Best Cover Letter Format Guide for Internships

Written by Laura Riley
Updated April 24, 2017

Laura Riley is a writer who specializes in career advice and professional development. She has a Master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Miami University.


In this article, I will explain why the cover letter format is crucial to your success. I will show you how to best format your cover letter to improve your chances of getting an interview.

More specifically, here’s what I will cover:

  1. Why does the format of your cover letter matter?
  2. How do you format it?
  3. What is a cover letter?
  4. How long should your cover letter be?
  5. What types of cover letter formats are there?
    1. What does a Paragraph cover letter look like?
    2. What does a Bullet Point cover letter look like?
    3. What does a “Make-the-Match” cover letter look like?
    4. What does a “T-Format” cover letter look like?
  6. What font, margins, and paper should you use?
  7. How can you avoid common cover letter formatting mistakes?
  8. What are some formatting tips?

I bet you’ve experienced this before:

You meet a person and immediately think, “This person could be my new best friend.”

Or maybe it’s the opposite:

You meet someone and immediately don’t like them.

While your opinion may change over time, first impressions are undoubtedly important. From casual introductions to job applications, you want to make a good first impression.

When it comes to applying for an application, your cover letter provides an opportunity to make that critical good first impression with a potential employer. That’s why your cover letter—and how it’s formatted—is a big deal.

professionals shaking hands

Why Does the Format of a Cover Letter Matter?

According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 83% of recruiters spend 60 seconds or less reading an applicant’s cover letter

You may be thinking, “So why does a cover letter even matter?”.

If that’s the case, you’re missing the point.

stopwatch

Instead, you should be asking, “How can I make a good impression in 60 seconds?”

Recruiters sort through hundreds (if not thousands) of cover letters for each open position. Many of these applications are quickly tossed into the trash.

What's the bottom line?

The quality of your cover letter matters.

How Should I Format My Cover Letter?

Before I jump into formatting specifics, I want to explain the purpose of a cover letter. You want to accomplish three main goals in your letter:

  1. Introduce yourself to a prospective employer.
  2. Communicate your interest in a specific position and company.
  3. Explain how you’re a well-qualified candidate for the position.

While there are different formats, every well-written cover letter includes an introduction, body, and closing.

  • Introduction: introduces yourself and explains why you are writing.

  • Body: communicates how you’re qualified for the position and why the employer should interview you.

  • Conclusion: summarizes your qualifications and thanks the employer for their time.

In addition, there are several formatting rules you need to follow regarding the header, date, address, salutation, length, margins, font size, font style, color, quantity of paragraphs, and bullet point usage. I will cover these later in the article.

What Is a Cover Letter?

When you apply for a job, you typically submit an application, resumé, and professional cover letter. The cover letter provides additional information, or expands on information briefly listed on your resumé. It’s your opportunity to communicate why you’re the best candidate for the job.

A cover letter should never regurgitate the same information that’s on your resumé. By repeating information, you waste an opportunity to share more of your professional story.

After the employer reads your cover letter, you want them to read your resumé, check out your LinkedIn profile, visit your online portfolio, and most importantly, invite you to an interview.

How Long Should Your Cover Letter Be?

While a cover letter gives you a chance to tell your story, you aren’t writing a novel. A cover letter should never be longer than one, single-spaced page. Your letter will generally be 200-400 words long.

It’s best to use standard 1-inch margins, but margins as small as .5 inches are appropriate. Whatever size you choose, make sure the margins are consistent on all sides.

What Types of Cover Letter Formats Are There?

There are several different formats for cover letters. The format you decide to use will ultimately depend on your level of experience and the type of position you’re applying for. I’ll show you four different types:

  1. Paragraph cover letter
  2. Bullet-point cover letter
  3. “Make-the-Match” cover letter
  4. T-Format cover letter

I’ll describe each format, share a full-length example, discuss who should use each type, and outline the benefits and challenges of each option. I’ll also provide tips for overcoming the common challenges. Read through each option before determining which format is most appropriate for you.

