Tips on Writing a Targeted Cover Letter

Tips for Writing a Targeted Cover Letter

Writing a cover letter is a challenge. It can feel like a balancing act. Be friendly but not too comfortable, be concise but don’t leave out important facts, target your skills but don’t pander. It seems as though that perfect balance of professionalism and individualism is just out of reach. But if you follow some basic guidelines and avoid common pitfalls, you will be that much closer to attaining the ever elusive brilliant cover letter- (one that results in lots of phone calls and interviews!)

1. Know you audience:  when possible you want to address your letter to an individual manager and not just the

HR department.  You may have to do some research to find this information- sometimes you can find this information on company websites or through a Google search.  You never want to approach a potential employer with a laissez-faire attitude. Keep your documents, as well as your tone, clean and professional

2. Get Specific: Generalizations and a lack of personal information will not result in job interviews. You want to aim for a professional tone that communicates your talents and your interest. Try to show you are familiar with the company and that you are a good fit for their purposes.  Your cover letter should be designed specifically for the job you seek. Creating your own standard cover letter than you can tailor when needed is also a good idea.

 3. Follow basic composition guidelines: There is some debate over the ideal length of a cover letter, Pearson recommends no more than 3 paragraphs, while Forbes magazine states that 4 paragraphs is best. Whichever you chose, you will want to follow these structural guidelines:

1st paragraph: State what job you want, mention any personal contacts you have within the company, and finally say why you are applying for the position.

2nd paragraph: summarize your work history-tailoring it to best fit the company you are applying to.

3rd and 4th paragraph: Highlight accomplishments that are relevant and be sure to make this highly specific. Finally you will end by inviting the employer to contact you or specify a time when you will follow-up.

The cover letter on the left probably won’t get you any job interviews. The content makes that obvious. But if we look at the design, we can see some major flaws. For a professional design try left justifying your text and use white space to guide the reader. Avoid using bullet points. The cover letter on the right illustrates effective design principles and paragraph guidelines that we have discussed.


When finalizing your cover letter you want to make sure you use the best salutations or sign off. You want to be polite but not too familiar. When in doubt you can always use something common like: Kind Regards or Sincerely. Yours Faithfully? eh- not so much.

Composing a cover letter may seem daunting but with a little help and a lot of thought, you can have a perfectly composed cover letter that is professional and effective.

Michelle Hendrix is studying English Literature at the University of South Florida. She plans on teaching high school English. 


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