Your written correspondence with a potential employer does not end with the cover letter that you send with your résumé. Nor does your contact with networking associates end with a phone call. Your job search and subsequent career is filled with written correspondence. Letter writing is a fact of business life. With the tips presented here, and a little practice, you can become an expert letter writer.
When it comes to your job search, letter writing can be used as a powerful tool. As discussed, these letters can take the form of hard copy or e-mail. Whichever methods you employ (and it will probably be both), you want to take advantage of letter writing. It is yet another way to put your name in front of an employer's eyes. Letters are also a method to remind an employer of your qualifications and the reasons why you are the person for the job. The following is an overview of some of the letters you may find yourself writing (note that some are not optional!). Much of what is written here is common sense. But if you are caught up in the angst of looking for a job, or if you have not thought much about it before, some reminders follow to keep in mind as you develop your job search and subsequent career.
Networking letters are very similar to networking phone calls, except in written form. For those who are extremely shy, writing a letter to a networking contact before making a phone call can help ease nerves. Your contact has an idea that you will be calling (because you will have told him or her) and can be prepared for your call. The letter helps reduce the fear of "cold calling" your contacts.
The letter can also be a useful tool if you are unable to contact a network associate by phone. People are very busy; if you find yourself continually running into voice mail, the letter can be a useful alternative.
When writing your networking letters, observe the same courtesies in the letter as you would in a phone call. Respect the reader's time. Rarely will you need to write a letter longer than one page. Following some niceties, such as mentioning the last time you saw the contact or mentioning something you have in common, get to the point. You are currently looking for a job, and because your contact is an expert in the field/has a large contact base/whatever is appropriate, you are writing to inquire if the contact may have any suggestions for you in your search or if he/she would be willing to provide information, pass your name along, and so on as is appropriate for your situation. Do not ask for an interview or for a job! This is not the point of contacting your network. Your purpose is to gain information, conduct an informational interview, and perhaps gain a lead, but you must be careful in how you approach your reader. If you are unsure of your wording, have a friend or relative read the letter to give you an impression. Review the information on networking provided in this section. At the end of your letter, ask if you can meet to discuss your job search or for an informational interview.
Thank You to a Networking Contact
Whenever you have contact with someone in your networking circle who is directly related to your job search and career, send that person a thank you letter. Thank him or her for the time and effort put into helping you and for any information that you took away from the conversation (or e-mail or letter).
As you will do for a follow-up thank you letter after an interview, you may want to highlight a few areas in your letter as a result of your communications with this person. If you were given an immediate lead, or if the contact agreed to read and critique or forward your résumé, be sure to say a thank you for this as well. If the conversation led a certain way, or did not go as you planned, you can use this opportunity to reiterate points or make new ones. As with all your job search correspondence, this is another opportunity to sell your wares. Although you are not asking for a job, you do want to make sure you are presenting as much positive information about yourself as possible so that the contact can act appropriately on your behalf.
Thank You Letter Following an Interview
You survived the interview! Take a deep breath, and start thinking about your thank you letter.
This one is a biggie, and it is not optional. During the interview, you will have brought a pad of paper and pen with you (see more on this in the chapters on interviewing). If it is not awkward to do so, take notes during the interview. This will make you appear professional and interested in the job. Make notes of things you want to mention or address in your follow-up letter. Upon leaving the interview, take a few moments to jot down a few more reminders. Do this before you start your car or hop on the bus to go home. While you may think you will not forget anything, chances are you might, so do not skip this step.
Immediately upon arriving home, fire up your computer (or head to the library if you do not have a computer) and start composing a thank you letter to the person or persons with whom you just interviewed. If you met more than one person, address a separate letter to each one, using different wording and stressing different points for each one. For example, if one interviewer seemed concerned about your lack of work experience, address those fears in your letter, showing why your experience qualifies you for the position. If another seemed concerned that you lack the necessary technical skills to do the job, address those fears in the letter to that person by showing how you learn quickly. In other words, customize your letters. Just as you customize your initial cover letters when submitting your résumé, you need to customize the thank you letter as well. A "canned" letter that you send to every contact will be obvious and will leave a negative last impression. You want the employer to be even more impressed with you following an interview, not less. As with the other letters, keep it brief, but respect the valuable tool you have in front of you.
The thank you letter can serve many purposes. First and foremost, it is proper business etiquette, and it will set you apart from other candidates who choose to skip this step (and an alarmingly high number do). Second, it is yet another chance to make an impression on the employer and show why you are the ideal person for the job.