Let’s start with the most common format: the paragraph cover letter.

paragraph cover letter1. Paragraph Cover Letters (Most Common)

A traditional cover letter is written in paragraph form. At times, this format is also referred to as standard, or block format. A standard, paragraph cover letter is comprised of 3-5 short paragraphs.

thick book

It’s important to break your cover letter into bite-size paragraphs. If you opened up a textbook to one solid block of text, you’d quickly be overwhelmed by the prospect of reading it. And let’s be real—you might actually close the book and not even start. The same goes for someone reading your cover letter. They aren’t interested in reading a dense novel that explains every single professional experience. Break it up into shorter paragraphs.

Who Should Use a Paragraph Cover Letter?

A traditional, paragraph cover letter can be used by every professional, at any level, in any industry. The sample below is a senior college student applying for an internship.

Example of a Paragraph Cover Letter


Dear Andi Thompson,

When I discovered the marketing internship position with XYZ Digital Agency on Internships.com, I was excited by the chance to complement my academic coursework with hands-on experience. In May, I will graduate with a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from the University of Southern California. I am qualified for this position based on my marketing coursework, leadership experience at USC, and my on-campus position with the Office of Student Activities and Greek Life.

Over the past three years, I have completed several marketing courses including Advertising and Promotion Management, Professional Selling, and New Product Development and Branding. Through these courses, I have learned how to grow and manage strong brands by fulfilling the needs of customers and developing long-term relationships. I will leverage this knowledge to advance XYZ Digital Agency’s marketing projects.

Additionally, I am involved in our on-campus Association of Innovative Marketing Consulting (AIM), a student-run organization that provides consultancy services for a wide-range of clients. As the Vice President of the organization, I lead a group of 30+ students and coordinate semester-long projects from start to finish.

Lastly, I work in the Office of Student Activities and Greek Life planning and promoting events. I have learned how to determine target audiences, cater to their needs, and engage them through numerous social media channels. This experience will prove advantageous when implementing social media campaigns for your clients.

My marketing coursework, leadership experience, and on-campus position have prepared me well for the marketing internship position with XYZ Digital Agency. I am very interested in this opportunity and look forward to speaking with you soon. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Amari Jones 


What Are the Pros and Cons of Paragraph Cover Letters?

There are undoubtedly pros and cons to every cover letter format. Recruiters and hiring managers prefer different formats for different reasons. Assess your situation, where you’re applying, and your level of experience. Below are several pros and cons to the standard, paragraph cover letter.

Pros

Cons

  1. As a traditional letter, the format helps you tell a cohesive story. There are no bullet points or bold words breaking up your narrative.


  2. You can explain your involvement in more detail than possible on your resumé. Rather than simply listing your involvement, in a cover letter you can explain exactly what you do and how it relates to the position you are applying for.
  1. Because this is a traditional format, it can be hard to break out of the box
    and distinguish yourself.

    How to Overcome: Integrate your personality and what makes you unique.


  2. Since a paragraph letter is written in blocks, it can be easy to ramble. If you write 5+ paragraphs, recruiters may think it’s too long.

    How to Overcome: Focus on what is most important and write a few short paragraphs (2-4 sentences long).

 


>>> SEE MORE Student Cover Letter Examples


bullet point cover letter2. Bullet Point Cover Letters

A bullet point cover letter is similar to a traditional cover letter. You still include an introduction, body, and conclusion, but you present your main qualifications through bullet points.

student internEach bullet point highlights one relevant skill, qualification, or experience. For example, you may highlight your coursework, past internship experience, degree, leadership involvement, or your communication skills. Each bullet point consists of only one or two brief sentences.

Who Should Use a Bullet Point Cover Letter?

A bullet point cover letter can be used by every professional, at any level, in any industry (just like the traditional letter). It is particularly appropriate for college students applying for internships, or individuals who lack experience.

