A Cover Letter Outline That Works Every Time

Overview

Don’t Write From Scratch Every Time—Use This Cover Letter Outline

A cover letter is more than a document that accompanies your resume. It can determine whether you will get invited for an interview or not, so you must get it right. Still, as crucial as cover letters are when applying for jobs, many job seekers find them notoriously difficult to write. There is a lot to pay attention to, from structure to content, but the process gets a lot less complicated with a good cover letter outline. 

A clear layout of a cover letter will help keep you on the right track. It ensures you include all crucial elements while remaining concise and to the point. 

In this article, you will find:

  • Reasons for creating an outline for a cover letter
  • An example of a cover letter layout
  • Information you should include in each part of a cover letter
  • The structure and format a cover letter should have
  • Different types of cover letters

Worried About the Blank Page Anxiety? Start With a Cover Letter Layout!

Writing anything from scratch is scary. Writing a cover letter on a (possibly) tight deadline is downright terrifying. 

You could use an old cover letter as a template—tweak it a bit so that it works for this role. But that’s assuming you have an old cover letter… and a good one.

A cover letter should help recruiters understand why you are a perfect fit for the role. To achieve that, you can’t use a generic cover letter. You must tailor your letter to a particular role. 

It doesn’t mean you have to start with a blank page every time. Or settle with a cover letter from way back when.

To make sure your cover letter stands out, create a universal cover letter outline. 

Cover letter outlines save you time during an application process because they give you a fantastic starting point. A good outline ensures you don’t skip anything relevant to the role you are applying for. 

When you stumble upon an ad for the perfect job, you won’t go into panic mode. You’ll build up your cover letter using the pre-written outline.

Not Sure About Drafting Cover Letter Outlines by Yourself? We’ve Got You Covered!

The following cover letter outline is suitable for whatever role you are applying for, be it an entry-level or managerial position. 

Your Full Name

Cell Phone Number

Email address

Date

Recruiter’s Name (if you know it)

Recruiter’s Title

Company Name

Address

City, State, ZIP Code

Dear Mr/Ms [Recruiter’s Last Name]:

Paragraph 1:

  • Reasons for writing
  • The role you are applying for
  • The name of the company
  • Reasons why you want to work there

Paragraph 2:

  • A bullet list with hard and soft skills and experience pertinent to the role
  • Key qualifications relevant for the position
  • Examples of how you used your skills in previous jobs
  • Emphasis on the value you would bring to the company

Paragraph 3:

  • Restate your enthusiasm for the role
  • Refer the recruiter to your resume
  • Highlight how you can contribute to the company growth
  • Thank the recruiter for their time
  • Add a call to action—ask them to contact you to set up an interview

Sincerely,

[Full Name]

Once You Get the Perfect Layout of a Cover Letter, It’s Time To Tackle the Structure!

A young female hiring manager conducting a phone interview and taking notes

Source: Anna Shvets

The outline serves to help you organize your cover letter properly, but you need more than a layout. 

A good cover letter is based on a strong structure and, more importantly, relevant content, so there’s more work to be done once you get the outline part right.

Effective cover letters generally consist of five basic elements:

  1. Heading
  2. Salutation
  3. Main paragraphs
  4. Complimentary closing
  5. Signature

Making the Perfect Heading

The cover letter heading is the first part of your letter. Since research shows that people pay more attention to the information they see on the left-hand side, your heading should go to the top left corner.

Here, you will always include your:

  • Full name
  • Cell phone number
  • Email address

You can also provide your home address, city, state, and ZIP code, but it isn’t necessary.

An element that often gets overlooked is the date. All formal letters include a date. But, it’s super-important to double-check if you have the correct one in your cover letter. Why? Is messing up the date such a huge red flag? Actually, yes, it is.

Getting the date wrong signals that:

  • You’ve been mass applying for a while (especially if your letter is dated a few months back)
  • You couldn’t be bothered to write a unique cover letter for this company (true, but they don’t need to know that)
  • You don’t proofread and lack attention to detail

This is not the impression you want to leave on your potential employer.

After the date, if you know the name of the recruiter or hiring manager, write it. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know it, though. You might find articles stating that it is game-changing to find out the recruiter’s full name—it really isn’t, and it won’t make much difference. 

In the end, you should include company info—name, address, state, city, and ZIP code.

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t use the header of the MS Word document to write the heading. If a company uses an applicant tracking system (ATS), it won’t be able to read the elements in the header.

