how should I format a cover letter?

A reader writes:

Could you elaborate more about how formatting should be done on a cover letter?

For example, should paragraphs be justified or should they use a ragged right edge? I use a cover letter format that appears sort of as a form of my own custom stationary – the top of my letter has my full name, mailing address, phone number, and email address. The “signature” panel of my cover letter has a scanned/cleaned up image of my actual signature, so it looks like a real letter.

Are these types of style decisions bad? I have both received internship offers using this and had hiring managers “pass” on my application. I just cannot tell if they are good to include or not.

No one cares! Seriously. No one cares.

What matters is that your letter is neatly formatted and professional looking. There are lots of different ways to achieve that — left justified text, full justified text, indented paragraphs, non-indented paragraphs, scanned signature, typed signature, letterhead, no letterhead — it really doesn’t matter. Neat and professional is all that anyone is going to care about. Neat and professional means that you have line breaks between paragraphs, that your font is black, and that you have an appropriate salutation (“Dear hiring manager,” “Dear Alison,” or “Dear Ms. Green”) and an appropriate closing (“Sincerely, Cecil Warbucks”). That’s basically it.

You’ll certainly find plenty of preferences out there, but no one is going to reject you over using left justified text or other little formatting details. No one cares that much, and besides, they know there are multiple acceptable ways to do this, regardless of their personal preferences.

(For the record, my personal preferences say that what you’re doing is overkill; I don’t need an electronic submission to look like a “real” letter. But if that’s your bag, go right ahead. I care no more than I care whether you use Times or Calibri, which is not at all.)

You’re thinking too much about this. Put that thought into the content of your letter instead, because that’s where it really matters.

{ 226 comments… read them below }

  1. YandO

    If emailing a resume, is it better to put cover letter in the body of the email or as an attachment?

    When submitting cover letter/resume as one document which one should come first?

    1. fposte

      I prefer the cover letter as an attachment so that it can be easily circulated, but we’ll just copy and paste if it’s not sent as an attachment.

      1. BRR

        I agree with this. Since it usually has to be circulated I think it’s better as an attachment. That being said it’s a matter of convenience and shouldn’t be a decision maker.

      2. HeyNonnyNonny

        Oh, that’s interesting. I always thought it was better to put in the body since otherwise you have an awkward blank email.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Don’t do a blank email! Just “Please find attached my application materials for the X position. Thanks for your consideration. Sincerely, Joe Smith.”

          1. Omne

            I hate to think of how many blank emails with attachments I’ve deleted because I thought they got sent accidently. Sometimes you just don’t notice the attachment line.

        2. BRR

          You can still compose an email. Just a short thing saying what you’re applying for and your materials are attached. I would find it very strange for a candidate to apply and just attach their materials.

        3. Persephone Mulberry

          Don’t leave the email blank! Just include something short and sweet like,

          “Dear hiring manager,
          Attached please find my cover letter and resume for the Senior Teapot Analyst position. I look forward to hearing from you.
          Sincerely,
          Persephone Mulberry”

          1. HeyNonnyNonny

            Aha, thanks! That language solves my dilemma without me resorting to the later-mentioned double cover letter.

        4. Miles

          I’ve had some success by copy-pasting my cover letter into the email body as well as attaching the document as a PDF.

    2. super anon

      This might be overkill, but I do both. I’ll copy and paste the text into the email body, and I’ll also attach a .pdf version of my cover letter so that if it needs to be printed/circulated it can be done easily. This has an added bonus because my cover letter template matches my resume in terms of aesthetic, so it looks more polished and put together if they are to look at the .pdf.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Please don’t do that! No one is going to reject you over it, but it’s annoying. Some candidates have a weird thing where the cover letter they attach is different/longer than the one in the body of the email, so I check both, which takes extra time. Pick one or the other; don’t do both.

        1. super anon

          Oh, oops. I think I’m getting worse at job applying! I just started doing this recently because I thought I was making it easier on hiring managers (previously I had just been putting my cover letter in the email body) who I might want to print the cover letter. I guess I was wrong on that front haha.

          1. Another Holly

            I’ve been doing this too. They are always the same but I’ve attached a PDF for convenience. Well, I won’t do that ever again.

  2. HigherEd Admin

    No ones cares! Seriously. No one cares.

    +1

    The only thing I roll my eyes at is when I receive a cover letter that uses a standard font throughout, but then uses a cursive font for the signature, as if you are fooling me into thinking that’s your real signature. Either upload a photo of your signature, or sign your name in the same font with which you’ve typed the rest of your letter.

    1. OP

      Just for clarification (as I am the reader who asked the question), I am not currently using a “cursive” font, but an actual, honest-to-goodness scanned version of my actual signature (written, with a pen, on paper).

      1. HigherEd Admin

        Oh, totally understood what you were saying! Was just throwing the cursive thing out there as an additional weirdness (like what Joey talks about below).

  3. Joey

    Please no weirdness. No comic sans, no scripts, no watermarks, no borders, no weird margins, and no LinkedIn icons.

    Just give me something to read that sounds like it was written by you, not some template you thought sounded good.

    1. OP

      Not a template. All letters are personalized and tailored to the job at hand, and nothing fancy either. Just a scanned signature with a Times New Roman cover letter with a slight alteration (for return address) to the standard “business letter” style format.

        1. OP

          By return address, I mean contact information. It does include a mailing address (I have had companies mail me information in reply to a digital communication), but also email address, phone number, etc.

          Also, as a PDF, I find it odd to see cover letters that just “begin” with “Dear X:” To me, it seems unprofessional. I mean, you could have just submitted a “.txt” document if you were not going to format or add other information. All of my cover letters have the contact information of the company, who it is going to, the greeting, the body of the letter, my signature panel, and my contact information. Then again, I’m not the hiring manager, so maybe my approach is entirely unwarranted.

          1. YandO

            It seems odd to me to include company’s address in a cover letter that is being emailed or submitted via online form.

          2. some1

            I feel like you might be putting too much emphasis on presentation over content. Business emails rarely have contact info of the recipient, like a snail mail letter does, and *your* contact info should be on your resume anyway. Although you could include a line like “Feel free to contact me to discuss this position via email at ___ or by phone at ____”

            1. OP

              I might be, but I also feel that the type of person who cares about both content and presentation is someone I would like to work with. If someone writes a great cover letter, but just throws it in a word document and uploads it to a site with no care or thought about presentation tells me that they are either lazy or are not what they appear to be.

              Again, maybe I’m wrong here, but I look at a poorly presented resume/cover letter like showing up to an interview at a Fortune 500 company in jeans and a T-shirt. Sure, you might be a great candidate, but if you can’t present yourself properly, it tells me you don’t respect me, the position, or the company. But again, I’m not in a position of hiring, so I might be way off base.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                But we’re not talking about poor presentation; no one is suggesting that. What we’re saying is that you’re going beyond the basics here, and it’s not necessary; it’s wasted time and energy in this particular context.

