Why You Need a Cover Letter

Do you really need to send a cover letter with your résumé? The answer is a resounding "yes!" The cover letter serves an important purpose. It is not simply a quick letter that you throw together to get your résumé out in the mail. It is an important tool that, at the very least, informs a hiring manager who you are and why you are sending your résumé. At best, it is an effective selling tool that will make a hiring manager want to read your résumé and pick up the phone to schedule an interview.

All of your job-hunting correspondence should include some type of letter. "Cover letter" is a broad term that refers to a number of different letters that are a part of the job search. This includes the cover letter that is always sent with a résumé, thank you letters, networking letters, job acceptance letters, and even resignation letters. This correspondence is more than simply a formality. Not only are these letters a common courtesy, but they can also be used to progress your candidacy or rekindle an old application. This chapter will focus on letters used in the job search process, beginning with the letter that accompanies the résumé. Other letters will be addressed in the following chapter. Of special concern will be issues of particular interest to new graduates and those entering the workforce for the first time.

The Résumé Cover Letter

This is the communication most often thought of when people hear the term "cover letter." A cover letter should always accompany a résumé. From the practical point of view, the letter informs the hiring manager who you are and why you are writing. Do not assume that the person reading your résumé will automatically know which position you are applying for, even if you are responding to a job posting. Even if you think your background and skills are an obvious perfect match for a job, do not leave it up to the reader to make that connection for you. It is up to you to inform your reader of your purpose.

This does not mean that your cover letter is simply an introduction to your résumé, as in, "Please see the attached résumé for your consideration in regards to the electrical engineering position listed in the Sunday edition of the Daily Times." Hiring managers have seen too many of these types of letters. Your cover must convey much more than informing the reader that your résumé is enclosed (or attached, if you are sending your résumé via e-mail).

Your cover letter should be used as an additional sales tool. This is not to say that it should be a repeat of your résumé in prose form. Instead, it should sell your best qualities in a brief manner, making the reader want to read your résumé. Think of your cover letter as a movie trailer or teaser. Show your audience some of the most exciting and enticing things that you have to offer, and make your reader want to see the whole picture.

As with résumé writing, there are no hard and fast rules; however, the cover letter needs to accomplish a few things. Here is a list of some basics that should be included in your letter:

Your Name and Contact Information

Sounds obvious, but if you include only your signature at the bottom of the letter (and some candidates have even forgotten to sign their names), a potential employer may not have any way of contacting you. Résumés do get detached from the cover letters. Be sure all your contact information is included. The best solution is to use the same heading as in your résumé. This will ensure a professional and consistent look to your correspondence. (You will also want to use the same header for all additional correspondence. Your information may be kept on file, and it will speak well for you if all your letters are uniform in appearance. Employers appreciate attention to detail.)

Who You Are and What You Do (or Hope to Do)

You may assume that the reader knows which job you are applying for, particularly if you are responding to an online posting or a classified listing in the newspaper. This is a dangerous assumption and could well land your résumé in the recycle bin. Introduce yourself and inform your reader of your reason for writing.

Why You Are Writing

What is your purpose for sending your résumé? You want to get an interview! If you are sending a résumé to a networking contact, you are writing to have your résumé forwarded to someone else who can grant you an interview. The goal of sending your résumé is to sell yourself so that you will be invited to meet (or in some cases, speak on the phone or videoconference) with someone who has the power to offer you a job. Rather than simply stating "Thank you for your time and consideration," ask for an interview or at the very least state that your purpose is to gain an interview.

Where Your Résumé Is

Inform your reader that your résumé is either enclosed, if sending a hard copy, or attached, if sending an e-mail and the company accepts attachments; otherwise, inform your reader that your résumé is pasted below. While your cover letter is more than an introduction to your résumé, you still need to convey that the résumé is available for reading; otherwise, you would not be writing.

Your Signature

Do not forget to sign your name. Sounds obvious, but more than one candidate has overlooked this important detail. Forgetting makes you look sloppy. Sign your name in blue or black ink. (Some experts will argue for one color or another—black is generally more professional. Blue automatically shows the reader that the signature is not a "stamp." This is not really an issue for a cover letter.) Do not use other colors. Sure, purple may be fun, and yes, it will stand out but not in the way that you want it to.

At the close of your letter, space down four lines and type your name to match the way it appears in your header. Sign between the typed name and the close of your letter.