Example of a Bullet Point Cover Letter


Dear Andi Thompson,

I was immediately drawn to the marketing internship position with XYZ Digital Agency on Internships.com. It provides an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in my desired field of study. In May, I will graduate with a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from the University of Southern California. I am qualified for this position based on my marketing coursework, leadership experience at USC, and my on-campus position with the Office of Student Activities and Greek Life.

  • Marketing Coursework:I have completed marketing courses including Advertising and Promotion Management, Professional Selling, and New Product Development and Branding. I know how to grow and manage strong brands.

  • Association of Innovative Marketing Consulting (AIM):I am the Vice President of a student-run organization that provides consultancy services for a wide-range of clients. I lead a group of 30+ students and coordinate semester-long projects.

  • Office of Student Activities and Greek Life:I help plan and promote events. I have learned how to engage our target audiences through social media channels.

My coursework, leadership experience, and on-campus position have prepared me well for the marketing internship position with XYZ Digital Agency. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Sincerely,

Amari Jones


What Are the Pros and Cons of Bullet Point Cover Letters?

As I mentioned, there are pros and cons to each type of format. Many recruiters appreciate cover letters that are short and sweet. Since recruiters sort through hundreds of cover letters each day, a bullet point cover letter can make their job easier.

Right now, listicles (or articles in list-format) like “25 things you must know about macaroni”, or “10 cats you need in your life today” are popular. People enjoy reading listicles because they’re easy to skim. It’s the same with cover letters. Many recruiters enjoy cover letters that use bullet points because they’re easy to read.

Pros

Cons

  1. A bullet point cover letter forces you to simplify your ideas. What are the three main points you want to convey? This helps you stay on point.


  2. People love listicles because they’re easy to read. Same with bullet point cover letters. A recruiter can quickly digest the main points.
  1. If you highlight three irrelevant points, you may seem unqualified—like you didn’t even read the job description.

    How to Overcome: Make sure your bullet points are relevant and tailored to each unique company and position.


  2. Since you break your cover letter into bullet points, the end product can appear choppy.

    How to Overcome: Tie together the three main points in one sentence. For example, “I am qualified for this position based on my [point 1], [point 2], and [point 3].”

 


RELATED >>> See How to Write a Cover Letter for Internships


make the match cover letter3. Make-the-Match Cover Letters

The third cover letter format is what I like to call “make-the-match”. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You’re matching your qualifications to what the company seeks. It can instantly demonstrate that you’re the perfect candidate.

Think about it like a date.

Let’s say you’re setting up two friends, Finley and Jamie, on a blind date. You know Jamie appreciates humor and Finley is incredibly funny. You know Jamie enjoys hiking and Finley is an environmental studies major. You’re making the match. It’s a similar process when writing a make-the-match cover letter.

Like the previous formats, you start with an opening paragraph and close with a conclusion. The central paragraph is where things differ.

Rather than write a traditional paragraph cover letter, or a more succinct bullet point cover letter, you list 3-4 requirements the employer seeks and respond with your own matching qualifications.

This is a great way to ensure the content of your cover letter demonstrates the qualifications that are most relevant to the position and company you’re applying for.

Who Should Use a Make-the-Match Cover Letter?

The format of this cover letter necessitates some experience. You could use this when applying for your first full-time position, or shortly after you graduate.

Example of a Make-the-Match Cover Letter


Dear Andi Thompson,

When I discovered the marketing internship position with XYZ Digital Agency on Internships.com, I was excited by the chance to complement my academic coursework with hands-on experience. In May, I will graduate with a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from the University of Southern California. I am qualified for this position based on my marketing coursework, leadership experience at USC, and my on-campus position.

Given your most critical needs, this is how I can make an immediate impact with your organization:

Advance XYZ Digital Agency’s marketing projects. Over the past three years, I have completed several marketing courses including Advertising and Promotion Management, Professional Selling, and New Product Development. I know how to grow and manage strong brands by fulfilling the needs of customers and developing long-term relationships.