              2. some1

                It’s not “poor presentation” to not try to make a cover letter look like a business snail mail letter. That’s like saying McDonald’s has a poor presentation because they don’t have table settings.

              3. jag

                The analogy isn’t t-shirts versus a suit. It’s a well-fitting suit from JC Penney versus a superbly fitting suit from Brooks Brothers. The latter is a nicer thing, but should’t and almost certainly won’t matter much in most situations (in this case, it might matter if the position was in fashion or perhaps in dealing with clients who wear high-end suits).

                “but just throws it in a word document and uploads it to a site”

                Business letters are simple things. The norms are good enough. It’s not appropriate in business to spend a lot of time finessing the layout of every single letter, other than avoiding weird breaks between pages. (Stationery design is worth a bit more thought but that should be done once, and then settled. )

                1. jag

                  PS – I interviewed two people for a temp job today. Both were dressed fine – I think navy suits but am not sure it was slacks or a skirt on the bottom of either or both of them. It just doesn’t matter as long as it’s in the ballpark.

              4. Tinker

                Well, think of it this way — when you’re writing your comments on this blog, it certainly looks as if you did it by typing what you wanted to say in the text box provided, and left the formatting up to the site. If you really cared about presentation at all times regardless of context, conceivably you could typeset that response within an inch of its life, upload the result somewhere, and provide a link to it in your comment.

                Yet, this did not happen. I’d guess that the reason is probably something other than you being the “type of person” who does not care about presentation and is disrespectful towards this site and the participants thereon — probably something more along the lines of that this isn’t an appropriate environment for a paper-formatted business email, that doing so can impair usability, and that the relevant part of the communication is the content rather than the formatting.

                Coincidentally, these are the same reasons that someone might choose to send their cover letter in a format that is relatively unadorned. Or, if they apply their own standards universally in the way you’re suggesting, why they would conclude that a heavily formatted cover letter is a sure sign that you are a “type of person” who elevates fiddling with minor details of presentation over substance.

                As a general rule, “reading the tea leaves” — trying to draw sweeping conclusions from extremely indirect and ambiguous signs — is not a good practice to engage in when hiring or to attempt to indulge when endeavoring to be hired. In the latter case, the primary reason to avoid this is because it is impossible — while any individual hiring manager may have a given set of superstitions one way or another, in the aggregate these cannot be predicted.

                About the only thing that can be done here is to decide to present yourself in a way that you like, so that the set of people who like your stuff are people who like things that you like — but there isn’t a moral weight on one or another choice, as you suggest here. It’s the equivalent of wearing a red shirt so that you’re more likely to work with people who like red, not a way of encoding the super secret signals that indicate the quality of your personal character.

              5. Another Holly

                That someone could also be using a Mac and exporting a document to a word doc in order to fit the requirements of the application is a bit of a crapshoot. You never really know how the formatting will look on the other end. It has absolutely nothing to do with an inability to present yourself well or lack of respect to the company.

          3. Persephone Mulberry

            I’m kind of with you on this…my name/contact info is formatted “letterhead style” on both my cover letter and resume, and the rest of my cover letter is formatted like a traditional business letter: date, full address of the company I’m addressing, salutation, body, closing, attachment line. Even if it is going via email.

            Hiring managers may not care, but I’m obsessive about presentation and I’m okay with that (as long as it’s not interfering with the bottom line – getting the letter sent out).

            1. Koko

              As a resume screener I wouldn’t care whether or not you included my company’s full address on your cover letter – TBH I probably wouldn’t even notice whether you did it or not because it’s neither something I’m looking for nor something that looks glaringly out of place.

              The main thing I’d worry about is that you’re losing 3-5 lines of space that you could be using to add another couple of sentences selling yourself. You only get so much space on a page, and it can be hard to write a compelling cover letter when 1/3 of the page is already eaten up by an elaborate header. But if you can fit everything you need to say AND a big header without going over one page, it doesn’t matter.

              1. Oryx

                Huh — I’m with Persephone and have always included it because I’m obsessive about presentation, and I can understand how in the technology era it doesn’t matter but I had never thought before about how I’m losing 3-5 lines of space by doing that.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yeah, Joey is right. That’s the convention when you’re doing mailed correspondence. It’s not necessary (fine, but not necessary) for an emailed job application.

          You’re tending toward overkill with your thinking on all of this :)

        3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          I have my home address in the footer on my resume (and maybe also my cover letter? I don’t remember) – just so folks know I’m a local candidate (which you can’t tell from my last job, in which I lived and worked in Minnesota for a nonprofit based in NY).

  4. Rebecca

    Well, the right justified paragraphs may have mattered back in the mid-80’s, since that would scream “hey look at me, I’m using WordPerfect and didn’t type this on an IBM Selectric”, and showed a certain level of new computer skills. I think as long as you don’t use a weird font, and especially not comic sans, all will be well.

    1. OP

      Hah! That’s actually pretty funny. I never considered the association with full justification and word processor vs. typewriter.

      The reason I was curious about the full justification vs. left justified was that I tend to prefer full justification, since it makes the right side very “clean”. That said, I have heard people complain that full justification creates odd spacing between words in the body of the paragraphs, which is why I was concerned. I have had people circle these odd spaces and mention something about “too many spaces here” – that sort of thing.

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

        If you really like full justification, you can set up hyphenation rules in Word (Google “word hyphenation settings”) that will help eliminate the weird spacing issues you sometimes get. Word will automatically add hyphens at the end of lines to make the spacing more even. You have to be careful to proofread, though, or you’ll end up with words hyphenated in weird places or stacks of hyphens at the end of lines (two in a row is okay, three is not).

        It doesn’t work as well as InDesign’s hyphenation rules, but it’s better than nothing.

        1. OP

          I’ll have to take a look at this. I use Word primarily for my cover letter and resume, but LaTeX for all other major documents. I have found that LaTeX handles hyphenation and full justification really well, or much better than Word, at least. It just always seemed like too much work to build a cover letter and resume in LaTeX.

          1. Tau

            You can totally do a resume and cover letter in LaTeX! I did – I grabbed a nice CV template off the net and fiddled with it a bit until I decided I liked the way it looked, and I just used the standard letter class for my cover letter. Result: lovely professional-looking PDF files. It did take a few hours to get the formatting sorted for the CV/figure out how the letter class worked, but that’s a one-time investment and partially due to me being very fussy and not wanting to go with the CV template as it was.

            The one warning I have on this front is that I’ve been asked for my CV in Word before… easy enough if you wrote it in Word and then converted to pdf, but tricky if you used LaTeX. I ended up spending half an hour copying my CV into Word and of course that version had absolutely minimal formatting.