An Enclosure Notation

Two lines below your typed name indicate that there is an enclosure or enclosures. Even though you have already informed the reader that your résumé is included in the correspondence, use the enclosure notation. If sending an attachment, indicate that instead. If your résumé is pasted in an e-mail, it is okay to eliminate this notation.

Now that you know the bare minimum, it is time to review the real meat of your cover letter: what you have to offer a prospective employer. As with your résumé, your focus in the letter has to be what you can offer the employer rather than what you are hoping to gain. It may be okay for a new graduate to include that he or she has always wanted to pursue a career in social work due to a sense of wanting to give back to the world. But this needs to be followed up, and quickly, with what that student can offer the employer. It can be okay to express enthusiasm for a position, as long as you can demonstrate how that enthusiasm can be to the employer's advantage. Your job is to sell yourself to the employer. Following the sale, you need to keep your promises (if you hope to be able to continue selling yourself as you progress through your career).

If you find the idea of "sales" intimidating or off-putting, think of it this way: Approach everything you do in your job campaign as if you were the employer. What is it that you would be looking for? What qualities do you want to see? Then think about how you can best relate what you have to offer to what the employer needs.

Imagine you just found the most amazing cell phone you had ever used. It came with every feature you could imagine, was reliable, had a guarantee, and fit within your budget. Would you tell your friends about it? Probably. Would you think that you were selling the product? Not likely. You were just doing your friends a favor by telling them about it.

In your job search, you are the product. In your cover letter, you are telling an employer or recruiter about the great product.

The difference between how you sell yourself in your résumé and how you sell yourself in your cover letter is the purpose and the delivery. The purpose of your résumé is to present your benefits to an employer in a document that, while tailored to your desired position, is not tailored to individual companies or specific positions. Your cover letter, on the other hand, is ideally addressed to a specific person with hiring power at a specific company. If possible, you will have researched the company or, if responding to a blind ad (one that does not list the hiring company), researched the industry. This research allows you to tailor your cover letter to that specific field. Through your research, you may be able to address how your qualifications can fill a need at the company. If responding to an advertisement, you can address how your qualifications are the perfect match for the requirements listed in the ad. Except for a direct mailing campaign, just as you would not send the same letter to all of your friends (okay, those Christmas letters may be the exception), you will not send the exact cover letter for each position you apply for. This is both the beauty and the difficulty of cover letters.

The beauty is that you can address your qualifications that are perfect for the position that may not be as readily visible in your résumé, such as specialized skills or experience. You can also give an employer an idea of your personality. Keep in mind that you do not want to repeat verbatim information on your résumé in your cover letter. You want to reword the information or summarize multiple points on your résumé while still quantifying your achievements where possible.

The difficulty with the individualized cover letter is that you will be writing a new, or mostly new, letter for each position you apply for. Those who do not like to write may find this daunting. There are a few tips, however, that make this process easier. First, keep in mind that you probably will not have to change the entire letter. Obviously, you will change the contact name and company, and address the position to which you are applying or for which you would like to be considered. But once you have a basic format, you can make appropriate changes to the body of the letter, which is where you highlight your qualifications—the meat of the letter.

Just as with the résumé, a cover letter will rarely be longer than one page. Three to four concise paragraphs are about as long as it needs to be. Longer cover letters are generally reserved for those with extensive experience, those changing careers, and those in highly technical fields. None of the examples in this section exceed one page.

How do you write this stuff? Let us turn to the pros. Your cover letter has two important distinctions: One, it is a marketing document designed to sell a product (you); two, it is a business document that, while giving a glimpse of your personality, needs to remain professional. It therefore stands to reason that lessons from those who sell, and those who write for business, can teach all of us a little something about composing an effective letter.

Selling Yourself

Ah, advertisers. They try to suck us in within a matter of seconds. Sound familiar? Hiring managers typically spend less than 30 seconds reviewing a cover letter or résumé—unless it grabs their attention enough so that they read on. The average television commercial is 30 seconds long. What about print? How long do you spend looking at an ad in a magazine before flipping the page? Or reading a bulletin board along the freeway (assuming you are not stuck in rush hour traffic)? Those who write ad copy have to get a message across quickly. That means sharp, succinct, to-the-point writing.

What Are You Really Selling?

