At certain points in your job search, it will be necessary to write (or e-mail or fax) employers. This handout contains information and guidelines for writing professional correspondence including cover letters, thank you letters, networking, acceptance, withdrawal and rejection letters.
This student was both delighted at the accepted request and aggravated at the employer. “What does it matter?” he asked me in frustration. “I am not a writer!”
No, we’re not writers. But we are professionals. Writer or not, every single job seeker must write to potential employers at some point during the job search. You may find yourself composing cover letters, thank you notes, networking correspondence, acceptance, withdrawal, or rejection letters, or providing professional references.
When you do write, everything must be perfectly composed and meticulously structured. Your writing represents you, just like everything else about the job search. Think of it this way: what if you walked into an interview with splotches of greasy food all over the front of your shirt? Errors in writing are kind of the same way. Each one distracts from the personality and skill set you are trying to sell, and is likely to decrease your chance of a great first impression. This handout helps you to approach the different kinds of writing you may have to face during the job search in the most professional manner possible.
HIGHLIGHT EXPERIENCE — the cover letter is the most common kind of correspondence during the job search. A cover letter accompanies a resume being sent to an organization for a specific position or area of interest. The well-written cover letter highlights selective aspects of your background which best suit the employer’s needs. In other words, the cover letter bridges the gap between your skills and experience and the qualifications of the position or area of interest.
CAPTURE ATTENTION — a well-written cover letter commands the reader’s attention.
STIMULATE INTEREST — it generates interest in you and your resume (and portfolio, if applicable) as well as reflects your interest in the job and/or the organization.
SPECIFY THE FOLLOW UP — do you plan to call the employer (and when)?
ASK FOR AN INTERVIEW — the opportunity to interview is the ultimate goal of your cover letter and resume.
A cover letter usually includes three to four paragraphs. Each paragraph has a different goal.
FIRST PARAGRAPH — tells who you are and why you are writing (without saying, “My name is…and I want a job.”) Suggest the kind of activity you would like to be involved in (co-op or full-time). Give a bit of background on yourself and why you are pursuing a position in this field or discuss briefly what you are currently doing. If another referred you to this person, state “I am writing at the suggestion of ________”.
SECOND PARAGRAPH — this is your ‘SELL’ paragraph. It is your time to outline for the employer what you can do for THEM. Do not give a blow-by-blow account of your resume. Instead, highlight the experiences, skills, and abilities that are the most relevant to THIS employer. Do not just state a skill, i.e., “I am able to handle multiple tasks.” Instead PROVE that you have the skill, i.e., “I developed the ability to handle multiple tasks by juggling a full course load, a paid internship and serving as treasurer for the sophomore class.” Draw from your academic experiences, jobs, and activities – wherever your strengths lie. This paragraph is your chance to describe to the employer exactly why YOU are the person for the job. If you are responding to a job posting, make connections between their requirements and your qualifications. Make it obvious to the employer that you are a good match for their job.
CLOSING PARAGRAPH — finally, sign off. Indicate how interested you would be in meeting in person to talk more about the possibility of working with them. Refer to any attachments. Be sure to state that you will contact them to see when such a meeting might be arranged. Do not worry about sounding too aggressive – this is the protocol employers expect you to follow. Remember, if you do not follow up, someone else will. Two short paragraphs are better than one long one and have a better chance of being read. Always try to focus on your accomplishments and how your skills can assist the employer. Focus on their needs, not yours.
- Research the organization and use the information obtained in your cover letter to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about them. Ideally, every cover letter is unique and targeted to a specific position.
- Address the letter to a specific person within an organization. If you do not know the person’s name, title, or gender call the organization and ask for the correct information. If you are unable to get a specific name, acceptable alternatives are “Dear Sir/Madam” or “Dear Human Resources Representative”. When responding to a job posting site with no opportunity to address your letter to an individual or the follow-up person, you can only ask the employer to email or call you and hope for the best.
- Be sure to use an acceptable business letter format (see page 5 ). Keep a copy of each letter for your records.
- Communicate your ambition and enthusiasm
- Stress accomplishments by explaining how you have met or exceeded specific employer needs
- Show how previous experiences/accomplishments relate to the position for which you are applying
- The reader is judging you on how well you write so do your best to make the words come alive!