Provide consultancy services to XYZ Digital Agency’s diverse clients. I am involved in our on-campus Association of Innovative Marketing Consulting (AIM), a student-run organization that provides consultancy services. As the Vice President of the organization, I lead a group of 30+ students and coordinate semester-long projects.

Implement social media campaigns for your clients. I work in the Office of Student Activities and Greek Life planning and promoting events. I have learned how to determine target audiences, cater to their needs, and engage them through numerous social media channels.

I am very interested in this opportunity and look forward to speaking with you soon. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Amari Jones


What Are the Pros and Cons of Make-the-Match Cover Letters?

Pros

Cons

  1. The name says it all. By making the match, you connect what the employer seeks to your qualifications. This is a great way to tailor your cover letter to the position and company.
  1. If you miss the mark and highlight three irrelevant points, you will appear unqualified.

    How to Overcome: Make sure your bullet points are relevant and tailored to each unique company and position.

t format cover letter4. T-Format Cover Letters

A fourth option is to format the body of the cover letter into two columns. This is called a “T-Format” cover letter. In the left column, you highlight exactly what you can do for the company. In the right column, you include evidence to support your claim. This format is very similar to the “make-the-match” format, but instead of organizing the content in paragraphs, it’s sorted into two columns.

This is how the main section of a T-Format cover letter looks:

You Seek:

I Bring:

Advance XYZ Digital Agency’s marketing projects.

I have completed marketing courses including Advertising, Professional Selling, and Product Development. I have learned how to grow and manage strong brands by fulfilling the needs of customers.

Provide consultancy services to XYZ Digital Agency’s diverse clients.

I am involved in our on-campus Association of Innovative Marketing Consulting (AIM), a student-run organization that provides consultancy services. As the Vice President of the organization, I lead a group of 30+ students and coordinate semester-long projects.

Implement social media campaigns for your clients.

I work in the Office of Student Activities and Greek Life planning and promoting events. I have learned how to determine target audiences, cater to their needs, and engage them through social media channels.

What Are the Pros and Cons of T-Format Cover Letters?

Benefits

Challenges

  1. Connects what the employer seeks with the qualifications you offer. You’re saying, “I’m exactly what you’re looking for and here’s how!”
  1. As a non-traditional format, it can be harder to digest a t-format cover letter. 

    How to Overcome: Label your columns clearly. For example, “What you seek” and “What I bring.”


What Should You Know About Font, Margins, and Paper?

Font

When choosing a font, make sure it’s easy to read. Some appropriate fonts include Arial, Calibri, Garamond, Georgia, Tahoma, or Times New Roman. Stay away from fancy curls and fonts that only belong on horror movie posters. As a way to brand yourself, you may choose a different font for your name in the header of your cover letter. Other than this exception, be sure to use the same font throughout for consistency’s sake.

Use size 10- to 12-point font. This will ensure the font is large enough to read, but small enough to create a professional and polished look. You’re not writing a children’s book, or a large print book for your grandparents.

Margins

It’s best to use standard 1-inch margins, but you may use margins as small as .5 inches. Whatever you choose, be sure the margins are consistent on all sides.

Paper

Your cover letter needs to reflect your professionalism. One way to do this is to use paper to help convey this message. While you’ll typically submit your resumé and cover letter via email or an online system, there are times when it’s necessary to print your documents.

For example, when you:

  • Hand out your cover letter to multiple recruiters at a career fair
  • Bring along extra copies of your cover letter to an in-person interview
  • Mail in a hard-copy of your application

If you’re printing your cover letter for any of these reasons, it’s best to use black ink on white, cream, or ivory paper. While paper may seem like a minor detail, your paper still contributes to the first impression.

If you can’t afford, or do not have access to high-quality, thick resumé paper, then regular 8.5” x 11” paper will do the trick. If you’re lucky, your university Career Center may actually provide resumé paper and printing services.