      2. Ellie H

        I personally dislike full justification for that reason, it seems unnatural and I find the odd spacing, or hyphens, very visually unappealing (this is literally just what I like to look at personally, not what I think is professional or unprofessional!).

        1. jag

          Full justification can look good, depending on the software and settings used to create it. If someone is using MS Word defaults, it will look bad. With the right settings in good software (such as InDesign or other professional layout software) it can look good.

          Flush left/ragged right looks much better in the vast majority of cases on MS Word. Most people should use that, and frankly that’s more of a business standard nowadays. – it’s never wrong for correspondence.

      3. TheLazyB

        I’ve always been told that left alignment is better for accessibility purposes, because fully justified text is harder to read for those with dyslexia. I used to prefer fully justified but I have changed my preferences (and funnily enough my last job changed their house style to mirror this while I was there, nothing to do with me!).

      4. Connie-Lynne

        I would personally find a fully justified cover letter odd, but that’s because I expect to see cover letters in plaintext. It’s still a safe assumption in my industry (tech) that at least one person getting your cover letter is going to be reading it on the equivalent of a terminal.

        1. Oryx

          The CIA sometimes has job openings in my field (non-intelligence, non-agent in the traditional CIA sense). If I ever apply I kind of want to write my cover letter than change the font to Wingdings just because I think that’s brilliant and I know applying to the CIA is very much nothing to lose, so might as well.

    1. Sara

      I would never use Comic Sans in a professional document that was targeted at adults…but I have to laugh a little every time I see something along the lines of “Down with Comic Sans!” because it’s my go-to font when I have to print stuff for my very young students! (Comic Sans has a very friendly lowercase “a” that looks more like how most people I know write the letter by hand.)

      1. NutellaNutterson

        There’s a new comic sans alternative (not comic papyrus, which I wish I could have installed as an April fools prank) that is slightly less comic-y. However almost any sans typeface still has the 1/l/I problem, which is so unkind to new readers!

  5. Emily, admin extraordinaire

    Typesetting note: You only need line breaks between paragraphs when you don’t indent the first line of the paragraph. The indent and the line break both serve the same function– to indicate that a new paragraph has started. If you indent, you don’t need the line break. If you don’t indent, you do. We’ve gotten so used to the no-indent-space-after style because of the web (and because Word does it as default, which I hate), but in printed publications, you’re more likely to see first-line-indented-no-space formatting.

    That said, standard business letter style is no-indent-space-after, as is electronic communication, so feel free to skip the first-line indent in your cover letters, whether you’ve formatted them as a PDF attachment or you’re just typing them in the body of an email.

  6. Persephone Mulberry

    And, if you (general you) are sending your documents as Word files (hopefully only in those instances where the ad specifies ONLY Word is acceptable, and PDF all other times), be sure you’re using a standard stock font. Using a font that someone else’s version of Word doesn’t recognize will garble your materials but good.

    1. jag

      FYI – it’s possible to embed fonts in Word so the document will display fine – it’s an option in the program. I probably still wouldn’t do it just to be conservative, but it seems to work well.

        1. jag

          Understood.

          But in part that’s because the design was “brittle” – use of text boxes or tables to align text, etc.

          In a business letter that consists of just text and line breaks, the worst thing that’ll happen is the length of lines, paragraphs and the letter may change. In a resume, which is a more complex document, there could conceivably be more problems.

          The main downside to embedding fonts in Word documents is file size – it can take even a simple document up to 1MB.

          I’ll close by adding that it’s important to make sure fonts are embedded in PDFs unless you are certain the recipient has the same fonts. The embedding is the default in much software used to create documents nowadays (including MS Word) but is worth at least checking if you’re using some more rare software.

  7. ElCee

    “Yours truly” vs “sincerely” — which one is better? Or this is also a bit overthink-y?

    1. OP

      Could depend on culture, but my preference is “sincerely”. “Yours truly” seems too lovey-dovey to me whereas “sincerely” conveys exactly what I mean – sincerity in my letter and application.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Overthinking it. Doesn’t matter. Everyone has preferences, of course, but it really does not matter. (I do think “sincerely” is more professional though.)

      1. anonima in tejas

        I also think that what sign off (is that a salutation?) you use says something about you (older, younger, etc.)

        1. Natalie

          The salutation is the opening part (Dear Jane/Beloved Sister/Obnoxious Neighbor). I’ve always called the Sincerely/Best Regards/Hatefully Yours part the closing, but google says the proper name for that sign off is the “valediction”.

          And I just realized that these are obviously related to salutatorian and valedictorian somehow.

          1. Lucy Honeychurch

            “Salve” and “vale” are the common ways of saying “hello” and “goodbye,” respectively, in Latin; therefore a “salutation” is a hello and a “valediction” is a goodbye; and a “valedictorian” is a goodbye speaker!

            1. Al Lo

              “Vale Decem” is still and always the bit of the Doctor Who soundtrack that makes me cry every single time I listen to it.

            2. Natalie

              Ha, that makes sense. They said “salve” all the time on that show Rome. Never made the connection.

      2. AnonyMiss

        I use “Very truly yours” – but I’m also in law. This appears to be the standard sign-off for most attorneys in my area, so I just kind of went along with that.

      3. Sonya

        What about “kind regards”? That’s how my work signature reads and how I sign off on any business correspondence. Most of my colleagues use the same sign-off.

        I’m 26.

    3. AnotherAlison

      Agree with the overthinking assessment, but in general, people should go with “Sincerely” instead of two-word closings. I almost always see the second word capitalized, which I was taught was wrong. But, do a quick search for “business closings” and you’ll find sources promoting “Best Regards” and the like, so I’d hate to ding an applicant for that.

        1. OP

          Just out of curiosity, when a company has 1,000 applicants to the same position, at the end of the decision making process, you’re bound to have a handful of really great applicants. Doesn’t it eventually come down to the little things that separate candidates?

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            It never comes down to how someone formatted their cover letter, I promise you. Never, ever (unless it was a mess, but that’s not what we’re talking about here). It comes down to experience, culture fit, vibe, enthusiasm, rapport, references, professionalism. This stuff does not enter into it.

          2. Joey

            Not even close, unless it’s wildly inappropriate or you’re hiring for an editing job.

            Honestly, I look at formatting in relation to what the job requires. In other words, if it’s fine for the role I’m hiring for then I don’t care.
            I’m looking strictly at the content and how clearly it’s conveyed.

            1. KarenT

              And in my experience, not even when you’re hiring for an editing job. Typos will likely get you screened out before interviews, but otherwise, as long as the formatting is clean it won’t be used to make a hiring decision. When I get a pile of resumes I go through them and select the candidates for interviews. Once the interviews have happened, the cover letter isn’t something I think about it (it’s something I consider very heavily when selecting candidates for an interview, but once the interview has happened it’s much more about the interview, the candidate’s experience, how they presented themselves, and the editing test we give).

