Job Hakr

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search


Targeted Cover Letters

Targeted Cover Letters

Targeted Cover Letters

Your cover letter and your resume: it’s the two documents that are the staples of the student affairs job search. But many professionals get caught up with the cover letter and what goes into writing it.

If you don’t know, the cover letter is the document that accompanies your resume. You can think about as the bridge between the job posting and your interest in it. The cover letter is the link that relates the open position with your professional qualifications (resume).

The most common mistake that most student affairs professionals is failing to write a specific and targeted cover letter. It’s an easy one to make as it’s much faster to fire off a template.

But there’s a better, more efficient, and effective way to writing cover letters. Here’s a cover letter writing method that helps candidates’ materials get through the applicant tracking system, reviewed by human resources, and land in front of the search committee.

Writing a targeted cover letter

When writing a cover letter you want it to be specific for the job you’re applying for. While the first “eyes” that read your cover letter may not be human; it would pain a human reader to review a very vague and general letter.

So that means that you have to make your cover letter specific. If it’s going to be seen, it should be tailored to the job posting. So take the time to make the cover letter specific for the position, institution, and mission during your application process.

Read AND re-use the job description

Nothing identifies an unprepared candidate more than a cover letter that doesn’t include anything about the position. Language about your background and skills is great; but it doesn’t help identify why YOU would be a great fit for the role.

So before you write anything, make sure that you read and carefully review the job description. This means scouring it from top to bottom and making sure that you have a solid understanding of who they’re looking for in this role.

This is going to be important for two different reasons. One: it helps you write more targeted materials. Two: it helps you more closely identify what you have done, and what you can do for the institution. This means that you can (and should) REUSE the job description when writing your cover letter.

The job description is already chocked full of great keywords, responsibilities, and other blocks of text of what they are looking for in the role. Re-using those sections (followed with sentences about your specific experiences in that area) helps you accomplish that!

Play yourself up

I also advise mentees to clearly identify what makes them unique professionals. Often that means that I come back to four main areas of professional development.  Those areas are knowledge, background, skills, and experiences.

Your knowledge is what you know. You can talk about a specific course you’ve taken in your graduate program, committees you’ve served on in a specific functional area, or other parts of your knowledge that would make you a great fit for the role.

Your background is how you came into student affairs; your driving goals and ambitions; and what you hope to contribute to the role based on your philosophy. Your skills are your specific abilities that help align your knowledge and background with what the role needs. These skills can include housing administration, social media management, student advisement, or training. All of these skills have accumulated through your work with students and during your time in your graduate program.

Finally, your experience is what makes the combination of your knowledge, background, and skills, unique. Your experience is how you were able to apply your knowledge of student development theory in honing your student advising skill set. Your background attending a large, urban, private university helps you better determine the needs of students living in a big city for the first time.

These four areas (your knowledge, background, skills, and experience) are what makes you a unique student affairs professional. It’s something that makes you a one of a kind individual in the search process.

Pivoting to the institution and your role

Of course being a unique student affairs professional doesn’t mean that you’re automatically a shoe in for the role. You also need to determine what the institution needs and how you can best serve them. That means reviewing the institution’s vision; the office’s mission; and your hiring manger’s record in writing your cover letter. Incorporating these three areas in addition to connecting them to your knowledge, background, skills, and experiences is what makes a cover letter a unique selling point for your candidacy.

Finding balance

Connecting your professional record with the needs of the institution can often be a challenging process for student affairs professionals. That means that you need to be confident in your abilities in order to sell yourself into the role. However, it can be easy to go too far and end up sounding cocky and arrogant.

Instead, balance your desire to showcase your background and abilities with humility and a desire to grow. I’ve always advised my mentees to express how grateful they are for the opportunity to apply for the position and how they look forward to continue growing and developing at the institution.

Following the format

With so many different pieces of content that go into a cover letter, it can be difficult to organize it. That’s why I always rely on the following format when advising other student affairs professionals on organizing their candidacy materials:

-“Why you are writing” paragraph (explains how you found, and why you’re applying for the job)

-Re-Iterating the job description

-Connecting the description to your knowledge, background, skills, and abilities

-Connecting your knowledge, background, skills, and abilities to the institution’s mission

-Balancing your confidence and humility

-Ending with a call to action (i.e. “I look forward to your email or phone call.”)

Closing thoughts

Now that you’ve written that targeted cover letter, it’s time to review and edit. Make sure that you review your materials at least once (if not twice) before you hit that send button. Remember, that you can only afford to make mistakes once in this process. You don’t want to send off your cover letter with a bunch of typos and grammatical errors.

Finally: the cover letter is just one step in the job search process. It’s designed to get someone to read your resume. Not land you the job. That’s what you’re on-campus interview is for. This is not a time to over think the process. It’s a time to write a persuasive letter to get a hiring manager to give you a chance.

Click here to get a sample targeted cover letter.

Happy writing,

Dave Eng, EdD

Provost, The Job Hakr



Alraven, J. (2015, December 29). How to write a targeted cover letter - Design Resumes. Retrieved August 12, 2019, from

DeCoker, G. (2012, October 04). Beyond the One-Page Cover Letter. Retrieved August 12, 2019, from

Doyle, A. (2019, March 12). Write Your Targeted Cover Letter. Retrieved August 12, 2019, from