Letter writing is perhaps the most-used traditional job search strategy. While it should not be relied upon as the primary means to develop interviews, effective letter writing is an essential skill.
A cover letter must always accompany a resume when it is sent. The cover letter zeros in on the particular needs of an employer and specifically points out exactly how your qualifications meet those needs. A letter that is obviously mass-mailed will be ignored. Be sure your cover letter is SPECIFIC to that company. Never mail anything that appears to be a form letter. Companies want to feel that you have made the effort to tailor your letter, highlighting your qualifications that meet their particular needs and showing that you are familiar with their organization.
Thank You Letters
A thank you letter must always be sent after any interview or whenever someone has helped you. It is especially effective after an interview, giving you the opportunity to remind the employer of your qualifications and why they should hire you. It keeps your name fresh in the employer's mind and is good business etiquette. Finally, it is extremely impressive to an employer, because only about 1 out of 100 applicants will write a thank you letter! Thank you letters may be handwritten on nice stationery or may be typed in business letter format. While an emailed thank you letter may be acceptable, it certainly won’t be as appreciated as it takes less time and effort.
Follow Up Letters
A follow-up letter (if not hired) can help you get the job for which you interviewed, or another job at the same company. When you are #2 in the hiring decision, don't just let the matter drop! A week or two after you receive the notice that you have not been selected, write a letter stating your continued interest in the company and asking for further consideration if another job develops. If the person originally hired does not work out (which happens fairly often), this tactic will definitely improve your chances for further consideration.
When to Write a Letter
The rule is to write a letter to follow-up a personal contact or when you are not able to make a personal contact. Don’t wait for a job advertisement to make contact with an employer! NETWORK FIRST! Remember that advertising is the employer's last resort when seeking qualified candidates. Recent statistics show that only 20% of jobs are advertised! How are the other 80% filled? Through personal contact: referrals, cold calls, networking, and being at the right place at the right time. Don’t be passive with your job search campaign. Let your letters enhance other tactics that you employ.
Tips for Cover Letter Content & Style
- Brainstorm before you write: Why should this employer hire me? What strengths can I bring to this company? Why do I want this job? Why am I interested in this company?
- Use a business letter format with your resume heading as letterhead.
- Incorporate power verbs.
- Use only three to five sentences per paragraph.
- Each paragraph should be focused on only one thought.
- Remember grammar rules.
- Don't abbreviate words.
- Avoid deceptive language.
- Don't try to tell your life history in your cover letter. It is not an obituary.
- Tailor your letters to the needs of the company and the requirements of the position. Write to your specific audience.
- Proofread before and after printing. If you make any changes, proof it several times. Have someone else proofread your letter! Often others will notice mistakes that you have missed.
- Never apologize or make excuses for your lack of experience.
- Don't ramble.
- Sound positive and confident. This is not the time to be modest. Your cover letter and resume are your marketing materials. The reader should want to read your resume after reading your letter.
- Print your cover letter on high quality white or ivory bond paper.
- Keep the tone of your letter friendly, but formal.
- Don’t restate your resume word for word. Select specific experiences relevant to the job and discuss details.
- Ask for an interview.
- Don't write form letters.
- Don't let your desperation show.
- If you can make a personal contact with the individual or company, don't mail a letter first!
Don’t rely on mailing cover letters and resumes as a sole means of developing interviews and getting a job. Be sure to network—establish relationships or a connection with potential employers—first. Too many job seekers try to use letter writing as a MEANS to develop interviews, rather than as a SUPPLEMENT to other methods. Mass mailing of blind cover letters will produce little or no results in today's highly competitive job market. Making personal contacts with potential employers will greatly enhance you potential for success.