            2. FormerEditor

              I used to look at resumes to expand our team of editors. No one cared about word choice, justification, or formatting (unless it’s egregiously ugly). Typos and inconsistency matter.

              1. JTD

                Hah! When I was hiring subeditors, a badly formatted CV tended to get chucked in the bin, because if you couldn’t be bothered to present yourself properly, why would we want to interview you? (Page layout is part of the job as well.)

                I have two CVs – a designed PDF version and a Word version. The latter has extra-generous margins and uses very common serif and sans-serif fonts so it will work across multiple platforms.

                OP, my number one tip? If you indent your paragraphs, don’t do it using spaces. Actually, don’t indent them at all, because the HR software may interpret auto indents or tabs as spaces. Try your cover letter out in plain text. If it works and is readable that way, go with that. Making things usable for the other side gives you so many brownie points.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  But you’re talking about badly formatted, which is different than just “plain, basic, and professional formatting, but without putting tons of extra thought into it.”

                2. FormerEditor

                  Yeah, I mean, really terribly formatted essays? Ragged left? Sure. We definitely tossed those out. But we were looking to make sure things were in a logical space and order, formatting and styles were consistent (this came up often), and that the resume read well and was free of typos and other errors. We were also working on highly technical documents and proposals, though. This definitely wasn’t design work.

          3. Joey

            And to be clear if I do have too many great candidates I’m going to talk to them all to whittle them down if needed

            1. esra

              For sure, it could come down to a personality quirk or an odd bonus talent, but I can’t imagine resume formatting being a tiebreaker.

          4. jag

            Odd capitalization in the body of letter for a position that involved any writing (which most jobs do) is worth noting.

            But details of the closing of a letter. They just don’t matter unless someone does something way out of the norm. If you’re using those things (Sincerely vs Best regards vs Best Regards) as a little thing to separate candidates, just flip a coin instead. They just don’t matter.

            There are more substantive little things to use instead.

            And believe me, I’m a bit of diva in terms of word choice and design in my own correspondence. If you want to pick the “best” one for your own satisfaction, have at it. But don’t waste time thinking too much about it, and if you are hiring, please do not judge people on stuff like that. It won’t reflect on their ability to do a good job.

        2. AnotherAlison

          I wouldn’t ding an applicant for that, esp. since I work in engineering and it’s not really a thing that we get drilled into us. Perhaps if I was in journalism or publishing, I would care.

          For me, it’s just one of my pet peeves because I worked with someone who was incredibly pedantic but always signed his emails “Best Regards” instead of “Best regards.” I make all kinds of written mistakes myself, but this one grates on me because I actively disliked that coworker.

          To the OP, what would separate people for me would be specific experiences. There will always be some variation. I could have two entry-level new grads with identical GPAs and coursework, but there is no way they both had the same senior design project experience. Even if both were captains of their respective school’s competition team, someone’s school placed higher. (At the interview stage, personality will play a bigger part.)

    4. TheLazyB

      If you’re in the UK: ‘yours faithfully’ if you don’t know the name, ‘yours sincerely’ if you do. If you’re not I got nothing :)

      1. Cath in Canada

        I always thought that seemed backwards when I was taught it in school! I can express myself sincerely to anyone, but how can I know if I can be faithful to you if I don’t even know who you are? :-/

    5. Eva G.

      I usually close emails with just “Yours” – not very formal ones (where I go with “Yours sincerely”), but most emails. Curious to hear if anyone would advise against that closing?

  8. Susan the BA

    I work for a large organization that uses a PeopleSoft HR/hiring system. There’s no place for you to even upload a cover letter – you just paste your “letter” into a big text field. It eats all of your formatting and sometimes replaces your punctuation with other characters for funsies (actually I assume it’s a Unicode thing but it feel cruel and random when it happens to you).

    Having been on the applicant review side of this, I promise we never cared about formatting or weird transmission errors even though we were hiring for positions where being detail-oriented and correcting other people’s formatting were critical job skills. Everyone just knew that the system was quirky and focused on the content/general communication skills.

    1. Xarcady

      This is good to know. I’m way too detail conscious and I know that more than one application system destroys all my hard work. If the people on the other end are reading just for content, that’s a relief.

    2. OP

      Yeah, as an applicant, these systems frustrate me to no end. As you can probably tell from my question and subsequent posts, I like to think I am really detail oriented (and prone to highly over-thinking things, apparently), and losing out on all of the “hard work” and thought that goes into crafting a cover letter is frustrating.

      In the world of modern hiring systems, I both understand why software *has* to work like this, but also understand why it is the downfall of modern hiring. Too often have I seen people that look very similar on paper, but are wildly different in person. Just a resume and just the text from a cover letter are easily enough to allow really poor candidates through the system and weed out some potentially really great candidates. I don’t know what the solution to this is – except for, maybe going back to old school “mailed” in applications with high complexity (to weed out the uncommitted), but then we would have to double the size of the HR department! :)

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        But you’re not losing the hard work and thought that goes into it, because that’s your content, which is still there. (If you’re putting hard work and thought into formatting, stop that immediately.)

        1. OP

          Well, I was referring more to things like fitting everything on one page, eliminating orphans, grammar, punctuation, rethinking the way things are worded, etc.

          1. jag

            If you’re detail-oriented, text should be flush left, ragged right if you’re producing the documents in MS Word. Generous margins. Never underline anything if you can avoid it. Nice signature like you said for a separate cover letter (But don’t do that in email – it’ll look cheesy). Pick a serious typeface that is not strange. Use proper quotation marks and apostrophes, not inch and foot marks. Etc. Get a book like those by Robin Williams about text design.

            But you have to let that go when you can’t control it, such as putting text into an online form. That’s just the way it is.

            Oh, and you can still spend time on wording, but spend your time thinking about finessing wording that conveys important content, not the customary closing.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            Well, yes, grammar and punctuation definitely matter! But that hasn’t been what we’re talking about here, and it’s not work that you’ll lose in an electronic system.

          3. BethRA

            You still aren’t losing the effort you put into grammar, punctuation, working, etc. by pasting content into a form, though.

            I get wanting to demonstrate that you’ve put effort into an application, but remember that most employers are looking for people who can work smart, not just hard. Being able to focus on details is great, but only if you focus on the right ones.

      2. Sammy J

        Just want to throw out there that as someone who works on the user side of software — it does not *HAVE* to work like that…

        1. OP

          Is there a better way to get to know a candidate besides a bunch of text over the internet? I feel like there must be a way, but just getting an interview at any medium to large company is really difficult when you are just a face in the crowd!

