Letter Writing in the Job Search
In this Page:
|Basic Guidelines for Letters||Guidelines for Applying via Email and the Web|
|Cover Letters (Application and Inquiry)||Thank You Letter, Accept Offer, Decline Offer|
As an applicant seeking employment, you will find yourself writing different kinds of letters at various stages of your search. Each letter you write in your job search should be treated as professional correspondence and as an opportunity to make a positive impression on a potential employer.
- Address letters to an individual by name and title, whenever possible. If you do not know their name, your salutation should be appropriate for either sex, such as "Dear Personnel Manager;" or "Dear Sir or Madam:" or Dear Mr. or Ms., or "Dear Director." Never use only "Dear Sir" unless you know for CERTAIN that the person reading your letter is a male.
- Proofread all letters for mistakes. Use computer tools to check spelling and grammar.
- Letters should be printed on high quality bond paper.
- Sign your letters. Fold your letters and mail in a business size envelope or a larger envelope if the necessary application materials require a larger envelope.
- Keep copies of all letters written and all correspondence received in a systematic order for reference purposes.
- Utilize the English Writing Center in 304 Wimberly Hall if you need assistance with grammar, punctuation, structure, or proofreading.
The purpose of a cover letter is to show how your background fits the particular job and organization to which you are applying. You are also demonstrating to a prospective employer that you are the right person for the position and that you have a specific interest in working for that organization. There are two basic types of cover letters: letters of application and letters of inquiry. A letter of application is used to apply for a position currently available. A letter of inquiry is sent to express interest in working for a particular employer. Most major employers do not keep resumes on file unless they have positions available. Therefore, letters of inquiry should be limited. Contact the employer for their policies on unsolicited letters and resumes prior to sending them.
General Suggestions for Cover Letters:
- Include a cover letter when sending, emailing or faxing a resume.
- Your letters should be work centered and employer centered, not self-centered.
- Tailor your letters for each employer and position. Generic, mass produced letters are unprofessional.
- Research the employer! Demonstrate some knowledge of the organization. Information is available on the Internet, in the Career Resource Center, Murphy Library, and most public libraries.
- Highlight how you can contribute to the organization to which you are applying.
- Incorporate your job objective into the letter, especially if you have not included an objective in your resume.
- Call attention to items on your resume rather than duplicating all the information included on the resume.
- Be brief. In most cases a one page letter is sufficient.
- When the employer requests salary history or requirements, it is best to state a range. Indicate that through your research, you are aware that the salary range for a person with your experience, education and training for this type of position is between $______ and $______. See the Career Services Home Page for salary information.
Paragraph Content Suggestions:
Avoid typical openings; be creative. Give reasons for your interest in the employer and the position and demonstrate your knowledge of the employer. Consider using one of the following as an opening:
- Explain what you have to offer the organization in regard to your job objective.
- You are impressed with the organization's products, management style, curriculum, facilities, etc.
- You are aware that the organization will be interviewing on campus later in the semester, but you would like to speak to them sooner because of opportunities with other organizations available to you now.
- You are seeking a position with a smaller organization to gain a broad perspective of the functions of a particular organization, or for other reasons.
- You are seeking a large organization that will allow you the opportunity to specialize, or other reasons.
- You are seeking a small, rural school because you attended a small school or taught at a small school. The same reasons apply for other positions and other schools.
- You are interested in technical sales or consumer goods sales, or retail sales, and why.
- You are interested in working for a franchise because....
- You have been referred by (person's name) and are impressed with the information he or she gave you on (organization's name).
- You are impressed by a current development within the organization. Possible current events might include an article in a recent publication, a recent expansion project (either a building or acquisition of another company), a new product line, a recent change in administration, or knowledge of the school district's recent athletic records.
- If you have met the person you are writing to, remind the person of where and when, and thank him/her for stimulating your interest.
- Perhaps you were impressed with the information given at a recent seminar, workshop, or during a tour of their organization.
- If applicable, state you are aware they have hired University of Wisconsin-La Crosse graduates in the past.
Any of the above suggestions not used in the first paragraph are possibilities for the middle paragraphs. Also the following:
- Stress what you can contribute to the organization by calling attention to your particular experiences and abilities that relate to the position you are seeking. However, do not duplicate information from your resume word for word. Employers do not want to read the same information twice.
- For letters of application, indicate knowledge of the job description and that you are aware you meet the qualifications.
- For inquiries, mention your interest in specific types of positions if you know that this employer has these positions, or discuss skills that you have that you would like to put to use in this organization.
In letters of application, request an interview at the convenience of the employer. In letters of inquiry, tell the employer that you will call them to discuss opportunities with their organization.