In your letter, first thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet you and reiterate your interest in the position. Then, as with your original cover letter, address the points that show that you are the person for the job. The direction of the interview will determine what you decide to focus on in your thank you letter. You may want to reemphasize your experience and skills in a particular area that was mentioned. Or, if you forgot to mention important information or an opportunity to discuss it never arose, this is the place to do so. Perhaps the conversation moved toward some mutual interests. You may want to mention this to jog the person's memory, just in case. Remember, people tend to hire those who are similar to themselves.
Perhaps the interviewer specifically mentioned some areas of concern (this is quite likely and can occur in almost any interview). Use your thank you letter to address those concerns. Is the interviewer concerned about your ability to work on a team? Show how you worked with other volunteers on a local community project. Did the interviewer express concerns over your lack of technical skills? Show the employer that you completed your senior project using the latest and greatest design software. Whatever the issue, mention it in your letter and show how you do in fact have the necessary skills. For example, you could write, "You mentioned concerns about my ability to work on a team. Let me assure you that I possess the necessary skills to work with other members on a project. For example, I recently served on a volunteer committee to develop plans for a local park. Not only did I work with several other members of the community, but I also conducted extensive research regarding the costs associated with the project." This not only addresses the employer's fear (that you lack the ability to work on a team), but it also conveniently ties in another of your skills—the ability to conduct research.
Did you forget to mention something in the interview, or did the conversation not allow for a natural place to discuss specific experience you wanted to mention? Use the letter to show that you have that experience. As you did in your original cover letter, highlight your experience using strong action verbs and writing in the active voice. You can present the missed information using a paragraph or bullet style—just be sure to include the information.
Now that you know more about the job, you may decide that you need to introduce additional information about yourself that is not on your résumé. Use your thank you letter as a selling tool to show how you have just the skills to address the requirements mentioned by the interviewer. Remember, the interviewer is looking for someone to solve a problem; that is, he or she needs a person to do a specific job, and until someone is hired, there exists a problem. How can you solve this problem? Show that you can come into the workplace and make an immediate difference because of your background/skills/education that supports the goals of the position.
After you have composed your letter, print a copy and review it for errors. If necessary, find a second pair of eyes to proof it for you. When you are satisfied with the letter, which needs to be finished and sent within 24 hours, send the letter as either a hard copy, or, if doing so seems appropriate (such as in a technical field, for example), send it by e-mail. If you choose to use e-mail, remember to keep your letter short and to the point, just as you would with an e-mailed cover letter.
By sending your letter immediately, you keep your name in front of the person with the hiring power. You remind that person of your qualifications and have yet another chance to sell yourself for the position. And you make a good impression by demonstrating your professionalism, drive, and attention to detail.
Congratulations! You aced the interview with flying colors. You have been offered a job and have discussed all the particulars. Now you need to put it in writing.
Even if the interviewers tell you a formal job offer is in the mail, it is still a good idea for you to write your own letter thanking the company for the position, expressing your enthusiasm about working there, and outlining the details of employment as you understand them. It will often take the company a few days to compile your offer letter; you can put together a quick letter and get it in the mail immediately. Then, should any discrepancies in the understanding of the terms occur, you will be able to discuss these immediately before you sign the formal acceptance letter or agreement.
Letters to Other Employers
If you have interviewed with other companies and have not received a response, it is common courtesy to send a letter to them, explaining that you have accepted a position elsewhere. If you were in the running, this allows the company to focus their time and efforts elsewhere. Thank them for their time and let them know you enjoyed meeting them. You want to maintain and build as many positive relationships as you can in your job search and throughout your career. You could face a layoff or leave your accepted position for a variety of reasons; if you project a positive and professional image to those you meet along the way, you will be much better off if you find yourself looking for employment again down the road.
Thank You Letter Following a Rejection
You did everything correctly, but you still received that letter or phone call stating that you were not chosen for the position. This will happen. Not every job is for you, and not every interview will result in a job offer.
However, you can still use a thank you letter to your advantage. First, you do not want to burn any bridges. Second, if you are still interested in the company, you can express this in your letter. Third, you never know if the person who takes the job will work out, so if you are a close second, you have yet another chance to put your name in front of the hiring committee and project a positive image.
Thank the interviewer(s) for the time invested in meeting you. Express your best wishes for the company, and, if appropriate, state that you are still interested in working with the company. You may want to ask that your information be kept on file in the event of future openings.
Maintaining your professionalism on all levels is important. You never know what might happen in the future. You could be referred to another opportunity by the people who turned you down. Interviewers have been known to send their "second choices" to their network contacts. Just because you are not an exact match for one position does not mean that the people who have "rejected" you do not know of the perfect opportunity somewhere else. Keep those contacts open!