      3. eP

        I would love to go back to mailed-in applications! No worries about increasing the size of HR, because their would be far fewer apps coming in.

    3. Persephone Mulberry

      Protip: if you have to submit a form-box cover letter, copy-paste your text from Word into Notepad, clean up as needed, save as .txt, then copy-paste THAT version into the form.

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

        I save a plain-text version of my resume for copy/pasting purposes. SO much easier than trying to clean it up after the fact.

      2. themmases

        Yes. I would add that it’s also very worth it to have a .txt version of your resume ready to go. Resume formatting is even weirder, and some systems do ask for that information to be put in a form box. I hate to think of how many times I spent way more time than the job deserved, cleaning up a plain-text version of my CV, before the lightbulb came on…

  9. Lanya

    I disagree with Alison only in the case of graphic designers. In that case, reviewers will absolutely care about these types of style decisions. If you’ve made a poor design choice on your resume, they may assume your portfolio is not worth looking at.

    1. esra

      We’re definitely an exception to this rule. You would have to have a truly stellar portfolio to make up for a poorly formatted resume. Even then, I’d kind of wonder what was wrong with you.

  10. Black Turtleneck

    Neat and professional is all that anyone is going to care about.

    With the caveat that design-related positions are an exception. Neat and professional is good enough for the front-line triage process but if you’re applying for a design job then eventually someone is going to see your materials who does care. In many ways that’s immaterial because designers are going to obsess about design regardless of admonitions to the contrary.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian

      I think the design professions are to resume/cover letter formatting as California and academia are to legal questions (just append “except in the design professions” to every answer, much as we do “except in California” or “except in academia”). I work in an architecture firm, and I’ve absolutely seen the principals all but lose interest in a candidate because they used a serif font.

      1. sam

        Wha? I get not using something ridiculously juvenile like Comic Sans, but dinging someone for using, say, Times New Roman rather than Arial?

        (and I say this as someone who got completely bent out of shape when my first law firm merged and as part of our merger, decided that the new “modern” firm would no longer use our dignified classic serif-ed font and would move to Arial. I HATE Arial. I do, however, love me some Helvetica and use that on my own website).

        I personally find that sans-serif is easier to read on the web and serif is easier to read in print. But that may just be my old-lady eyes getting the better of me.

        1. Black Turtleneck

          Designers tend to care about things that most people would consider unreasonable. Times New Roman and Arial would both get you dinged, primarily because they’re the default in many circumstances and suggest that the applicant either didn’t know how to change the font or couldn’t be bothered to care. But that’s design, not law. I’m sure lawyers care unreasonably about other things.

          1. bridget

            Correct. I notice, and care, whether a period in a citation clause is appropriately italicized or not.

          2. Sam

            Sure. I could spend days arguing about the Oxford comma (I’m pro, by the way – it lends clarity).

        2. teclatwig

          I am an adjunct professor, and when I got my first online course assignment, the professional development folks at the university had me read a book about designing online courses. In the section on accessibility, it said that serif fonts were considered more readable for printed material, but for computer screens you wanted to stick with sans serif. So, it’s not just you (though I can’t point to any other sources, as I returned the book).

      2. Mallory Janis Ian

        Well, they’re modernists, so I guess that’s why. The architecture professors at the university were the same way (anti-serif) — except for the architectural historians; they, to a person, used Times New Roman. I’m an administrative assistant, so I just use the font that my boss prefers. I got sick of Century Gothic from my previous boss; now I’m on Calibri and Interstate Light with my current boss.

        1. fposte

          Oh, this is hilarious; I looked quickly to see if the internet had documented what kind of fonts people in various professions prefer, but I couldn’t find anything. I did find plenty of “What Your Font Says About You” fluff pieces, though.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian

          Actually, Calibri is my font, not my boss’. His is Interstate Light. But I’ve found that I can get away with Calibri, and I like it. Nobody that I’ve met in design has used Arial in years.

          1. Brenda

            Good god, can someone please tell this to our marketing department? We have a special font for designed posters and stuff but our style-guide approved font for everything else is Arial. I’ve asked to have the special font and been told it’s only for designers, just use Arial. It’s so annoying.

      3. Lanya

        I agree we creatives are usually the exception to these types of rules. I’m just surprised that Alison actually said “No one cares!” as her response, because she’s usually great at being sensitive to the caveats.

  11. Kay

    Just an aside because its a slight pet peeve of mine. I work with my state government and we are sending out letters to vendors. My boss is requiring that we address the women as “Mrs.” which aggravates me to no end. We also had to take out first names which means that our letters end up looking like
    Mrs. Lannister
    Westerlands
    1 Everybody Dies Lane.
    King’s Landing, Westeros

    Gah,

      1. Kay

        I actually brought it up because the whole letter writing process felt unprofessional to me. I explained how I felt about the word and got a lot of blank stares and “well, maybe that’s unique to your generation”. They eventually said that if I wanted to spend my time going back and fixing each letter, that I was free to do so. I have a new project today…

    1. HeyNonnyNonny

      Tell your boss he’s being silly– married women aren’t allowed to work, they’re all home raising babies!
      /eyeroll

      1. Fact & Fiction

        +infinity bonbons I eat while lounging on the sofa in my housecoat watching soaps until it’s Ike to get all gussied up to cook dinner before my hard-working husband!

    2. Sadsack

      Is your boss assuming that all women are married, or has no one explained to him that Mrs. is only used for married women and the universal is Ms.? You might want to just tell him that.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        And that many married women dislike Mrs. and don’t use it too, and that there is a history with the term that makes it offensive and alienating to many women when it’s used as the default.

        1. Sadsack

          Absolutely. Might as well write to a person’s husband and ask if he approves of her having a job outside the home.

          1. "Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things."

            …and if he doesn’t like the job he can always resign for her.

        2. Anx

          I walk talking the other day with a friend about why she plans on using Dr. even if it seems a little bit…much.

          Miss connotes youth and unmarried state.
          Mrs. means married of course
          And Ms., even though it’s the most neutral, marks a conscious effort to obscure or ignore marital status.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I don’t think of Ms. as marking a particular effort to obscure anything, and don’t think that’s how it’s perceived. It’s simple the female equivalent of Mr.

            1. Anx

              I disagree. It is not the female equivalent to Mr. because a Mister is a Mister regardless of marital status. Although Mistress/Ms. may have been the default in the past, it is only recently that it has reestablished itself firmly as a default greeting. In fact, some older women insist on Missus, not Ms. However subtle it may be, women divulge more than men in choosing an honorific.

              I don’t think it’s perceived as trying to mask or hide marital status either, generally. But I do think people choose Ms. over Miss/Misses in part because it doesn’t reference their marital status. Many women go by Missus X socially and Ms. X professionally, and perhaps not even with any thought. It may just be their children’s friends call them one thing, but a student may call them another, and so on. Men have one honorific (unless there’s a professional one in the mix).

