You’ve heard the time-tested advice that selling yourself as a job candidate begins with your cover letter. It’s not exactly rocket science, but you do need to write your piece of communication to be both persuasive in content and professional in tone and appearance. Skew your words too much towards formality, and you don’t give recruiters a clear picture of who you are. If you sound too casual or “salesy,” your letter and resume may end up in “File 13.”

Striking such a balance takes effort, but it is possible. Use our cover letter format to create a compelling text that both shows your professionalism and hooks the hiring manager into reading it. We’ve included indispensable tips on structure and formatting along with a few pointers on content.

Cover Letter Format

Below, you’ll read a cover letter written by Jeff Stanhope. Jeff is a visual artist with over 20 years’ experience in consulting, leadership and creative positions. As part of his efforts to move from Athens, Georgia, to live closer to his grandchildren in Ohio, he’s searching for a job that matches his professional capabilities.

While Jeff is a veteran in his field, he understands the need to write an engaging cover letter as he applies for an assistant directorship position with an artists’ residency program in Columbus.

Dear Dr. Washington,

How many people do you know who have curated an art exhibit with Michael Stipe?

I have.

As Assistant Director of the Reverend Howard Finster Museum, in 2016 I worked with the former lead singer of R.E.M. to create a special exhibit in tribute to our organization’s namesake. Drawing from resources from Reverend Finster’s estate and consulting with local Athens artists and professionals who worked closely with him during his lifetime, we crafted a three-month event that showcased his creative output.

My specific work in artwork selection, marketing, and programming:

• Generated 6,000 new annual museum memberships
• Earned $1 million in additional revenue for the museum
• Made headlines in The New York Times and the Huffington Post

I bring a blend of leadership, business management, and public relations skills, with hands-on creative experience gained from a multi-decade freelance career and my current artist’s residency with the Wadsworth Jarrell Cultural Center. Your Rust Belt Residency relies heavily on the local arts culture and innovative approaches to promotions and marketing. Can we schedule a time to chat about how I can build stronger community ties and increase the Rust Belt Arts Center’s revenue?

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Jeff M. Stanhope

Is This a Good Cover Letter Format? Let’s Check

1. Did the letter start with a professional greeting?

Of course! Our jobseeker took the time to find the appropriate person to whom he’d address his letter. Usually, a little bit of research online or a phone call to the company will uncover the right individual if the hiring manager’s name is not included in the job advertisement. You’ll note that he also used her proper title in his greeting.

2. Does this letter include an attention-grabbing introduction?

Absolutely! As you can see in the cover letter format example, our writer used a one-liner that would make any recruiter sit up and take notice. He presented a unique fact about his career experience—in this case, his work with someone who is a major celebrity in both the music industry and contemporary art. Employing that single sentence as a hook, he pulled the reader into a description of a project that earned his organization additional revenue, members, and notoriety.

3. Is it evident that the jobseeker told a story in his letter?

Undoubtedly. Following his catchy opening sentence, he transitioned into a narrative with specific examples of how his distinctive skills and expertise will benefit an employer. He also used it as a chance to mention special achievements he’s accomplished, illustrated with bullet points listing quantifiable metrics.

4. Did the candidate show how he’d fit in the organization’s culture?

Our jobseeker definitely did. Before penning his communication, he would have performed some basic research about the arts center and its residency program. He called attention to its focus on the local arts culture, which he likely may have seen in its mission statement on its website or by evaluating its social media presence. Additionally, he matched that up with his own background working with local artists and community members in his previous position.

5. Did he close his letter by asking the hiring manager to contact him?

Yes, he did! “Ending with an ask” is somewhat similar to the concept of a “call to action,” used in marketing to convince readers to respond. When writing a cover letter, you need to be just as bold in encouraging the recruiter to read your resume and contact you for an interview. You see that our jobseeker balances enthusiasm with professionalism, convincing the reader to make the next move without seeming as if he’s begging.

The Most Important Cover Letter Format Takeaways

As you’ve now seen in this cover letter format example, there are several guidelines you’ll need to follow to ensure your letter gets noticed by hiring managers for the right reasons. Beginning with a professional greeting is essential, and follow up with a killer line or dynamic opening paragraph to keep your audience reading.

Telling a story is also a vital part of your strategy, as is making sure you draw attention to a few key career accomplishments in a bullet-point list. Finally, don’t forget to end your letter with an “ask.” Once you’ve polished your communication and proofread it for grammar and spelling issues, it’s ready to send. Observing these best practices results in a letter that both starts selling you as a worthy candidate and convinces the reader to look at your resume.