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General Guidelines for Cover Letter

Your cover letter ought to be set up in standard business letter format, including the following parts in the order listed:

  • Your return address

    Your return address includes your street address, city, state, zip code, and the dateline.

  • Your prospective employer's address

    Your prospective employer's address, also called an inside address, includes the contact person's name and title, the name of the company, the street address, city, state, and zip code. You can either put the person's name and title on the same line, or you can separate them on two separate lines.

    NOTE: never guess the gender of the contact person's name. Some names -- like Alex, Jan, Kelly, Loren, Mitch, Pat, and Randy -- can be either male or female. When in doubt, leave the Mr. or Ms. out.

  • Your salutation
    • Dear Mr. or Ms. is the standard salutation, followed by the person's last name and a colon.
    • Never address the letter to Dear Sir or To Whom It May Concern. Call and find out the name of the specific person who is doing the hiring, the correct spelling of his or her name, and the appropriate title. This only takes a few minutes, and recruiters appreciate people who take the time to find out who they are.
  • The body of your letter

    The body of your letter follows, using either indented paragraphs or flush left paragraphs. If you use flush left paragraphs, double-space between them.

  • Your signature block

    The signature block includes the closing and your typed name. The closing -- usually Sincerely or Sincerely Yours--appears double-spaced below the body of your letter and is followed by a comma. Your typed name, then, appears triple- or quadruple-spaced below that.

  • An enclosure reference

    An enclosure notation appears double-spaced below your signature block. It includes the word "Enclosure" or "Enc." followed by the word "Resume."

Spacing and Margins

  • Spacing should be standard. Your letter should be single-spaced with a double-space between the inside address and salutation, the salutation and the body of the letter, the body of the letter and the signature block, and the signature block and the enclosure reference. Spacing between your return address and the inside address can vary from 2 to 6 spaces, depending upon how your letter fits on the page.
  • Margins should make your letter look balanced on the page. A standard rule of thumb is to establish equal top and side margins, with a bottom margin that is a bit bigger -- ideally one-and-a-half times the size of the other margins.

Your Return Address and Signature Block

Your return address and the signature block can be flush with either the left or the right margins. But be consistent: if you put one on the left, put both there.

If you line up both address and signature block with the left margin, you'll probably want your paragraphs to be flush left too. This is a more modern form -- and also lets you fit more on the page. This can sometimes help if your letter is running to a second page. Most prospective employers prefer one-page cover letters.

 


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