              The differences are subtle, but women are marked by their titles in a way that men are not. Even if they go by Ms.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I think a lot of people disagree with you on that :)

                I use Ms. because it is the female equivalent of Mr. — it reveals nothing about me other than my gender.

            1. fposte

              If she’s doctoring people, people’s teeth, or people’s animals, it’s fine.

              If she’s doctoring philosophy, that’s a very murky area. At some institutions it’s bad form to use “Dr.”–it implies you felt it had to be stated–and more traditional etiquette is opposed to it as a social title. At other institutions, it’s fine.

              I once ran into somebody at another institution who actually signed himself “Dr. Montblanc,” which made me roll my eyes heavily. I don’t think he’d have done that if he’d realized I had a PhD as well.

            2. Anx

              She uses it professionally at conferences (where it matters), but uses Ms. She also likes going by her full name or first name.

              She mentioned it to me half jokingly after and older male student chided her on her ‘feminist agenda’ for going by Ms. (instead of Miss) when she politely let another student know that “Mrs. X” was incorrect regardless. Followed by commentary on how she’d never be a Mrs. with ‘that attitude.’

      2. Steve H

        It’s possible that he doesn’t know the difference – I definitely didn’t realize until I was in college that the different title had different meanings attached to them.

    3. sam

      Tell him that I assume any letter addressed to Mrs. [sam’s last name] is junk mail.

      And yes I’m a crazy feminist spinster cat-lady. But I’m a feminist spinster cat-lady with authority. And it’s Ms. [sam’s last name].

      (this goes double for anyone who think’s that sam=Mr.).

    4. So Very Anonymous

      Wow.

      I work with students and every time one of them addresses me as “Mrs. Very Anonymous” I wonder if I should include a gentle statement about Ms. being the standard/professional form of address if you don’t know a woman’s marital status. (I never do I just think about it). There’s enough wacky gender stuff that goes on with my particular role without bringing this kind of automatic assumption into it.

        1. So Very Anonymous

          I haven’t because I’m in a weird position authority-wise — I’m often seen as playing a kind of service role, and in my particular department there’s a lot of “defer to the student-customer” mentality. Makes me want to ask women professor friends if they ever say anything when students address them this way. I could insist on “Dr.”,” because I have a PhD, but that’s uncomfortable, and it’s also important for me to draw lines between what I do and what a professor does.

          I should maybe just come up with some kind of neutral script.

          1. Ms. Anonymous Professor

            Ha, I was just dealing with this (again) last week. I’m a female college professor with a PhD, and sometimes students send me an e-mail in which they address me as “Mrs. LastName”. This ties my brain in knots because (a) I want to help teach students that they should default to “Ms.” rather than to “Mrs.,” but (b) I also suspect many of them would use “Dr./Prof.” by default if writing to a male college instructor and this discrepancy really bothers me too, even though (c) I actually feel very strongly about not using a “Dr.” title socially (it even irks me when MDs do that, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Arrggh.

            What I’ve been doing lately is something like this: (after responding to the content of the e-mail) “By the way, just so you know, it’s usually better not to use ‘Mrs.’ when writing to a woman (unless you know she prefers that title), because that makes assumptions about her marital status; ‘Ms.’ is a safer choice. As for me, you’re welcome to just call me ‘FirstName’, but if you’re going to use a title, I would prefer that you use ‘Dr. LastName’ or ‘Prof. LastName,’ since those are the titles that are relevant for my job at this university.” Which of course seems way too long and pedantic. But I can’t figure out a better solution!

            1. So Very Anonymous

              Yes, this is about where I am. There are a few occasions where I use Dr., but I’d rather not when I’m dealing with students — in my current situation because there’s been somewhat too much “So Very has a PhD and she knows everything just like professors do, so she’s also a resource for you in that way too!!” conveyed to the students by some of the faculty, and I need to be able to keep some boundaries between what professors do and what I do. So “Ms.” is best, and suggesting that is probably a good idea.

              My dad is a retired professor who never, EVER wanted to be called “Dr.” — much preferred “Prof.” if someone wanted to address him professionally.

          2. Hallie

            I know this is a different situation, but I think it’s related. My mother was a professor at a military academy for many years. Some professors were officers, and they were addressed in the standard military way by their students, but most professors were civilians. Many students (not a majority, but a significant number, almost all male) would address my mother as Mrs. Lastname. However, she noticed they addressed the male professors as Dr. Lastname. She always, always pointed out this double standard. She didn’t say “you must call me Dr.”, but she said “have you noticed that you….? It’s more appropriate to…” etc. Some students reacted badly and complained about their militant feminist prof, to be sure. But mom never felt this was a reason not to say something. She felt strongly that these students had to learn how to work with and relate to women, many of whom would be their colleagues, and that the angrier they felt about this the sooner they should start practicing.

        2. Anna

          I organized a blood drive at work a couple of months ago and while we are a school, nobody here goes by Mrs. or Mr. anything. But all the materials provided had Mrs. Mylastname. I cringed. For one, I didn’t change my last name when I married so there is no Mr. Mylastname and for two, no student would know to whom the materials referred. So when I had to send out an email about correcting another error on the materials, I asked everyone to cross out Mrs. and write in my first name.

      1. Businesslady

        I think I’ve mentioned this before (in this space) but it bears repeating: there’s a weirdly common misconception that “Ms.” is short for “Miss” and that “Mrs.” is a more universal honorific (that may or may not correlate to marital status or to “Ms.”/”Miz” in terms of pronunciation).

        I don’t know how this got started, but I know at least one highly educated male colleague who thought that was the case; he’s since started clarifying it to the younger people he encounters, and inevitably at least a few of them are like “what?? this is completely new information!”

        Some women prefer “Miss” or “Mrs.” but even they will likely be okay with “Ms” (and are generally in the minority I think, at least in professional contexts). Whereas women (like myself) who prefer “Ms.” will be actively irritated by anything else–not (at least for me) to the point of actively disengaging with someone who uses it, but it’s just so counterproductive to start off with “Honorific That May Annoy Recipient” before introducing any other content.

        1. themmases

          +1 that it is irritating not to be addressed as Ms. I live with my male partner so people mis-title me, and misname us both, very often. To me, it would be better for a company or individual to send me something addressed to “current resident” than to address us as “Mr. – ” or “Mrs. The Emmases” or us as “the The Emmases family”. Basically what the writer is telling me is that they don’t know me, couldn’t be bothered to find out the most basic information about me, and failing that, couldn’t be bothered to take a minimally polite guess.

    5. TheLazyB

      I complain to organisations who force me to chose a title.

      I am married but go by Ms and have done since long before I was married.

      This would wind me up no end.