- Do not overuse the word “I”. It is better to give examples of how you did something.
- Use active, not passive, verbs.
- Make it perfect. Check to make sure your cover letter is free of typos and is grammatically correct.
This is one of the most important, yet least used, tools in a job search. Fewer than 20 percent of candidates bother to
extend this basic courtesy. As an interviewee, not only does the thank you letter show your appreciation of time, but
also if well constructed, it is an excellent opportunity to again market your skills and interest in the position.
- Thank you letters should be sent as soon as possible after the interview, preferably within 24 hours.
- Sending thank you notes through e-mail is acceptable. Handwritten messages on conservative note cards really capture attention because they are not common.
- If a committee interviews you, you may opt to send each committee member a unique thank you letter, or one letter to the committee chairperson asking that they share it with the other members.
- State that you remain interested in the job, or at least that you are interested in taking the next steps.
This letter is designed to generate informational interviews, not job interviews, which allow you to meet individuals who can give specific information about a career, an industry of interest, or their position and company.
Use this letter to accept a job offer and to confirm the terms of your employment (salary, starting date, medical examinations, etc.). An acceptance letter often follows a telephone conversation during which the details of the offer and the terms of employment are discussed. The letter confirms your acceptance of the offer, expresses your appreciation for the opportunity, and positively reinforces the employer’s decision to hire you.
Once you accept a position, you have an obligation to inform all other employers with whom you have had an interview (or have one pending) of your decision and to withdraw your employment application from consideration. This should be done by e-mail because of the immediacy of the job offer process. In either case, you should express appreciation for the employer’s consideration and courtesy. It may be appropriate to state that your decision to go with another organization was based on having better job fit for this stage in your career. Do not say you obtained a better job. And don’t burn any bridges.
Employers are not the only ones to send rejection letters. Candidates may have to decline employment offers that do not fit their career objectives and interests. Rejecting an employment offer should be handled professionally, and preferably verbally. If you need to inform the employer in writing, indicate that you have carefully considered the offer and have decided not to accept it. Also, be sure to thank the employer for the offer and for consideration of you as a candidate. This will improve your chances should you later reapply to the employer.
It may be easy to treat e-mail as a casual, off-the-cuff kind of writing. Most of the same rules as with traditional writing, however, still apply. When using e-mail, keep the following in mind:
Be Brief, But Not Too Brief, when writing e-mails. Conciseness counts – scrolling through a message may put people off. It is okay to write a short reply to a long email if you are acknowledging or confirming something. Example:
“Thanks for that comprehensive update. I will do X, Y, or Z.”
Identify yourself with a standard signature block that is automatically inserted at the bottom of each business email. Not everyone will remember or know right away who you are and why you are writing. The signature should include your full name, position (or major, for students), and pertinent contact information. You should also always fill in the subject line with the relevant subject.
Style Counts. Do not ever write in ALL CAPS. Don’t use acronyms/slang (TTYL, LOL, L8R, etc). Avoid using emoticons. You want to express enthusiasm, but be careful not to use too many exclamation points!!! You should always spell-check and proof everything.
Keep Separate Accounts for personal and work correspondence. It is surprisingly easy to goof and end up sending something embarrassing to a potential employer. Furthermore, your business email should be something professional sounding, like firstname.lastname@example.org. No matter how laid back your potential workplace is, email@example.com is not acceptable for a business email!
Job seekers may e-mail resumes, cover letters and thank you notes to employers.
- Treat the e-mail message you send along with your resume as if it were a formal cover letter.
- To insure the employer will get your resume, place a text version of your resume in the body of your message and attach a formatted version as an attachment.
- Use small file sizes for attachments – try to keep it under 500kb. No one appreciates a message that exceeds the capacity of his or her inbox.
You should plan to have 3-4 (or more) professional references. They can be professors, advisors, previous supervisors,
managers, etc. It should be someone that can speak to a potential employer about your performance as an employee or
student. Do not use friends or family members as references. Make sure that you ask the person if they are willing to be your
reference, before putting them on your reference list.