Guidelines for Cover Letter Writing Webster University I Career Planning & Development Center

Guidelines for Cover Letter Writing

A cover letter is a one-page business letter often submitted as part of an internship or job application. In a cover letter, you introduce yourself to an employer, express your interest in the organization and/or specific opening, and explain your strongest qualification(s) for the position.

In combination with your resume, a well-written cover letter may incite an employer to invite you to interview for the opening in order to learn more about you and your potential fit with the organization.

Continue reading to review cover letter strategies, formatting tips, content guidelines, and a selection of sample documents.

Cover Letter Strategies

Customize Your Letter

  • Adjust and update your cover letter for every application you submit.
  • Review the position description for a clear outline of requirements and ensure your letter directly addresses the qualifications needed for the position.
  • It is not effective to use the same text in your letter to apply for different positions.
  • It is important to change your letter to best suit each position and to highlight your skills and qualifications for that specific internship/job and/or employer.

Personalize the Letter

  • When possible, address the letter to a specific individual using his/her name, title (Dr., Ms. Mr., etc.) and position with the organization (Director of Human Resources, etc.).
  • If a contact person is not listed in the job description and it is difficult to identify the contact via the company website or through networking, do not assume that the hiring manager has a particular gender by opening the letter with “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam.” Instead, “Dear Director of Human Resources” or “Dear Hiring Official” is appropriate.


  • Request that several people review and comment on your letter, including a career advisor in Career Planning & Development.
  • Review your document until you are confident it is error-free and an honest, accurate reflection of your skills and abilities.
  • Remember that spell check may not find a word that is spelled correctly but is misused (there vs. their, for example).

Focus on the Reader

  • When writing cover letters, writers often overuse the word “I” and focus on what they want from a company or job. Instead, focus on the reader of the letter.
  • Explain to the reader how you can contribute to the organization.
  • Reword sentences to eliminate excessive occurrences of “I” by using “my” and “me.” For example, “I have enclosed a copy of my resume” becomes “Enclosed you will find a copy of my resume.”

Create a Theme

  • Connect your cover letter content to other pieces used in the application process. Does your resume introduce the skills and qualifications you will elaborate on further in your cover letter?
  • In preparing your application materials, ensure that you unify the message that you want to relay to your prospective employer.

Formatting & Content Guidelines

How you format your cover letter, both from a content (the information you include) and presentation (what your cover letter looks like) is important. Even when applying online or through email, your cover letter needs to be properly formatted, readable, and prepared without any errors.

Block-Style Format: The block-style format is the most frequent and recommended format for preparing a job cover letter. In this format, text is aligned left and single spaced. The exception to the single spacing is a double space between paragraphs.

Limit Your Letter to One Page: Write clearly and concisely and avoid using unnecessary words and phrases. Margins should be no less than .5” and font size should be no smaller than 10 point.

Vary Your Sentence Structure: Adding variety to your letters makes them more interesting and easy to read. Vary your sentence structure to create an interesting, effective letter. For example, offset long sentences with shorter sentences and use transitional words and phrases to help ideas flow together.

Consistency: Use the same font in a similar size as used on your resume for a consistent, professional look.

Include Relevant Content: Your cover letter should contain accurate, specific information relating to your professional qualifications for an internship, job, or graduate school.

Use Action Verbs and Adjectives: Keep content action-oriented. Focus on providing the reader with objective, factual evidence of your qualifications.

Sample Letter Format

Contact Information: Your contact information should be included at the top of the letter, aligned left. Include your name, address, city, state and zip code, phone number, and e-mail.

Date: Insert the month, day and year the cover letter is being submitted.

Contact Information (the person or company you're writing to): Include the name, job title, company, address, city, state and zip code.

Greeting Examples: Dear Mr./Ms. ________; Dear Hiring Manger; Dear Search Committee:

First Paragraph: State the reason for the letter. Who are you (academically and professionally) and why are you writing to this company and for this position? State the specific position for which you are applying and indicate where you learned about the position (Handshake/Career Planning & Development, company website, personal contact/networking, etc.). Then, explain why you are interested in the position and why you want to work for this organization.

Second Paragraph: Outline your strongest qualification(s) as they relate to the company and position description. Do not repeat the information on your resume. Instead, draw attention to the most important experience or education you have and provide supporting evidence of your qualifications. You can do this by describing specific accomplishments or highlighting skills you have developed through work experience, coursework, campus or community involvement, or other activities. Make every effort to connect your qualifications to the job requirements.

Optional Third Paragraph: Some writers prefer to introduce their strongest qualification(s) as they relate to the company and position description in the second paragraph and then expound upon them in a third paragraph. If you choose to utilize a third paragraph, use it to provide specific provide supporting evidence (give an example) of your qualification(s).

Final Paragraph: Thank the reader for their time. Establish a flow of action that produces a positive response. Suggest what you want the reader to do or what action you plan to take. Repeat your contact information (preferred phone number and e-mail address).

Closing Examples: Sincerely; Best Regards.

Hand Written Signature: Insert your hand written signature.

Typed Signature: Insert your first and last name.

Submitting a Cover Letter

A cover letter may be submitted in multiple ways. Review the tips below for submitting a cover letter as a part of a complete, customized employment application.

  • Be sure you read every job description carefully to understand what application materials the employer seeks and in what format.
  • When e-mailing an application to an employer, attach a cover letter (along with other requested materials) to your e-mail message. In the body of the e-mail, briefly express interest in the company and the position, and explain what materials are attached to the e-mail.
  • Due to the length of cover letters (and the brief, concise nature of e-mail), putting your cover letter in the body of the e-mail message is not recommended. Rather, attach your documents in a PDF format if available.
  • When using an online application form, you may be asked to copy and paste your letter into a text box, or allowed to upload documents into the system as part of the application process.

Cover Letter Samples

The Career Planning & Development Center (CPDC) assists individuals with exploring and defining their personal career goals while developing the skills and confidence necessary to succeed.

Explore additional resources, tools and services on the CPDC's website.

Individual career advising is available for current Webster University students and recent graduates. Request an appointment with a career advisor through Handshake.


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