Addressing the Cover Letter

Right under the heading, you should put a formal salutation. You have many options you can use here, depending on whether you know the recruiter’s name or not:

If You Know the NameIf You Don’t Know the Name
Dear Mr. Simmons
Dear Ms. Johnson
Dear Alison
Dear Recruiter
Dear Hiring Manager
Dear Sir or Madam
To whom it may concern

Now, you might think that addressing the recruiter by their first name may be perceived as being a little too familiar, but it’s actually quite welcome in most modern organizations and among youthful teams. So, don’t be afraid to draw some attention to yourself by calling a Helen… well, Helen. Unless, you know, she’s a Karen. 

The great thing about addressing the recruiter directly by their first name is that your letter will feel more personal. The person reading will know it’s for them and pay more attention. There is a whole lot of science behind this. 

Two options you shouldn’t use are:

  1. Hi Jamie/Hello Jamie—it’s way too informal
  2. Mrs/Miss—Ms is an equivalent for Mr and doesn’t imply marital status

Working on the Body of the Cover Letter

A hiring manager standing in her office talking on the phone and holding a pile of resumes

Source: Tima Miroshnichenko

A cover letter typically has two main paragraphs:

  1. Opening paragraph
  2. Main paragraph outlining pertinent skills and experience

But you don’t have to limit yourself to two—you can have more. As long as you keep your cover letter up to one page long, you can be flexible with the number of paragraphs. 

It’s even better to have several shorter chunks of text than one massive block that is downright boring and hard to read. Your goal is to make the recruiter read your cover letter, not bore them to death. 

Closing the Cover Letter

There are many ways to end letters, but not all are suitable for cover letters. Sincerely is probably the best way to close a cover letter, but there are other options:

AppropriateNot Appropriate
Regards
Best regards
Kind regards
Respectfully
Most sincerely
Affectionately
Best wishes
Fondly
Warm regards
Yours faithfully

The examples in the first column are the most appropriate and the most professional. Professionalism is what you should strive for when writing a cover letter, and the closing shouldn’t be an exception. So, as long as you don’t XOXO to Helen at the end, you should be just fine.

Signing the Electronic Cover Letter

Your full name goes under the complimentary closing. If you were sending your cover letter in the mail, you would undoubtedly sign it.

When sending a cover letter by email, if you have an electronic signature, you can use it. A hiring manager will appreciate it. Still, this isn’t obligatory.

Signing a document by typing your first and last name in the end is perfectly acceptable and prevalent in email correspondence. There is no need to print out your cover letter, sign it, scan it, and attach it to the email. 

Pessimistic About Your Chances? Tweak Your Cover Letter and Land an Interview!

A hiring manager and a candidate shaking hands

Source: Thirdman

Your cover letter has to go through two lines of defense before it reaches the goal. This means that your letter must get the green light from:

  1. An Applicant Tracking System—Software that companies use to filter applications and accelerate the recruitment process
  2. An actual human recruiter—A person whom the cover letter should impress if it gets past the ATS

You need to optimize your letter for both.

Optimizing Your Cover Letter for an ATS

While creative cover letters are great for some professions, any visual content is best left in a portfolio. Stylized cover letters look beautiful and engaging, but the trouble is that an ATS can’t read such documents. 

If you want to optimize your letter for an ATS, stick with the plain white background and black text. Steer clear of:

  • Colored text
  • Charts
  • Graphs
  • Tables
  • Text boxes

If you want your cover letter to stand out, embellish it with your skills and achievements, but keep the letter simple. You can also highlight your most valuable skills, professional achievements, and any other relevant information. To do that, bold them and list them as bullet points. You should also use numbers because an ATS can read them, and human eyes are naturally drawn to them. 

Even more importantly, read the job description carefully and use relevant keywords in your cover letter. Focus on skills, qualifications, years of experience, education, and anything particular that the job ad mentions. 

If you lack the necessary experience but the ad mentions required soft skills, you can use them as keywords. An ATS will notice that.

When it comes to the file format, ATSs can typically read both Word and PDF files. To be on the safe side, follow the instructions in the job posting—companies usually specify which format they need. 

