As with your resume, it is important to take great care in composing well thought out letters during your job search to make a good first impression on employers. During a job search you will need to compose different types of letters to a variety of professionals, specifically potential employers and networking contacts before and after interviews and meetings.
Not only will you be writing cover letters when applying for job postings, you will also be composing letters to request a meeting with networking contacts for a possible informational interview to learn more about career options in your field or industry.
After any type of meeting, whether an informal networking appointment or a job interview, you will need to follow up with a thank you letter to show your appreciation for the time the interviewer dedicated to you sharing career advice or details about a job opening.
This section of the Career Toolkit takes a look at these different types of job search letters and points you to further resources.
Writing Your Cover Letter
The cover letter is an essential document used to introduce you to an employer. It accompanies your resume when you submit it for consideration for a position opening. It must capture the attention of the employer, encourage a close look at your resume, and match your qualifications with the job requirements.
Before you write your cover letter it is important to carefully review the job description to determine what types of skills, experience, and knowledge the employer requires of qualified applicants for the position. You also need to consider what type of work and academic experience you have and how the potential employer will benefit from your specific skills and knowledge. With each cover letter you can customize the specific wording to the employer's stated needs.
For the traditional format of a customized cover letter, review the CEC's Cover Letter Format as well as the article on Cover Letter Language Examples for both language and formatting guidelines.
Another cover letter option for the job seeker is the "T-Format" cover letter. This is a two-column format that emphasizes your qualifications in an easy-to-read layout. Specific wording from the job posting is listed in the first column and then matched against your specific qualifications in the second column. To learn more about this option, review the Sample Cover Letter - T-Format.
For more information, check out the tips and samples in the "Cover Letter Toolbox" on this page, including the CareerSpots Video - The Cover Letter and the companion CareerSpots article Quick Tips: The Cover Letter.
Writing a Letter to Request a Meeting
A second type of common job search letter is a request to meet with a potential or current contact. Most often the job seeker is seeking an opportunity to meet with a networking contact for an informational interview. You should review more about informational interviews on the Career Toolkit's Optimize Your Networking page, which includes details about identifying and approaching professionals to request a meeting.
Writing a Thank You Letter
A thank you letter is sent by the job seeker following an interview to express appreciation for the employer's time. Often job seekers forget to follow up with a thank you note after job interviews, informational interviews, or after other job search assistance has been provided. Those who do follow up not only impress employers with their manners but take advantage of another opportunity to have their name stand out with the hiring manager. Those who do not follow up after an interview risk either being forgotten or, worse, viewed negatively for failing to show continued interest in the opportunity and appreciation for the employer's time.
For requirements for a typical thank you letter, see the CareerSpots Video - Art of Saying Thank You and the companion article Quick Tips: Art of Saying Thank You.
You should also visit the section of the Simmons Library Interviewing career guide on thank you notes, which provides access to additional resources.
Electronic Documents and E-mail Etiquette
Before e-mailing your documents to employers, e-mail them to yourself and if you want a friend or two. This gives you a chance to address any technical or format problems and confirm that you are sending the most updated version of your document.
For more on dealing with electronic document versions, check out the relevant pages in the Simmons Library Career Guide on Resumes and Cover Letters.
E-mail Etiquette in a Job Search
Since many employers request job applicants to submit cover letters and resumes online, you will need to compose a well-written e-mail to introduce yourself in a professional manner. Basic e-mail etiquette, also known as "netiquette", requires a formal approach for business correspondence to ensure that your message is clearly understood and does not offend the reader in any way. Before you begin to draft an e-mail to a networking contact or potential employer, keep in mind that the format should follow that of a traditional business letter. The guidelines for e-mail letters apply to all types of job search letters - writing to professionals to request an informational interview, to apply for a job opening, and to say thank you following an interview.
When applying for an opening, you have two options regarding e-mail. You can send a brief e-mail stating that you have attached your resume and cover letter for that specific job. Alternatively, you can use your e-mail as your cover letter, putting the body of the letter in the e-mail itself and attaching your resume. It is important to follow any detailed instructions from the employer about how to format and send your documents, such as in Word or PDF, as a separate attachment with your resume and cover letter in a single document, etc. Different employers may use different approaches, and you want to make sure that you adhere to their guidelines. By doing so you not only demonstrate respect for the employer's business practices but show that you can follow basic instructions as well.
For More Information
For more information about job search letters see:
- The job letter section of About.com, which describes a wide variety of job search letters and includes sample documents.
- The NACE Jobweb article on "The Art of Writing Job Search Letters", which describes and shows sample formats and language for different job search letter types.
For more information on e-mail etiquette, view the following:
When to Meet with a Career Coach about Your Job Search Letter
The logical time to meet with a coach about your cover letter or other job search letter is when you are about to apply for a job or reach out for an informational interview to a networking contact. Before meeting with a CEC career coach about your letter, we suggest you review the information on this page and the companion resources and documents. When you reach a point where you feel you would benefit from a meeting with a CEC coach, you can schedule an appointment to have a coach review your letter draft and answer any of your specific questions. You may also want to meet at the same time as you are putting the finishing touches on your resume. For a briefer meeting which does not require arranging an appointment in advance, stop by the CEC during Drop-In hours (Mondays & Tuesdays, 3:00-4:30 PM, Wednesdays & Thursdays, 1:30-3:00 PM) for a brief 15-minute session with a coach.
Job Search Letter Toolbox
- CareerSpots Video - The Cover Letter
- CareerSpots Quick Tips - The Cover Letter
- CareerSpots Video - Art of Saying Thank you
- CareerSpots Quick Tips - Art of Saying Thank you
- Cover Letter Format
- Cover Letter Language Examples
- E-mail Guidelines for the Job Search
- Writing a Cover Letter - Overview
Job Search Letter Toolbox
Career Toolkit for Graduate Students
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