Yes, you are selling yourself and all that you have to offer: Your skills, your experience, your attitude, and your personality. But think about it for a moment. Is that what you are really selling? Take the example of a health club membership. What is it that members are buying when they join the club? Access to classes and a large variety of strength training and cardio equipment? Sure, at the outset it looks like this is what you buy when you sign that one-year contract. In reality, health clubs are selling a desire: a desire to be thin, a desire to be muscular, a desire to be healthier. This is what a health club is really selling, not the fancy equipment and wide range of classes.

When you are selling yourself to an employer, think about what you are really selling. What is the employer buying? An employee who shows up to work, does the job, and leaves? Or a person who can come to work and identify and solve problems—someone who can fill the need of the company to make money. To do that, the company needs employees who can save money, make money, or save time, which in turn saves money. Identify a need and offer a solution, which is the benefit to the employer. Who can find hidden costs and eliminate them? Who is great at sales? Does this company need someone efficient? When you identify a specific need and show how you can meet that need, you become someone who will be a benefit to the company, not merely just another employee.

Think about how you can sell technical skills, for example. You can list all the technical skills that you have, such as software, hardware, and computer networking. This is like listing the features of the cell phone mentioned earlier. Or you can demonstrate how your knowledge of accounting software allowed you to introduce a better program at your summer position as an intern, thereby reducing time spent creating reports by 40 percent. The first method is simply a list of features. The second method demonstrates the benefit gained from putting those features (your knowledge) to work.

Marcia Yudkin, in Pursuading on Paper (Penguin Books, 1996), summarizes it well when she writes, "Benefits motivate, while features merely inform." What makes you different? Refer to everything you learned about yourself from your assessments. Pull together your accomplishments from your résumé, and show in your cover letter why you are a benefit to the company—because you can accomplish X, Y, and Z. Go beyond simply stating your features.

Know Your Audience

Whom are you writing to? What would this person care about? When writing your letters, imagine that you are an employee of the company. What would you like to know about? This is what you need to put in your letter. What is the atmosphere in the company? Is it corporate or a small, family-owned business? How you would address a hiring manager of a Fortune 500 company is very different from how you would address the CEO of a mid-sized private company.

Who will be reading your letter? Will it be someone in human resources or the head of the department? If you are writing to human resources, for example, be sure to write in "plain" English rather than using a lot of technical jargon. If you are writing to a senior scientist, you will need to demonstrate your knowledge of the terminology used in your field, or you may come off looking inept. You must write a personalized letter every time, keeping your audience in mind.

Back Up Your Claims

So, you say you are good at obtaining contracts. Great. Now prove it. When writing your letters, do not simply state what you are good at. Show it. Give examples. Mine your past and come up with every possible example you can think of where you used the skills you claim to have. Make a list, and then choose the best ones to include in your letter. If you have a lot to choose from, keep the list so you can use different examples with each subsequent letter you send to a company.

Write Professionally

Remember that your letters are much different from your résumé. You will not use the telegraphic style that you did in your résumé. You must write complete sentences. Use words instead of abbreviations. Use the active voice and sprinkle your letters with action verbs. Keep your correspondence brief and to the point. Do not include irrelevant information. Use a tone that exudes professionalism, not amateurism. Avoid using clichés and slang, and avoid any references to political or religious beliefs.

What Makes a Letter?

Following the header and company contact information, your letter has three primary components: the introduction, the body, and the closing. Each has a distinct purpose.

The opening of your letter is where you want to hook your reader in, just as an advertisement's goal is to grab the reader's attention. How can you hook your reader immediately, while still conveying the important information such as the job for which you are applying or the type of job you would like to find? One handy trick is to use a "RE:" line or similar header between the company contact information and the opening paragraph. Don't begin your letter with the tired line of, "Please see the enclosed résumé in response to your advertisement for the position of X listed on January 1st of the Daily News." Yawn. Not much of an attention-grabber is it? Using the "RE:" line, you can include the position title at the top of your letter and instead focus on selling yourself in your opening paragraph.

