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COVER LETTERS

LETTER WRITING GUIDE

Source:  The Career Center, The Florida State University


Objective

You will be able to write appropriate letters pertaining to your job campaign.

Activities

The following activities will enable you to meet the objective.

  1. Develop an organizational system.

  2. Study letter-writing suggestions.

  3. Choose a format and review sample letters.

  4. Write a letter which matches your goals.

  5. Ask someone you trust to proofread and critique your letter.

  1.  Develop An Organizational System

Before you begin sending any letters, it is important that you devise some way of keeping track of when and what you have sent.  For instance, if you send a letter to Ms. X asking for an interview and offer to call her during the week of June 6th, you need to have that date on record so you can be sure to meet that commitment.  Also, if you are sending out 40 letters to various employers, it can be critical to know what you have said in a particular letter to be able to follow it up with accuracy.  Listed below are two formats for organizing your letter campaign.

  1. Create a chart with columns for the prospective employer's name, the person contacted, the date sent, any commitments you made in the letter and follow-up.  Make another chart showing the response you received from each letter with column headings, such as prospective employer's name, person who replied, date of reply, and action taken.  Keep these charts up to date and hold on to letters you receive.
  2. Make copies of all the letters that you send out and file them in a folder.  Keep another file folder for the letters you receive which call for further action to be taken on your part and a separate file folder for your rejection letters.  This method can be especially helpful because you have reference to all your letters for use when composing other letters.  Also, you can look back over the letters you have sent and see which ones were the most effective in generating interviews.
  1. General Suggestions For Letters

 Do

  • follow rules of layout and format of a standard business letter
  • slant letter toward what you can offer employers, not what you think they should be offering you
  • address, whenever possible, to an individual, along with his/her correct title
  • spell, punctuate, and paragraph correctly
  • write in your own words and in conversational language
  • hand-sign, rather than type your signature
  • print your letters on good quality paper
  • be brief, concise and to the point
  • close with a direct request for some sort of action (i.e., interview appointment)
  • take advantage of any link to the employer that can put your foot in the door or give you an edge over the competition (for example, mentioning the name of someone you know in the organization)

Don't

  • use stiff language or phrasing
  • be gimmicky in an attempt to be original or clever
  • load with constant use of the word “I”
  • be lofty in tone or indicate you will do the employer a great service by “considering&rdquo a position
  • be excessively emphatic about your reliability, capacity for hard work or intelligence.  This kind of self-appraisal is usually best understated.  The appearance and tone of your letter and resume can say more about you than you can gracefully say about yourself.
  1. Choice Of Cover Letter Format

Although there are a variety of styles, formats and content elements, there are two basic formats which may aid you in writing your individualized letter of application.

Shotgun Letter

Used to broadcast your availability to many employers in your field without composing a separate letter for each one.  Although it is not usually used to pursue a specific job lead, it is wise to personalize it.

Examples:  “I am writing to present you with my qualifications for a position as a Guidance Counselor at....” or &ldquoI am very aware of the changing role of the nurse in today's (hospital, clinic, etc.).&rdquo  By inserting the appropriate word or phrase, you can tailor each correspondence with much less effort than individually composed letters.

 Rifle Approach

Used to investigate a specific job lead.  You may be answering an ad or following up on a suggestion offered by the Career Center, a relative, friend, etc.  Since the nature of the opening is known to you, you would construct your letter to show how your abilities can be applied to meet the employer's needs.  You also can make reference to specific information you discovered through conversations or by doing research about the organization.

Examples:  “My academic background, together with my work experience, has prepared me to function especially well as a Marketing Specialist for IBM.”  Or “I am impressed by your continual growth through grant funded activities.”

  1. Other Types of Letters

Inquiry Letter

After preparing a list of organizations which complement the position you are seeking, as well as your interest and training, a letter of inquiry in which you approach the employer requesting employment information is the next step.  It is important to research the organization as much as possible to lend credibility and insight to your contact letter.

Format Suggestions

  • Determine and state your exact interest in the employer and explain why they, in turn, should be interested in you.  The more you know about the organization, the easier it will be for you to tailor your letter to their needs and interests.
  • Emphasize your positive assets and skills.  Be as specific as possible about the type of position you are seeking and tie this to your knowledge of the organization and its business.
  • Identify a specific person within the organization to whom to send your letter.  As a general rule, in larger organizations, send the letter to the Personnel or Human Resources Department - the Manager of Employment, Recruitment or Personnel.  Also, directing your letter to the key executive or manager in the department to which you are applying is advisable. If the contact person's name is not available, address your letter: "Dear Madam or Sir" or "Dear Selection Committee Chair."
  • State when you would be available to meet for an interview and include a phone number and/or e-mail where you can most easily be reached.