      Just another data point for you :)

    6. IrishGirl

      I booked flights with KLM a few years ago with two friends when we were all under eighteen and the tickets were all addressed to Mrs. Firstname Lastname.

      I was a bit of a worrier when it comes to flying so rang KLM to check what the story was, to be told that Mrs was their standard title for all female passengers…..

  12. Amber Rose

    It’s more important that it has the right things in it. I’ve never even cared about font or color, but the guy who talked about leaving his old job so he could bring his girlfriend here on a motorcycle… why tell me that?!

    Boggles the mind.

    1. So Very Anonymous

      So that you could know what a COOL DUDE you’d be hiring! He has a motorcycle and chicks dig motorcycles! ???

    1. OP

      Well, I started in graphic/web design, but pursued mechanical (and a little electrical) engineering in college. Most of my experience is in the auto industry.

      1. Anonymous1973

        I know the auto industry. Allison is right – it doesn’t matter. It’s more important to have auto experience.

  13. jag

    If recruiting for a position with some element of design (such as general communications), I think it’s helpful if the formatting doesn’t actually look bad – for example, fully justified text with large gaps between words, or extensive use of underlining or all capital letters.

    If recruiting for a position where the person will be designing text – such as laying out important publications, etc – I think the standard should be even higher – the text should look really nice. Not fancy or strange, but clear and elegant for a business letter – good sized margins, appropriate alignment, etc.

    Other than that, no one cares.

  14. The Office Admin

    Please whatever you choose to do, send a PDF.
    Not a .rtf not a .docx not an Excel file(this happened) or anything else but a PDF(unless the ad says otherwise) I have gotten a dozen emails of resumes that are weird files, they re-format, they come through corrupted, it’s a mess.

    1. Koko

      Yes, this is such good advice! A PDF is the only format that guarantees it will look the same to everyone you send it to that it does to you. Nowadays there are plenty of free services like CutePDF that you can use which add “Save as PDF” to the native Print menu in applications. Especially if you’re using something like Open Office or LibreOffice to create your resume and cover letter, even though they can save in the docx format that MS Word uses, their documents look different in Word than they did in the original program.

    2. fposte

      There’s less risk with a .pdf, but it doesn’t mean you’ve shot yourself in the foot if you’ve sent your materials in a .docx. Most places can pull that up just fine.

  15. K.

    In my experience, the answer is “all of your formatting, including your line breaks, are going to be stripped out when this web form converts everything you give it into a big ol’ character box of Courier New anyway and it’s going to look like a wall of text on the other end no matter what.” Sigh.

  16. Merely

    When snail mailing application materials, is normal printer paper acceptable, or should higher quality, thicker stationary be used? When mailing documents that are more than one page in length (CV, cover letter), should the pages be double sided or single sided? Should they be stapled? Can they be folded, or should a large size envelope be used?

    When addressing medical professionals with professional degrees (doctor of pharmacy / doctor of veterinary medicine / doctor of audiology / etc), should the title Dr. Stark be used, even though these individuals are not MD medical doctors?

    Sorry for all the questions… I was very confused about how to come across as professional during my internship search.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Plain paper, normal envelope, folded. Using a larger size envelope to avoid folding is unnecessary at best and looks weird at worst. But really, this stuff doesn’t matter. No one is making hiring or rejection decisions based on this stuff.

      Also, why are you mailing stuff at all? You should be applying electronically unless for some reason that’s not an option.

      1. Merely

        Thanks for answering! I know I am definitely over-thinking these things, but I’m never quite certain which details are insignificant and which are landmines (I almost addressed a woman as Mrs. rather than Ms. in one letter… good thing I checked AAM’s archives first!).

        Mailing vs. email was another thing I was unsure about. The positions I was applying for did not use an online application system (temporary summer positions for students) but the posting directed me to mail / send / submit my materials to an individual, and then provided their name, title, organization and physical mailing address. Their email would also be given somewhere in the posting.

        Depending on the wording used in the instructions, I usually snail mailed them my materials and then sent them an email introducing myself and telling them to expect to receive the letter in the next few days… Maybe I misinterpreted the instructions and seemed out of touch. Oh well. I eventually found an internship through networking, anyway.

        1. fposte

          That seems a reasonable way to deal with it. I would have felt weird letting just the snail-mailing go out into the ether as well.

      2. Elysian

        My office only accepts paper applications. It is The Worst and Super Weird and I dislike it a lot. I think we miss out on a lot of candidates who must think “this is a bizarre requirement.”

        1. Joey

          I imagine these places as offices with windows xp, with a scanner separate from the copier, with one of those old ac controls with the Mercury bubble, with a fax machine with that roll of fax paper that goes inside of it, and a help wanted sign in the window.

          Yeah, I’ll apply elsewhere.

        2. Alternative

          Yeah, I would totally pass on applying somewhere that required mailing something.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian

            Ha. The last time my university department hired for tenure-track positions, the candidates were required to submit their materials via snail mail *and* email. I think many in academia haven’t adopted modern practices.

            1. Noelle

              A few years ago I applied to a government job that required you to fax stuff. It was a massive pain and the only time in my life I’ve ever used fax for personal use.

            2. Cath in Canada

              A few years ago, I helped put together a grant application that had to be submitted in the form of a snail-mailed CD. The funding agency were super proud that they were finally going paper-free…

      3. Natalie

        Professional jobs for my state (i.e. a state agency) were mail applications only until a couple of years ago, when they started accepting fax applications.

        Had to dredge up a business letter template for that one. I had forgotten how to do the address and such appropriately at the top.

    2. jag

      On the one hand I want to say the paper/printing doesn’t matter. On the other hand to be safe I’d go single-sided and normal paper, but not the cheapest paper you can get.

      When in doubt, using Dr. is not a bad idea – it’s unlikely to offend the recipient and there is a small chance some recipients with big egos might be annoyed if it’s missing.

      But really none of this should matter. Don’t worry about it.

  17. Gene

    I got an attached Word file from an industry the other day where everything was converted into some weird wing-ding font. The font claimed to be Arial, but wasn’t. Nothing like this has happened with them in the past, and when he resent it, it was fine.

    PDF FTW.

    Then there was the guy who right justified everything. He doesn’t work here anymore.

  18. FiveWheels

    I don’t have anything constructive to add, but just wanted to say this thread is very interesting to me in terms of what’s standard here in my part of the UK, vs I assume USA.

    The only non cringe-inducing signoff to a cover letter would be ‘yours sincerely’ if addressed to a named individual or ‘yours faithfully’ if addressed to a dear sir or madam, formal business letters are almost always justified on both sides*, and the local hiring laws mean cover letters or post-interview thank you letters are pretty much unheard of. These cultural differences are for some reason more surprising to me than the big legal differences between our countries.