Once you have your reader's attention, you have the opportunity to hit 'em hard with what you can offer a prospective employer. The body of your letter will focus on your accomplishments. This is where you will review your résumé and company research. You do not want to repeat word-for-word what your résumé says; find a way to reword your accomplishments, or introduce new ones related to the specific position you are aiming for. Because you will have done some company research, you can gear your letter toward the needs of that company. Target the body of your letter and demonstrate that you are familiar with the company and that you are the right person for the job. Again, review the samples in this section to see how the body of the letter is focused on showing what the candidate can offer. The idea here is that what you have done in the past is a reflection of what you will do in the future—show off your abilities!

The conclusion of your letter is where you explicitly state why you are writing—to gain an interview. Ask for the interview. Rather than using "I look forward to hearing from you," try something along the lines of "I will be contacting you within the next week to see when we can meet." Is it more aggressive? Yes. Do you want the interview? If you prefer something a little more subdued, even a closing along the lines of "I look forward to speaking with you about what I can bring to the position" is better than the overused lines of the past. When composing your conclusion, take into consideration your personality and the position. If you say you will be contacting the person in the next week, you need to make the call. (This approach also gives you legitimate reason to bypass the person answering the phone, because you can now say that so-and-so is expecting your call.) See the examples for more ideas on closing paragraphs.

Layout

There are three basic layouts to use when writing your letter: the paragraph style, bulleted lists, or the "T" layout, also known as an executive layout.

The paragraph style is exactly how it sounds. Each part of the letter is written in paragraph form. Just because you are using this form, however, does not give you license to ramble on. Keep your sentences short, but vary the length of each just a little. Keep your paragraphs short as well. Remember to keep your reader in mind. If your job were to screen applicants, reading tens or even hundreds of cover letters per week, would you take the time to wade through a lengthy letter? Screeners look for any reason to put your application in the rejection pile. Do not make it easy for them.

Cover letters using a bulleted list typically open and close with a paragraph style; the body of the letter is presented in bullets. Again, do not make the mistake of copying bulleted points directly from your résumé and pasting them into your cover letter. Hiring managers do not need or want to read your information twice.

The "T" or executive format takes its name from the design of the layout. In this format, the body of the letter is presented in two columns: Your Requirements and My Qualifications. This letter is best used for responses to ads placed by employers or recruiters. When using this format, it is necessary that your qualifications meet, or preferably exceed, the employer's requirements. Otherwise your shortfalls will be glaringly obvious. As a new graduate, it may be difficult to meet all the requirements of a position. Be careful when using this format.

If you do not meet all the requirements, does this mean that you should not apply for the position? If you meet most of the requirements, go ahead and apply for the job, but choose the paragraph or bullet style letter. Employers realize that they will likely not find someone who fits the exact description; they are listing their wish list. If, however, you fall short by quite a bit, look for something that more closely matches your profile.

The Actual Writing Process

Before you begin, make some notes about what you want to cover. Which of your accomplishments best sell you for the particular job you are applying for? What aspects of your personality do you want to express? As with résumé writing, if you are feeling stuck, you can use a few tricks to get the writing going. Free writing can help you get going. Instead of trying to craft the perfect letter the first time, just start writing. You can edit later. For now, write ideas as they come to you. It may also be helpful to take some time after you have written your first draft of a letter. Even leaving the writing for a few hours or over night can give your mind a chance to rest. You never know when the right wording may come to you: while you are brushing your teeth, watching a movie, or going for a run.

It may also be helpful to start with the easier parts of the letter first. There is no rule saying you have to write the letter in the order that it is read. If the closing line comes more naturally to you, start with that. Sometimes it helps get ideas flowing just to fill in the name of the addressee and company.

One of the more difficult parts of the letter to write will be the body, where you will do the hardest "selling." This section will highlight the specific accomplishments and skills that you offer an employer. There is a common phrase used by creative writers: "Show, don't tell." For example, rather than telling a reader that the main character is angry, the writer might show it by having the character throw a plate at a wall. The action does the "talking" and is much more engaging for the reader. Similarly, when presenting your accomplishments and skills, focus on the showing. Rather than telling your reader that you work well with others, show how you led your project team to an A+ grade by acting as project manager. As with your résumé, focus on using action verbs.