Optimizing Your Cover Letter for the Recruiter

A recruiter in an office looking at resumes and cover letters

Source: Tima Miroshnichenko

Recruiters respond better to cover letters that are skimmable. It means that you have to make it easy for them to find the information they need. To do that, use:

  • Spacing—Makes the text look organized
  • Short paragraphs—Ensure you don’t end up with one big block of text that is hard to follow
  • Bold formatting—Helps you emphasize the most important elements (job title, company name, relevant skills) 
  • Bullet points—Allow you to arrange experience, qualifications, relevant skills, and projects you worked on in a list, which makes them more noticeable 
  • Readable fonts—Ensure your text is easy to read (interesting font styles may look pretty, but they are hard to read)

Recruiters don’t like seeing generic cover letters. You have to adapt your cover letter to the role you are applying for. It shows you have invested effort in your application for that particular position. 

Write an opening sentence that includes the company name and the exact role. Make it clear you aren’t sending the same cover letter to 20 different companies. 

Focus on skills and experience that are useful for the role. Emphasize why you would be a good addition to the company, not how the company can serve your career. 

Many content writing companies such as Essay Writer Pro are of the opinion that a good cover letter is based on a strong structure and, more importantly, relevant content, so there’s more work to be done once you get the outline part right.

Confused About Different Cover Letter Types? Choose the Right Type for You

Different types of cover letters serve different purposes. They each follow the same cover letter outline but emphasize various aspects. 

Aiming for that dream role? Use your job application letter to highlight any experience that makes you a perfect candidate for that job!

You’d love to join a company but are unsure if they’re hiring? Write a letter of interest expressing you’re open to discuss opportunities within that organization.

Here are some examples and explanations:

Type of a Cover LetterExplanation
Job application letterA traditional cover letter that applicants send along with their resume to apply for a particular role.
An applicant should emphasize skills relevant to the role they are applying for
Referral cover letterA cover letter that mentions the name of a person who referred an applicant to the position. It is an excellent way to pique a recruiter’s interest
Cold contact cover letterA letter sent to a company that hasn’t posted any job ads. In essence, this is your pitch explaining what you have to offer
Email cover letterA shorter and simpler version of a cover letter included in the body of an email to which a resume is attached.
Applicants lacking experience or having poor writing skills tend to opt for this type of a cover letter
Letter of interestA letter sent to inquire about potential job openings in a company, also known as a prospecting letter.
An applicant doesn’t focus on the skills relevant to any specific role but on what they know about the company, their general qualities, and what they have to bring to the table. 
The closing paragraph also has a different call to action. Instead of asking the company to schedule an interview, the applicant asks to be informed should an opportunity for employment arises

Solve the Job-Hunt Problem With Lensa

A surprised woman looking at her laptop

Source: Andrea Piacquadio

You have your super-convenient, easy-to-tweak cover letter outline. You are all set to apply for that perfect job. 

Now what? You’re about to spend days scrolling through job postings and switching from one job board to another. To make matters worse, data shows that you need to send six applications on average before you get to at least one interview!

Outline or no outline, the process of looking for a suitable job has never been a walk in the park.

The job hunt is even more stressful nowadays. Knowing that 4.2 million people have been without work for more than six months in 2021 isn’t encouraging. 

You also compete with 30% of job seekers who are actively browsing through job boards. 

And when you finally get to an interview, there is a real possibility that your personality and the company culture will clash—and you are back to square one. 

There is not much you can do about the facts and statistics, but you can do something about your job search process—you can try Lensa.

Lensa is a job aggregator that uses Artificial Intelligence to match users with jobs that not only meet their salary and location preferences but also suit their personalities. 

When you register, you will enjoy many benefits, including:

  • Access to numerous job boards that Lensa has formed partnerships with
  • Better chances of finding a suitable employer
  • An opportunity to play the Workstyle Game and learn more about yourself
  • SMS and email notifications with personalized job suggestions
  • An option to filter remote positions

Register for Lensa in No Time

To register for our platform, visit the Lensa website and:

  1. Add job title and location
  2. Click on the Search button
  3. Add your email address
  4. Click on the Submit button

There is a step five—initiate a stress-free and straightforward job search process. The second you complete your registration, you can begin browsing job listings. 

You also have the option to personalize your profile to get the most out of Lensa. You can:

  • Provide your full name
  • Add your phone number
  • Include desired compensation
  • Specify education level and work experience
  • Upload your resume

When you provide your phone number and more demographic data, you will start receiving job suggestions tailored to your preferences. If you choose to upload your resume, you will unlock Company Reviews and Matching Companies features. 

To learn more about your workstyle, professional strengths, and personality, you can play the Workstyle game immediately upon registration. After all, getting to know yourself better will help you find exactly what you are looking for.

Featured image: Mart Production

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