5 Common Cover Letter Format Mistakes to Avoid


  1. Don’t make it too short. While a cover letter is undoubtedly short (no longer than one page), make sure your letter isn’t too short. A cover letter that’s too short, like “Attached you will find my enclosed resumé,” signifies a lazy, uninformed applicant. Take advantage of this opportunity to showcase your skills and qualifications.

  2. Refrain from being too text heavy. You can also make the opposite mistake by writing a cover letter that’s too text heavy. Even if you fit it on one page, if you cram too much information in, the recruiter may not have time to sort through your letter and determine what’s important. Instead, focus on the most relevant skills you can provide and cut the rest. If it doesn’t directly apply to the position and company—get rid of it.

  3. Don’t use a font that’s hard to read. One of the worst—and most heartbreaking—mistakes you can make is to write an excellent cover letter, but use a font (or font size) that’s hard to read. You don’t want the recruiter to strain her eyes, or have to work, to understand your cover letter.

  4. Don’t make it too complex. You’re not writing a research paper. Simplify. I see it all the time. Applicants want to tell a potential employer every little detail. This is understandable. I get that you want to make a good impression, but overcompensating and adding way too much information doesn’t help your chances. Simplify your content. This will help highlight what’s most important.

  5. Don’t copy and paste a template. If you search the internet for how to write a cover letter, you’ll discover a multitude of cover letter templates. While these templates may be a great place to start, you still need to tailor the content. Insert your personality and write something unique. Recruiters can easily distinguish templates from tailored and personalized letters.

5 Cover Letter Format Tips


  1. Use the correct name of the hiring manager or recruiter in your salutation. It’s no longer acceptable to use “To Whom it May Concern”. We have the technology to find a real name. Do a little bit of detective work. If the company does not list a hiring manager on the job description itself, you can check the company website or search on LinkedIn. If you still can’t find a name, address your letter to: “Dear hiring manager” as a last resort. This is more common in large organizations with complex hiring processes.

  2. Match the formatting of your resumé and cover letter. Your application, resumé, and cover letter, are a way to communicate your professional brand. When it comes to formatting cover letters and resumés, it’s advantageous to use a consistent font and style. Not only is this aesthetically pleasing, but it creates a uniform brand that is uniquely you.

  3. Carefully proofread your letter. I can’t say this enough. From your margins to the size of your font, you don’t want errors. Inconsistencies and typos can quickly disqualify you from an application pool. While it may seem petty to trash an applicant because they used a 10-point font in their introduction and 12-point font in their conclusion, this signifies a lack of attention to detail. Make sure you proofread your letter. Some effective ways to proofread include:
    • Read your cover letter out loud.
    • Use the text-to-speech function on your computer and have your computer read your cover letter out loud.
    • Ask a friend or mentor to review your cover letter.

  4. Or better yet, do all three!

  5. Stick to what’s most relevant. You can avoid the issue of rambling and boring the recruiter by sticking to what’s most relevant. Take a look at the job description and focus on exactly what they’re asking for. You don’t want to overwhelm the recruiter with blocks of text. Focus on the most relevant qualifications and rely on your resumé and (hopefully) an interview to tell the rest of your story!

  6. If you start with a template, de-template it.What I mean by de-template is, don’t submit something that looks like you downloaded it from the internet and filled in your name and major. There’s nothing wrong with using a template to get started, but make sure the end product is uniquely you. Ensure that any ideas from the template blend with your own ideas.

Putting It All Together

While the format of your cover letter may seem like a small detail, it’s not. It signifies professionalism and your attention to detail.

While you want your cover letter to reflect your uniqueness, don’t get super creative with the formatting, font, or design. Always make sure you include a header with your contact information, the date you’re applying, the company address, a greeting, an intro, body, and conclusion.

Your situation will dictate what type of cover letter you choose to write—whether you use a standard block format, bullet points, or a “make-the-match”.

Remember, first impressions matter. Take time to craft a professional, polished, well-formatted cover letter.

Related >>> 13 Cover Letter Tips and Tricks for Achieving Greatness in 2017