No matter what format you decide to use for your cover letter, keep your writing tight and concise. Wherever possible, cut, cut, and cut some more. Take this example from the local news: "Over the next year, one in three people over the age of 65 will suffer a fall." In other words, "One third of those over 65 will fall next year." Seventeen words are cut down to 10. Whenever possible, use one word instead of two or more. For example, instead of writing "in an accurate manner," write "accurately." Also focus on shorter words instead of longer ones. Instead of "utilize," say "use." Do not try to impress your reader by scouring the thesaurus for words that you think will make you look smarter. You will only end up with a jumble of words that confuses your reader, if your reader stays with your letter long enough to get confused. Because your letter is more likely to be skimmed rather than read through thoroughly (at least the first time), you will lose your reader in a matter of seconds if you opt for lengthy, perplexing declarations.

Tone

Your résumé does not give a hiring manager much insight into who you are as a person, what your personality is like, or why you are corresponding with him or her. Your cover letter, on the other hand, is an opportunity to show that you are a real person. While it is important to remember that your cover letter is still a business document you should use this opportunity to give a glimpse of who you are; and the beauty of this is that you are in total control of what you let the reader see. How you present yourself and what you show your reader will be up to you; however, there are some things to keep in mind.

Both your personality and the position for which you are applying will factor into the tone you use in your cover letter. Someone applying for a demanding sales position would be wise to use a more aggressive tone in their letter than someone applying for a social services position in a long-term healthcare facility. You can use these factors to your advantage by determining what you want your reader to know about you. Again, the primary focus is on how you can meet your reader's needs. What can you demonstrate through your personality and attitude that can help put the polish on your sales pitch? Take the time to experiment with how you write your letter and how you approach your prospective employer. Ask a few friends to read the letter; what impression do they get from your presentation? Take notes and make adjustments until your readers are left with the impression you want to leave.

Types of Cover Letters

How you write your letter and which format you choose will be determined in part by the type of letter you are writing. The following is a list of some situations you may find yourself responding to in your letters.

Responding to an Advertisement

This letter is what is typically thought of when responding to a newspaper classified advertisement, but it also refers to online job postings and similar postings found through government agencies such as the job service where you are instructed to contact the company directly rather than go through the agency.

When responding to a posting, read the advertisement carefully for hints about what the employer is seeking. The listing is likely to have keywords scattered throughout. Use these keywords when composing your letter, but be careful not to repeat the ad word for word. Use your own voice.

The "T" letter format is often useful when replying to a job posting, because the requirements of the job are listed in the ad. However, be wary of using this format if you do not meet all the requirements. You want to highlight your qualifications that match rather than point out where you are weak. If you do not meet all the requirements listed, this will be obvious in the "T" format. Instead, opt for a paragraph or bullet style letter.

If a contact name is not listed in the ad, call the company and do some research, unless the ad specifies "no calls." Always respect this request; if you do not, you may lose out on an interview even before you submit a résumé. Otherwise, try and get a contact name so that you can address your letter appropriately. People like to be acknowledged, and taking the time to find this information can work in your favor by showing your attention to detail and willingness to take the extra step.

Before composing your letter, do some research on the company. Many companies now have websites. You can also check with your local reference librarian. He or she can direct you to resources that track company information. If the targeted business is a public company, you can also check the EDGAR database on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website at http://www.sec.gov/edgar/searchedgar/webusers.htm. You may also want to try Hoover's online at http://www.hoovers.com, and, of course, try Google at http://www.google.com and type the name of the company you are looking for or the name of the field you are investigating followed by the word "companies." If you happen to know someone who works at your target company, do some networking, and, if appropriate, use your contact's name in your letter.

Once you have done your company research, you should have a better feel for the atmosphere of the business. Write in a tone that reflects company policy. Were you able to find the company's mission statement? If so, direct your letter to show how you can support that mission. Has the company recently won an award, been featured in an article, or been involved in a major business deal? While it may not be appropriate to gush or be overly congratulatory, mentioning the achievement could work to your advantage. It will demonstrate that you are "up" on what is going on with the company, which can only work in your favor.

"Blind" Advertisements

The blind ad is nearly identical to any other job posting, except for one minor detail—it does not say who the hiring company is. This poses a few problems. One, if you are currently employed and do not want your employer to know you are looking, you could inadvertently send your résumé to your current employer. Two, you are unable to research the company. Three, you may wonder what the company is hiding when they place a blind ad and decide not to apply, even if it looks like a good fit. This could be a mistake.

Many companies place blind ads because they do not want to be inundated with phone calls or drop-ins. Smaller companies may not have the time or staff to deal with the influx when they list company information. Others may place a blind ad simply to test the market or to build their résumé files.

