Written communication, whether hard copy or email, serves many purposes in a job search. In a thorough job search, you will write many types of letters. Cover letters, which accompany and introduce your resume, are the ones you may hear about most, but are not the only letters you will need. Letters also precede, follow-up and confirm verbal conversations, so they serve as a record and reminder of interactions, as well as evidence of your communication skills.
Cover Letters, Hard Copy, and Email Topics
- E-mail Guidelines and Business Etiquette in Your Job Search
- Researching Employers — Why and How?
- Cover Letter Types and Samples
- After Your Interviews - Follow Up and Thank You Letters
- Acknowledging a Job Offer
- Declining a Job Offer
- Requesting Extension of Deadline to Accept or Decline Offer
- Accepting an Offer and Withdrawing From the Job Search
There are similar elements to job search letters, but each letter should be individually tailored and targeted to the recipient. There is no such thing as an effective "form letter" in a job search. You know when you get a form letter in the mail; a prospective employer knows too. A letter that looks like it could have been randomly sent to any employer is a good candidate for the employer's "no" pile.
Make your purpose clear
Don't make an employer guess why you are writing or what you are writing about. In choosing your words, think about the purpose of your letter and details of your individual circumstances. For example, if you make a telephone call to an employer prior to sending a cover letter, it makes sense for your letter to refer to the telephone call. If you must respond to an employer's letter to you, read the letter carefully to draft an appropriate response.
Tell the employer what you'll do for the organization, not what the organization can do for you.
Saying, "I really want this job because it will give me great experience," is not a sell to an employer. Of course the job will give you (or someone else) great experience. It just makes you sound all about me-me-me. Instead, tell the employer what you have to offer. Be specific and realistic; as in, "I have great organizational skills that I developed and demonstrated when I was event chair for my club." Don't use hyperbole; as in, "I will immediately contribute to higher profitability on my first day on the job."
Grammar, spelling and punctuation should be error-free; wording should be clear, concise and business-like; avoid gimmicky language and slang terms.
Don't rely on spell check alone
Spell check won't let you know that you've used manger instead of manager, pubic instead of public, perspective instead of prospective, and so on. (All mistakes we've seen plenty of times.)
Be your formal, business-like self, but express yourself in a manner that is natural to you. Avoid too much borrowing of language from sample letters and friends' letters. Excessively flowery language or using complicated words won't make you sound smarter; it will make you sound silly. Use good examples as inspiration, but don't copy.
Retain a copy of every letter you send, including email; mark your calendar for any appropriate follow-up.
Use 8.5 by 11 inch, good quality paper; preferably the same paper as used for your resume. Choose paper which produces clean photocopies. Some papers with flecks make hazy copies.
Do I really need special resume paper?
It's a nice touch, if you've done everything else right. But it's not the most important thing. Nice paper isn't going to get you an interview if your content is weak or your document has typos. If you're going to meet employers at a career fair, they would rather see that you have done your research about the organization in advance, and that you can give a succient introduction of yourself and why the organization interests you. Nice paper won't overcome a weak introduction like, "hi, what does your company do?"
Produce laser quality print; choose a proportionally spaced font, rather than an evenly spaced font. You may choose either serif type like Times New Roman or sans serif type like Arial.
Folding vs. large envelopes
A one-page cover letter and a one-page resume (appropriate for 98.6% of undergraduates) can be folded, but it's a nice touch to use a larger flat envelope so your letter and resume don't have to be folded. By all means, if you're sending other things the employer requested (transcripts, application forms, etc.) and/or you're a Ph.D. candidate with a multi-page CV, don't try to cram it all into a small envelope.