sudduth Search

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New apple exclusive reveals iphone 15 release surprise, apple iphone 15 release date new event page goes live with cool animation, 4. demonstrate how you will fit in with the culture.

As culture is moving to the forefront, many companies are looking more for cultural fit. Cover letters should connect your character traits and practices to that of the company's core values and culture indicators, which makes it easier for companies to visualize a great fit. - Tiersa Smith-Hall , Impactful Imprints, Training & Consulting

5. Create A Compelling And Tailored Narrative

The most important thing for candidates to include in their cover letters is a compelling and tailored narrative that effectively communicates their qualifications, experience, enthusiasm, unique selling points, company knowledge and alignment with the job requirements. Tailor each letter, be concise, proofread and include contact information. - Subhash Chandar , Laminaar Aviation Infotech

Forbes Human Resources Council is an invitation-only organization for HR executives across all industries. Do I qualify?

6. Explain Questions That Arise About Your Resume

A cover letter can show your story. Were you laid off? Did you take time off to have a family? What did you learn from your time off of work? It is a great way to explain resume gaps, highlight training or education, add additional skills and abilities and explain any other situations. It gives the recruiter and hiring manager a chance to get to know more about you. - Erin ImHof , CertiK

7. Treat Your Cover Letter As A Mission Statement

Your cover letter is a mission statement, presenting not what you can do but why you do it. In a tough market with an abundance of qualified candidates, you need to differentiate yourself with personality and aspirations. Recruiters are looking for your passion for the company and why your values match the company’s mission—stand out as a candidate who will have drive behind their work. - Laurie Chamberlin , LHH

8. Do Your Research And Demonstrate Your Knowledge Of The Company

Cover letters that stand out demonstrate a potential employee’s deep knowledge of the company and why they want to work there. Cover letters should not be vague or formulaic. Candidates who want to land a job need to take the time to do their research, get to know the company and be specific about why they are a good fit. - Leigh Yanocha , Knopman Marks Financial Training

9. Outline Two Tangible Accomplishments And Keep It Brief

Keep it brief. Outline two tangible accomplishments that showcase ownership, collaboration and determination to succeed. Also, it is important to not repeat what is included in your resume. Instead, connect specific and relevant information that highlights your communication and critical thinking skills, and your growth and progressive mindset. Lastly, what is your value to the company? - Chandran Fernando , Matrix360 Inc.

10. Demonstrate How Your Skills Are Transferable And Adaptable

Talent agility is key for organizations in this era of technological innovation. Demonstrate what skills you have in your backpack and how those are transferable and adaptable across different kinds of work and roles. Given the shrinking shelf-life of skills, it's also a huge advantage to show an appetite for continuous learning so that you can grow and pivot with the organization. - Siobhan Savage , Reejig

11. Be Present On Social Media, Especially LinkedIn

Cover letters are a practice that is a little outdated. CVs, too. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and add as many details as you can there. Write articles or be present on social channels. And if you want to add an extra flavor to your application, record a short video highlighting why you are the best person for this role. - Ilona Bernotaite , Kilo Health

12. Be Specific About What Excites You

Candidates should explain why they are enthusiastic about the job. Organizations want skilled employees, but they also want employees who will bring positive energy to work and contribute to the culture. By being specific about what excites them about the role, candidates demonstrate their ability to drive culture, engagement and productivity. - Niki Jorgensen , Insperity

13. State Your Value Proposition Clearly

Some may argue that the cover letter's crown jewel is your value proposition: what you can offer that no one else can. This isn't merely a repetition of your CV. Instead, it's a story about how your unique skills and experiences make you the right person for the job. Conveying this effectively can set you apart from the crowd. What makes you unique? What is your superpower? - Joseph Soares , IBPROM Corp.

14. Highlight Your Value As A New Hire

Always intertwine the mission, vision and values of the organization into your message. It allows the reader to easily convey which skills and experiences support and relate to the company's specific values and aspects of the vision and mission. Also, using the mission, vision and values to describe how you plan to address conflict and company challenges will highlight your value as a new hire. - Kimika Banfield , Arootah

15. Choose The Appropriate Format To Submit

Are cover letters passé? Maybe. Maybe not. Many employers describe the value of cover letters as a means for the candidate to highlight their alignment of values and skills, yet so many cover letters go unread or skimmed at best. If applying for a writing position, then adhering to the tradition might be a good idea. If not, consider replacing the written document with a quick and entertaining video clip that exposes personality and fit! - Laci Loew , XpertHR (a division of LexisNexis Risk Solutions)

16. Prepare Your Digital Footprint As Well

A cover letter may still be expected, but is it really needed? In today’s world, let your digital footprint tell your story. Make sure your online brand and resume—your LinkedIn account and social media channels—are updated, professional and competition-ready. A cover letter is fine, but it doesn't tell your whole story. - Jess Elmquist , Phenom

17. Make Your Cover Letter Interactive

Cover letters can be seen as outdated and offer little space to tell a truly impactful story. So, work with that and create a differentiated and interactive cover letter that engages the reader. Add a QR code to your LinkedIn profile, a custom microsite or portfolio, social media accounts, or a personalized video message that shows your passion (free tools exist). Branding 101—get creative to stand out. - Nicole Fernandes , Blu Ivy Group

18. Treat Your Cover Letter And Resume As Marketing Materials

Cover letters continue to be controversial in their value proposition. Some recruiters and managers may say the most important thing to include is to not submit a cover letter at all. That said, if you are including a cover letter, use that to differentiate and capture the attention of the reader. Cover letters and resumes are marketing documents so choose your words and tone wisely. - Julie Hankins , NNIT

19. Highlight Your Most Significant Accomplishments

Cover letters are not an effective tool in the modern job market but they can supplement a resume if written in formal, explicit language. It should be well-organized, concise and accurate, highlighting the candidate's most significant accomplishments on projects or tasks. The key to overcoming an employer's preconceptions about all job applicants is to highlight relevant skills and experience. - Dr. Nara Ringrose , Cyclife Aquila Nuclear

20. Sell Who You Are And Your Superpower

As cover letters start to fall out of trend, the employers that require them are even more likely to read them. So don't miss the opportunity to sell who you are, how you align with the role and the superpower that makes you rise above the other candidates. - Jessica Wallen , Marten Law

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