If you find a blind ad that seems to be a good fit, send in your résumé and cover letter. You may be able to determine the name of the company or at least find out if the ad was placed by your employer. Blind ads will most likely use a post office box number for receiving résumés. A call to the post office may lead you to the name of the company. When you call, ask for the name of the company renting the box. If you are given a "no," you can then ask if your current employer is the name of the company renting the box. You should at least be able to get that much information.

You will also run across job postings on the Internet that provide minimal company information. If there is no company website listed, you may be able to get some clues from the e-mail address. For example, if you are directed to send a résumé to hrpossiblecompanyname.com, go to the web and type possiblecompanyname.com and see if anything comes up. Whether or not you decide to apply to a posting online that provides little or no company information is up to you. Use your best judgment.

A few more words about searching online. The Internet delivers many promises through job boards and large résumé banks. It can be tempting (and so much easier) to post your résumé in a job bank or take advantage of one of the services that posts your résumé on numerous job banks. Keep in mind that these job banks host millions—yes, millions—of résumés. The competition is fierce. There is no guarantee. As enticing as the commercials are for this method of attaining employment, it is not the final solution to the ongoing problem of finding work. This is not to say that you should avoid the Internet; it is in your best interest to take advantage of all methods available for finding your dream job.

When using the Internet for your job search, you may want to consider using a separate e-mail address strictly for your job search. Hotmail, Yahoo!, and others provide free e-mail addresses that you can access from any computer that has an Internet connection. This will help you keep better track of your job search and also ensure that the information you post online will not lead someone to your personal e-mail.

There are bogus listings on the Internet. Remember to never give out important personal information such as your social security number when applying to listings online. You may also decide to remove your personal contact information for listings that are questionable, providing only your "job search" e-mail address.

Because you may be unable to obtain any company information, you will have to use your best judgment when composing your letter if you opt to apply to a vague online listing. Instead of speaking to specific company needs, address the needs of the industry, stressing how you are able to meet them.

Responding to Recruiter's Ads

Letters to recruiter's ads will be very similar to letters written to other job postings, with two exceptions. Whereas in almost all other situations you want to avoid listing salary information, it is necessary to inform a recruiter of your salary requirements. For someone new to the workforce, it may be necessary to do some research. Again, check with a reference librarian. A librarian can direct you to salary information resources based on your field. You can also do salary research online. Monster.com's Salary Center allows you to search by field. The Occupational Handbook Online also lists general salary information by job type at http://www.bls.gov/oco/. You can also find salary information through the following sites:

  • http://www.Collegegrad.com
  • http://www.CollegeRecruiter.com
  • http://www.CampusCareerCenter.com
  • http://www.Job-Hunt.org

When providing salary information to recruiters, list a range rather than a specific number. You do not want to place yourself too high or too low—this is why your research is so important.

The other piece of information you need to provide to recruiters is whether or not you are willing to relocate. Some recruiters place national ads. You need to let them know if you are willing to move and if you have any special considerations in regard to relocating.

Keep in mind that recruiters work for the employer, not for you. Be respectful of their time and knowledge. Do not pretend to know more about job hunting than a recruiter, and always use professionalism when contacting and working with a recruiter. But do not rely on a recruiter to find you a job.

Cold Call Letters to Employers

You have done your research and found the perfect company. Problem is, they are not hiring at the moment. Should you give up and look elsewhere? No! Should you slap together a cover letter and send your résumé asking the company to keep your information on file in the event that something opens up? Not exactly. Through your research, you found either an area of the company that is perfect for you, or better yet you identified a need that you can fill.

When sending a cold call letter, go above and beyond every other candidate that simply asks to be kept on file. Use the advice in this section and show an employer who you are and what you have to offer. Because you are not responding to a specific ad, the subject line may not be appropriate for this type of letter (although this is not to say it can never work). Make it clear who you are and what you do. Rather than writing, "I am a title seeking a position in department," say something along the lines of "I am a title who can offer . . ." and go into the rest of your letter outlining what you bring to the table. Say, "I can solve this problem for you."

Just as in other types of letters, address your letter to a specific person. You may find that there are multiple people within a company to whom you can send your letter. How do you decide? Send a letter to each person on your list. You never know which department may have an opportunity, and you cannot count on your résumé being circulated throughout the company.

