Cover Letters and Thank You Notes
What Are Job Search Letters?
There are several types of letters and notes used in a job search - letters of inquiry, networking, thank you, acknowledgement, declining and acceptance. Because these written forms of communication are so critical to your success in obtaining interviews, and to your ultimate goal of accepting a job offer, these letters must be carefully thought out, composed and edited. Several job-search letters are described on this site, but the most common, and very often the most difficult to write, fall under the category of "cover" letters.
What Are the Two Types of Cover Letters?
There are basically two types of cover letters:
- Letter of Inquiry, or "Prospecting" letter. Its purpose is to inquire if there are any openings related to your professional interests, educational background, skills and abilities.
- Letter of Application, also known as a "Cover" Letter. Its purpose is to apply for what you know or assume to be a specific opening, based upon a written advertisement or a referral from another source (friend, faculty member, job fair, etc.). This letter is sent with your resume and expands upon the information found in your resume. Its intent is to get you an interview by clearly stating your educational background and work qualifications, plus any other related experiences that match the needs of the employer. It gives you the chance to distinguish yourself from other candidates.
Cover letters should always be limited to ONE-PAGE (3-4 paragraphs). Because these are often your first contact with a prospective employer, effective cover letters should:
- Be addressed to an individual and targeted towards that particular employer - "GENERIC" letters are almost always INEFFECTIVE.
- Expand upon the facts in your resume; do not repeat the information. Talk about your skills and accomplishments related to your job target. ("Bullets" can be an effective way to visually emphasize them.)
- Draw a match between your background, abilities and interests and how they would meet the needs of the employer.
- Demonstrate your communication skills and vocabulary.
- Prompt the reader to take some type of action regarding your application, which should ultimately result in an interview.
What Are the Accepted Formats for Job-Search Letters?
The following are two preferred formats, or styles of letters:
Full Block Style
The most commonly used business letter format, where all lines begin at the left-hand margin of the page. Paragraphs are not indented and lines are single spaced. This is the easiest style to use on a computer.
Modified Block Style
All parts of letters in this format line up at the left margin except the return address, date, complimentary closing and signature line. These entries begin at (or a few spaces to the right of) the center line of the page.
While there is not a preferred format, you should consider the following issues in all your job search correspondence:
- Use a "high-quality" printer
- Use quality bond paper that matches your resume
- Consider who the reader is…use easy to read fonts
- Should be written in YOUR OWN WORDS—AVOID USING LETTERS FOUND IN BOOKS, ON THE INTERNET, ETC.
What Are the Components of a Cover Letter?
There are basically eight parts to a cover letter: return address, date, inside address, salutation, body, complimentary closing, signature, and enclosure line (to identify any additional documents(s) in the envelope you may have included; e.g., resume or transcript). Consult the layout on the next page and also take note of the space allotted between each part.
What Are the Differences if I Use E-mail?
If you are e-mailing your resume to a prospective employer, you should always include a cover letter. While it has become a comfortable and informal means of communicating, we suggest that you remember that this is still business communication. While the formatting issues are different, the body of your cover letter, or other types of correspondence should remain the same. Remember, too, that e-mails should be proofed just as carefully as you would a hard copy of your cover letter or resume.
Your e-mail address is also an issue to consider when you begin your job search. Employers may not want to reply to your message if your e-mail address is inappropriate. You may even want to consider a separate e-mail account to use in your job search.
Sample Cover LetterView a sample cover letter
Recommendations for Effective Cover Letters
Personalize Each Letter
Address the letter to a specific individual using his/her name, courtesy title (Dr., Ms., Mr., etc.) and his/her position in the organization - as always, with correct spelling! The Smith Career Center or the Cullom-Davis Library (or employer's Web site) may have this information, but you may have to telephone the organization to verify it.
Use Non-Sexist Language
When answering a blind advertisement where no name is provided, do not assume the gender of the contact person by opening the letter with "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam." It is appropriate to use "Dear Director of Human Resources" or "Dear Marketing Coordinator." Rely on your best judgment in such cases. Also, if you have a contact name, but do not know the gender of the person, (e.g., "Pat Smith"), either call to find out the appropriate courtesy title, or use the salutation: "Dear Pat Smith."
Customize Each Letter
As you develop and polish your letter writing, you probably will rely on a core set of facts and phrases that best describes you and your job target(s). Just make sure to modify this information in each letter, depending on the employer and type of job opportunity. Also, develop and write your own letters. DO NOT copy letters from books or other sources. Remember to use the name of the employer in the body of the letter. Try to avoid using "your company" which may come across as "generic."
Vary the Writing Style
Within the body of the letter, try to offset long sentences with shorter ones. Varying the sentence structure also helps to create a more interesting, effective letter. Another suggestion: DO NOT overuse the first person pronoun "I" especially at the beginning of sentences. Try to keep sentences short, concise and to the point. "Bullets" are also an effective tool that can be utilized in the body of your letter.
Use Attention Getting Words
Create a positive "spin" by using descriptive adjectives and action verbs. Also, don't forget about NOUNS! More employers are using electronic scanners to read and evaluate letters and resumes. Be sure to use the key "buzz words" that are important in your career field when describing your training and work-related skills. It is important to speak positively, while providing an accurate description of your talents.
Proofread for Errors
Computer spell-checkers do not go far enough. To proofread for spelling errors, read the letter backwards from end to beginning, and really focus on each word. Also, proofread from beginning to end for grammatical errors.
Networking Letter (asking for information, not a job)
Personalize the Opening Paragraph
Develop rapport by giving the name of the person making the referral and the relationship to you. Or, indicate the source you used in locating the person.
State Your Purpose
Indicate your reasons for writing (e.g., arranging informational interviews or assistance in locating employment opportunities, internships or volunteer possibilities).
Tell a Little About Yourself
Give the person an idea of your interests, talents, skills and experience as they would relate to your purpose in writing.
Request a response of desired action such as arranging a meeting or a telephone conversation at a mutually agreeable time. Follow-up!
Thank You Notes
Thank the employer for his or her time. Express your enthusiasm for the position. Send separate letters to each interviewer, if each interviewed you separately. However, in certain instances, you can ask the main interviewer to thank the others for you.
Re-state Interest and Qualifications
Explain how your qualifications fit with the position for which you have applied or interviewed. Mention highlights of the interview and how your background meets the need of the employer.
Send within a day or two of the interview. This can distinguish you from other candidates. You can also e-mail a "thank you" to the employer.
Acknowledgement of a Job Offer
Acknowledge the Offer
Acknowledge the offer stating the specifics of the opportunity: job title, salary, starting date, starting location or any other terms of the contract that were conveyed to you verbally or in writing.
Extend Thanks and State Decision Date
Express appreciation and supply the date by which you will make a decision.
Declining an Offer
Express Thanks and Regrets
Express appreciation of the offer along with regrets that you are declining it. You do not need to give specific reasons for declining and do not give the name of the organization whose offer you have accepted, if such is the case.
Don't burn any bridges...you may decide to pursue employment opportunities with the organization in the future.
Accepting a Job Offer
State your acceptance at the very beginning, mentioning specifics of the offer: job title, salary, starting date and other particulars.
Express Thanks and Enthusiasm
Indicate your enthusiasm about the career opportunity and your appreciation for their confidence in you reflected in the offer.