[ Skip Main Nav ]

Phoenix Forward

7 tips for cover letters

Cover letter tips

If you want to be a standout in a job search, sending a proper cover letter along with your resumé can be a great way to get a leg up, says Randy Miller, vice president of career counseling services at Phoenix Career Services.

But what are the rules for formatting and sending a cover letter in the digital age? Here are Miller’s words of advice on how to create a relevant cover letter today:


Send both email and printed versions.

Miller suggests sending both email and snail mail copies of cover letters, along with resumés. “In today’s world, busy folks get a lot of emails so, as a backup, why not send both versions and ensure it gets read?”

Pay attention to formatting.

Format both email and hard-copy versions of the letter the same way, in standard business letter format, with your address (both mail and email) at the top, followed by the date and recipient’s name and address below it — all on the left margin.

“Be sure and do your research, and include the person’s name who the letter is going to,” Miller advises. “Using the phrase ‘to whom it may concern’ should be avoided at all costs.”

For the email version, Miller suggests saving your cover letter as a PDF and attaching it along with your resumé. It’s more professional to use an attachment, he says, and some large companies are wary of opening Word® documents.

Address your letter appropriately.

When approaching a large corporation, definitely use Mr. or Ms. Last name in the address, Miller emphasizes. For smaller organizations or nonprofits, first names came be used in a letter or email.

Write your subject line carefully.

How you identify your cover letter in the subject line is important, Miller stresses. In addition, for the best chance at having your letter opened, he suggests using the name of the company in the subject line, followed by the job title and your name, as in ABC Company/Sales Job/John Smith.

Choose your attachment labels wisely.

To make it easier on the recipient, label your cover letter and resumé documents as: cover letter/John Smith and resumé/John Smith.

Miller also recommends sending yourself a blind carbon copy each time you email a letter, so you have it for your personal records.

Edit your letter.

Cover letters should be concise, roughly three paragraphs long, and should give concrete examples of how your experience and skills meet the job qualifications, as well as focus on what you can do for the organization rather than on what the company can do for you.

Keep the content of the email short, too: “Please find my cover letter and resumé attached for your review. As your schedule allows, please confirm receipt, so I know you have received it.”

Treat blind inquiries appropriately.

All of the above tips apply when writing a letter applying for a specific job. However, when writing a general letter to inquire about job openings, Miller doesn’t suggest writing a formal letter.

“I think the formality of the cover letter is for an end-game deliverable: securing an interview,” he says. “Call me old-fashioned, but if you just want a question answered about whether there are job opportunities, you should pick up the phone and call HR and ask the question.”


Word is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corp. in the U.S. and/or other countries.

Interested in furthering your education?

Explain employment gaps

Address any mysteries on your resumé with more details in your cover letter.