Cold Call Letters to Recruiters

Cold call letters to recruiters are similar to cold call letters to companies. Before writing your letters, however, you need to do some research. Recruiters specialize, and you should approach one that works in your field. Otherwise you are simply wasting their time and your efforts. Also pay attention to what career level recruiters work with; many choose only to place candidates for jobs over $100,000. And as already mentioned, remember that recruiters work for the employer, not for you.

When writing to recruiters, just as when writing to companies, you need to make it clear who you are and what you do. You also need to clarify specifics related to the type of job you are seeking. Sales, for example, covers a broad range; recruiters need detailed information from you as far as what you are willing to accept. You will also need to include a salary range that you are seeking and if you are willing to relocate and to where. For more information on recruiters, refer to http://www.TheRecruiterNetwork.com.

Direct Mail Campaigns

This type of letter campaign is less focused than a cold call letter to a company in that you are sending hundreds of letters to potential employers. Aside from the contact information, these letters are not geared specifically to each company, because that would be too time consuming for your purpose.

In the direct mail campaign, you create a cover letter introducing yourself and the type of position you are seeking. You then show why you are qualified for this type of employment before sending it to as many companies that hold potential for what you are seeking. This approach is time consuming, requires some research, and is not as likely to produce the desired results as are targeted letters. Many people who read these letters recognize when the writer has not put in the effort to target the letter to the specific company. But then again, you never know when you might get a lead, so use your discretion when exploring this method.

Broadcast Letters

This type of letter is rarely used for anyone below the executive level. It can also be effective for career changers and those who have not worked in a number of years but have previous work experience. The format of the broadcast letter combines the cover letter and résumé into one document and is sent in place of both. It is longer than a typical cover letter and sent to a few specifically selected companies. Because this type of letter is generally not recommended for a recent graduate, it is not covered in greater detail here.

Letters Following Referral

If you have been referred to a position or company by someone working in the company or by someone with contacts in the business, you need to mention this in your letter. When you introduce yourself, mention that so-and-so suggested you contact your reader. If appropriate, mention any specifics from the conversation with your referral and any insider information you have been provided with. If you have ever heard that it is rude to "name drop," this is not the time to follow that advice.

Follow-Up Letters

The follow-up letter is sent after you submit your application materials and before you hear anything from the company. If, after a reasonable amount of time, you have not heard anything about your candidacy, you may send a follow-up letter. This type of letter could also be used if you have or have not heard back but notice that the position you applied for is listed again. It could be that the company hired someone and it did not work out, that they decided not to fill the position at the original time, or any other number of reasons.

Your follow-up letter is yet another chance to put your name in front of the hiring committee. Address the letter to the same person you sent your original materials, but also list the position title of that person. It could be that you never heard anything because the person doing the hiring was promoted or is no longer with the company. In the letter, state that you are following-up the correspondence you sent on such-and-such a date regarding the position. Follow the format similar to that of your original cover letter. In the first paragraph, remind the person of who you are and the position you are seeking. Follow this by more examples of your qualifications, achievements, and education. Do not use the same wording as you did in your previous correspondence.

When composing new letters, use the "save as" function when creating new letters based on the old ones. This way you can track what you have already sent to an employer and eliminate the risk of sending the same wording twice. In the closing, state that you are still interested in the position and ask for an interview.

If you were referred by a company employee, send a follow-up letter to this person as well. Thank the referral again for the information they provided about the company and position. Inform your referral that you sent your application materials on such-and-such a date and that you are following-up on the status of your candidacy. Follow this by reminding him or her of your qualifications. End the letter by stating that you are still interested in the position, and ask your contact for information about the status of the position.

Sponsor Letter

A sponsor letter is not written by you but by a professional in your field who writes one of his or her contacts on your behalf. These letters can be especially useful in getting your foot in the door for an interview; they do not guarantee you a job offer. It is up to you to make the best impression at an interview and act as professionally as you would in any other situation. Because your sponsor is putting his or her reputation on the line when speaking for you, it is in your best interest to do all you can to live up to the recommendation.

Always send a thank you letter to the person who wrote a sponsor letter on your behalf, regardless of whether or not you were given an interview and regardless of the outcome. This person took time out from a busy schedule to do you a favor.