 Response Letter To Help Wanted

  • Thoroughly read and reread an advertisement to aid you in determining what the potential employer is looking for.  Try to speak to the “needs” of the organization evidenced through the ad — some reading between the lines may be necessary so that you can tailor your response.
  • Answer the ad as soon as possible after it appears.  However, make sure that you allow yourself enough time to prepare adequately.
  • Be as innovative as possible to aid your letter in standing out amidst the wave of response letters the organization is sure to receive.
  • Follow the advertisement's instructions carefully regarding where the response should be directed and what to include (i.e., resume, statement of geographic preference, etc.).  Answer all questions, with the exception of responding to a request for salary requirements.   In this case, it is advisable to avoid a direct answer and simply indicate that it is open or negotiable.
  • Be brief!  Letters should be individualized, concise and factual.
  • Always consider the reaction of the employer by putting yourself in his/her place.  Try to determine what accomplishments and skills would be most attractive to a particular employer.
  • Be straightforward, professional and businesslike - remember you are selling yourself.  As with the resume, stick to the facts.
  • Remember that the primary purpose of the letter is to get you in the door for the interview - make sure the letter has impact.

Interview Appreciation Letter

Interviews should always be followed up with a thank-you letter expressing appreciation for the interviewer's time.  Not only is this an accepted courtesy, your letter can also serve to refresh your session in the mind of the interviewer.  When an on-site visit to the employer is involved, the appreciation letter may accompany your expense account for the visit.

Format Suggestions

  • Express appreciation for the interviewer's consideration and arrangement of meeting.
  • State the date of the interview and name of the employer.
  • Reiterate your interest in the employer by mentioning new points or assets you may have failed or forgotten to address in the original interview.
  • Ask any questions you may have which were not answered in the original interview.
  • Express your anticipation to receive word regarding their decision.

Letter Of Acknowledgement

Once you have received an offer from an employer or institution, it is important to respond as soon as possible.  While an immediate “yes” or “no” is not essential, acknowledgement of the offer is expected.

Format Suggestions

  • Acknowledge receipt of the offer.
  • Express your appreciation for the offer.
  • Notify the employer of the date by which you expect to make your decision.

Letter of Acceptance

Once you have decided to accept the offer, the employer should be notified immediately.  It is not necessary to wait until the expiration date of the offer before contacting the recruiter and hiring officer of the organization selected.  Employers will appreciate your promptness as it will allow them to assess the status of their personnel selection process.

Format Suggestions

  • Acknowledge the letter, verbal offer or telephone call of dated offer.
  • Be as specific as possible, mentioning starting salary and supervisor's name.  Be sure to list and detail all items (benefits, performance reviews, moving expenses, etc.) agreed to in the offer.
  • State when you will be able to report to work.  Acknowledge if initiation is contingent on any events, such as award of a degree, passing of physical examination, certification, etc.
  • Express appreciation to contact person and anyone else who has been particularly helpful.
  • Ask if any other information is required or if additional details should be attended to prior to reporting.

Letter of Declination

As a matter of courtesy, a letter of declination is due to those organizations whose offers you are rejecting.  Despite the negative nature of the correspondence, it is vital that other employers know your decisions.  Such a letter often follows a telephone call - making your decision a matter of record and avoiding any confusion arising from verbal communication.

Format Suggestions

  • Express appreciation for the offer.
  • Mention name of potential supervisor.
  • State the exact position for which you were being considered.
  • Decline graciously.
  • Briefly explain reason for choice, sticking to the facts.
  • No profuse apology necessary - re-express appreciation.

Sample Cover Letter Outline

Your Present Address
City, State, Zip Code

Date Of Writing

 

Ms. Jane Blank
Title
Organization
Street Address
City, Province, Postal Code

Dear Ms. Blank:

1st Paragraph — Tell why you are writing; name the position, field, or general career area about which you are asking.  Tell how you heard of the opening or organization.

2nd Paragraph — Mention one or two of your qualifications you think would be of greatest interest to the organization, slanting your remarks to their point of view.  Tell why you are particularly interested in the employer, location, or type of work.  If you have had related experience or specialized training, be sure to point it out.  Refer the reader to the enclosed application form, resume or the fact that the XYZ Career Placement Office has or will send full credentials to provide additional information concerning your background and interests.

3rd Paragraph — Close by making a request for an opportunity to visit the employer.  Indicate that you will follow up with a phone call about the possibility of a meeting.  If, instead of wanting an interview, your request is for further information concerning openings, it would be polite to enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.  Make sure your closing is not vague, but makes a specific action from the reader likely. Thank the employer for his/her consideration of your application materials.

Sincerely,

(Your Handwritten Signature)

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