- If appropriate, request necessary application materials.
- If you will be in the city on a certain date, volunteer this information.
- Indicate if you can be contacted at a telephone number or address other than the one(s) on your resume.
- If applicable to you, tell them that you have an answering machine or that your can easily be reached by email.
- If you will be away for an extended period of time, tell them who will take a message. Always make sure potential employers can reach you easily.
- Thank the person for their time and consideration and politely request an interview.
- Acceptable closings: Sincerely, Sincerely yours, Yours sincerely.
- Type and sign your name.
- Type the word "Enclosure" to indicate that additional materials such as your resume have been enclosed.
If you are given the choice of applying through traditional mail or email, use email. Applying via email is less expensive and gets your application to the employer more quickly (and in a format that is easier for them to process). When applying via email here are some guidelines to follow:
- Unless the job announcement gives you other instructions, make the body of your email your cover letter and attach your resume to the email.
- Use the subject line of your email to let the employer
know why you are writing. If a job reference number or
pertinent phrase is given use it. Examples:
- Application for position number _______ (where the job announcement cites a specific position number)
- Application for Research Technologist position
- Use an e-mail address that makes a positive first impression. Your school email is best for students/internship applicants. Graduating seniors or alums should establish a personal email address that sounds professional. Consider something like your first name and last name with a number added to the end.
- Keep the format simple: no background designs or colors, no unusual fonts.
- Do not use abbreviations, IM shorthand or emoticons (those smiley faces) in your emails. This is professional correspondence, not an email to your friends or family.
- Use spell check and proofread carefully before hitting the "Send" button.
- Be concise – the employer should be able to see your entire cover letter without scrolling.
- Use an appropriate closing (like "Sincerely"), skip a line, then type your first and last name. You could also include your mailing address and phone number just below this information at the end of your email.
- Keep a printed copy of all your letters of application, including those that you email.
Here are a few other tips for email communication with employers.
- Keep the tone of all emails with potential employers formal and professional
- When replying to employer emails, leave the e-mail reply thread intact – this allows employers to recall what was mentioned in earlier correspondence
- Address all questions and inquiries posed by the employer – this ensures accurate understanding and less time spent responding to numerous emails
- Answer emails in a timely manner – if you wait too long, employers may think you are no longer interested
Online Through an Employer or Job Search Website
Some employer and job search websites will require you to submit a cover letter online. Others may give you the option, but not require it. Even if a letter is not required, it is a good idea to submit one with your application. On some websites, you upload a file containing your cover letter (often in Word, .pdf or text format). On other websites, you will be given a text box into which you copy and paste your cover letter. Write, edit and spell check your cover letter in a word processor and then copy and paste it into the text box. Use a format that aligns your information along the left margin to allow for a better format in the text box.
Even if a website does not give you a place to upload or copy and paste a cover letter, you might consider adding a cover letter as a part of your resume. This would allow you to specifically discuss your qualifications for the position and why you are interested in working for that organization. To do so, simply append the cover letter by copying and pasting it to the beginning or end of your resume.
Thank you letters following interviews are a professional courtesy. Immediately after you have an interview, send a brief thank you to the potential employer for the interview. Many employers expect to receive thank you letters within a couple of days of the interview. Thank you letters not only demonstrate good manners, but also provide another opportunity to present a positive image of you. Note that a thank you letter should always be sent, even if you do not expect to receive a job offer from this employer or if you have decided that you are no longer interested in the position for which you interviewed.
- Express appreciation for their time and information; state the position for which you interviewed, interview date, and place.
- Include some reference to your conversation.
- Reaffirm interest, mention any important items forgotten in the interview, and/or include additional qualifications of work experience not included on resume.
- Mention your availability for additional interviews. Close with a feeling of enthusiasm for the position and organization.
- If no longer interested in the position, thank the employer for their time and ask that your application be withdrawn.
LETTER OF ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF OFFER
If you are offered employment, never leave the employer uncertain of when you will make a decision.
- Acknowledge receipt of employment offer and express your appreciation for the offer.
- Notify the employer of the date you expect to make your decision.
LETTER OF ACCEPTANCE OF OFFER
Your reply to your new employer should be brief, personalized, and written in such a way as to reinforce the employer's decision to hire you. Be sure to indicate the date on which you will start work so there will be no misunderstanding.
- Refer to details of agreement, e.g., job title, responsibilities, salary, starting date, etc.
- Express your appreciation and your pleasure in joining the staff.
LETTER DECLINING OFFER
It is very important to notify employers from whom you have received offers that you have reached a decision and accepted another employer's offer. State your appreciation for the time and interest that they have shown you.