E-mailing Cover Letters

Letters that are e-mailed take a different approach than do letters that are mailed or faxed. With the prolific use of e-mail these days, it is generally considered acceptable to e-mail your letters. They get to the recipient fast (which can be very useful when writing thank you letters) and allow the reader to respond easily as well.

When submitting your résumé by e-mail, you need to follow a few guidelines. First and foremost, do not send your résumé only as an attachment, unless the company specifically requests this method. Most businesses are wary of viruses and worms and will forward any messages with attachments directly into the junk e-mail folder for deletion. That said, if no guidelines are given, you may want to consider pasting your résumé into the body of the e-mail and also attaching the "pretty" version as an attachment. In your letter, inform the reader that your résumé is pasted below and also attached. Another possibility is to upload your résumé onto a web page and send the URL in addition to pasting your résumé in the e-mail. One word of caution if doing this—whatever link you send to a potential employer, make sure that it contains only your résumé and any additional information that specifically supports you as a serious candidate. Do not send a link to your personal web page that includes pictures of you with your dog and boyfriend, a detailed account of your recent skiing vacation in Utah, and, oh yeah, your résumé.

Whatever you decide, when sending your résumé by e-mail, always paste the ASCII version of it in the body of the e-mail, even if you opt to give the employer additional methods of viewing your credentials.

You will not send an attachment of your cover letter, for the reasons already noted. Nor will you copy and paste your cover letter into the e-mail. Rather, you will take the most important elements of your hard copy cover letter and create a much shorter version that you will use in your e-mail correspondence. The basics remain the same: You will introduce yourself, state your most hard-hitting qualifications, and ask for an interview. Did you notice something missing in this last list? How will the employer know what position you are seeking? When e-mailing, you will use the subject line of the e-mail to state your desired position as well as throw in a very succinct tag line about your qualifications. Remember the discussion of how advertisers write to grab your attention immediately? Here you will use the same concept to write a one-liner about who you are and what you do. For example, an engineering graduate's subject line could read:

Cum Laude grad seeks entry level civil eng. position

The subject line essentially replaces the "RE:" line discussed earlier. This allows you to jump right in immediately on your introduction and qualifications. Because e-mail is a "fast" medium, you want to write a short letter. The other reason for writing a short letter is that you want your best highlights to be viewable when the recipient opens the message. If the reader has to scroll through the message to find out who you are, what you have done, and why you are writing, your message is more likely to be deleted.

Aim for about four to five lines for your e-mail cover letter. The first line will be your introduction. Using the example of the engineer, it could read, "Could your office use a Civil Engineering graduate with a proven history of leading projects to completion and under budget?" This will be followed by an example or two of your qualifications. "As project leader, I led our five-member team to develop a $500,000 parking lot design for XYZ company that not only received a grade A, but was also used by the client." After listing another qualification or two, end your letter by stating that your résumé is pasted below and ask for an interview. Then remember, of course, to paste your résumé below.

As with any cover letter, you still want to address your e-mail to a specific person. If possible, find the e-mail address of the person with the hiring power rather than sending your résumé to the human resources or an administrative generic e-mail address. Browse through the company website; this may lead you to the address. If you know the name of your desired contact but not his or her e-mail address, call and say you need to send some information to so-and-so and could you please have the e-mail address. If you do not know a contact name or e-mail, try to obtain the desired information.

Many companies have forms on their websites specifically for uploading your résumé. These systems are often automated and will send you an automated response when you have successfully uploaded your information. By all means, use this form; however, if you also have a referral or contact name (or names), send a separate e-mail to those persons as well. While your résumé sits in the automated system, you could hear something immediately when sending it to a direct contact within the company.

Insert your contact information—all of it—following the cover letter portion of your e-mail. This includes your name, address, telephone number(s), and e-mail address. Just because you are e-mailing does not mean that you should provide only an e-mail address as a way for an employer to contact you, unless you do not want to be contacted. And as previously mentioned, it is a good idea to set-up an e-mail account specifically for your job search. Not only does this help you track your contacts better, but it also eliminates the use of a "cutesy" e-mail address that you think is incredibly clever but an employer may find offensive or childish.

Following your cover letter, copy and paste your résumé into the e-mail, but delete your header. You do not need to list your contact information twice, because your cover letter and résumé are now one document instead of two. If you attach your résumé as well, do not alter that version. Should it be printed and separated from your e-mail, you want the employer to know how to contact you.

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