    * On the rare occasions in which a left-only-justified letter arrives there’s a good chance it will be held up for minor ridicule. But our office can be childish :-P

    1. Macedon

      Fellow UK bee – interesting, I’ve seen “Kind regards,” “Warm regards,” “Sincerely,” “Thank you,” and (to a far lesser extent) “Best” used frequently in hiring or formal correspondence with reps from a variety of industries. It’s been ages since I’ve stumbled on a “Yours faithfully”!

      1. FiveWheels

        I see variations on ‘regards’ in email all the time, but seeing that in written correspondence would seem as incongruous to me as a letter beginning ‘Hi Wheels!’

        I work in law so our work is a lot more formal than the average business, but correspondence we receive from non-lawyers generally follows the same rules.

    2. TheLazyB

      No no no!!! I am from the UK and I’ve not seen a fully justified letter for a long time. Accessibility guidelines state to left align, not justify.

      And I always write cover letters and send thank you notes. No idea if they make any difference but I’m certain they don’t hurt, and at least one job I applied for recently requested a cover letter.

      1. FiveWheels

        Perhaps it’s a law thing then or something from this corner of the UK – I suspect it’s not just law though as correspondence from government departments, estate agents etc is almost always justified on both sides.

        The cover letter/thank you note thing is definitely local, as discrimination laws regarding hiring are fairly strict, and many firms will disqualify candidates who have any communication beyond either CV or application form. Even if wouldn’t disqualify, many people are reluctant to send anything else just in case it would.

        1. Merry and Bright

          Yes, a lot of places a I have worked at in the UK have required justified margins left and right as part of a corporate style, in public and private sector. Also, many public sector employers have strict instructions in the application information about whether to include a cover letter. Some do specify that no other communications should be made.

        2. Brenda

          I think this may be specific to your field. I’m in the UK too (though I’m American) and I work in a university careers office, and most of our students are being asked for CVs and cover letters when they’re applying. If they’re not being asked for a cover letter or actively told not to send one, then there’s almost certainly an application form that’s asking for the same type of information that’s usually provided in a cover letter. The vacancies I’ve seen that just ask for a CV are usually very small companies, and in that case I would advise them to write a cover letter anyway (unless it’s specified that they should not).

          I’m also very curious about this “no thank you notes” rule because I’ve never come across that. I usually advise students to send a brief thank you email after an interview, and when we’re hiring for our own staff I notice the candiates who send a thank you email.

          It must be the American coming out here but I can’t understand the difference between “yours sincerely” and “yours faithfully”. They both sound pretty old-fashioned to me. As long as you’ve signed off with something, I don’t care what it is. In my own business correspondence I usually use “Kind regards” (if I’m telling someone something) or “Many thanks” (if I’m requesting something from them), and just “Sincerely” on my cover letters.

    3. Ruth (UK)

      I am lost about the UK not doing cover letters etc thing. I have always done that as have others I know.

      As for the ‘yours sincerely’ I agree. The use of sincerely vs faithfully was drilled into me in school and part of me cringes if I see sincerely used when the letter did not address someone by name. On the other hand, faithfully does sound a bit dated.

      Personally, I always use ‘Kind regards’ when signing letters or emails.

      1. moodygirl86

        The way we remembered it was “Never sin with a Sir!” But these days I use email rather than Royal Snail; and the default seems to be Kind Regards with that anyway.

    4. Merry and Bright

      It depends. Some ads actually request a cover letter. They became less routine though when email applications replaced postal ones. But even then, depending on the employer, I usually include something unless the instructions say don’t. I think the exclusion is more to do with government departments and agencies where they have a set application procedure to follow.

      The correct business use for “Yours faithfully” was with a letter starting “Dear sirs” but “Yours sincerely” with Dear Ms Smith”. But most of that goes back to the postal age of course.

    5. Koko

      Fascinating. I associate full justified print with (oddly enough) legal documents and those smaller-sized trade paperbacks, but not with personal or professional correspondence.

    6. "Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things."

      I am from the UK and have worked here since I left college, and I must admit I have never heard of any hiring laws that ban cover letters or follow-up thanks you letters. I know a few (mainly public sector) employers request that no cover letters be sent but that is more to do with internal hiring practices – i.e. they want to hire on a level playing field and don’t want to open themselves to suggestions that any kind of preferential treatment was given. Therefore all the applications are judged on the same documents.

      I still see plenty of advertisements requesting cover letters though, so I am not sure where hiring law works on that. I agree that thank you letters aren’t routine over here but I don’t think there is anything “illegal” about sending them.

      1. FiveWheels

        I had a look at my post today to make sure I wasn’t going mad – 19 incoming letters, of which 18 were typed, all were double justified, and all were yours sincerely/faithfully. The one hand written letter was signed ‘regards’.

        A lot of the weirdness about applications is due to my location – Northern Ireland – which has or is perceived to have almost ridiculously strict anti discrimination laws. For example, employers must note how many Catholics, Protestants, and neither-of-the-aboves apply, but are forbidden from recording or asking in any way by which an individual applicant’s religion could be identified.

        For this and other reasons it is normal for employers to take a very standardised to hiring. I don’t know if there’s a legal basis for insisting everyone submits basically the same materials, or if they all like to play safe rather than risking the ire of the Equality Commission.

        The most absurd example I personally experienced was an interview for an NHS job – the interviewers asked identical questions to every candidate and hiring was based on keywords. For each keyword said, the applicant got a point. The applicant with the most points got the offer, no exceptions.

  19. Aidan

    For a signature on a cover letter, does first name vs. full name matter? If it matters, the field is law.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Actual signature, liked scanned in? Up to you; it’s your signature.

      But just typing the name? Full name. It’s business correspondence to someone you don’t know. And law is conservative,.

    2. FiveWheels

      I would use my normal signature, which may or may not be readable, but would always have my full name typed beneath.

    3. Elysian

      I use my normal signature, which is a partially legible version of my initials and last name. Half my life is spent signing things, so I already have my e-signature scanned and ready to slap on documents. Below my scanned signature is my first and last name. So it looks like:

      Sincerely,
      [picture of signature]
      FirstName LastName

  20. AcademiaNut

    For the OP:

    I think what’s tripping you up is that you are assuming that there is a Best Way to format things, that will potentially give you a leg up in the application process with detail oriented people.

    The problem is that there isn’t – there are multiple perfectly acceptable formats, a variety of ‘probably not a good idea’ formats, and a bunch of bad formats. As long as your cover letter is in the first category, it should be judged on content, not format.

    There may well be people out there hiring who will have distinct ideas on the Best Way, and will penalize/reward people based on it. The problem is that their preferences are going to be very personal, and while one person might reject you for using “Yours truly” and Times New Roman, another will hate “Yours sincerely” and Arial. Not to mention a third who thinks using Comic Sans shows creativity.

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