7.1   Job Search Correspondence: The Essential Letters You Will Use to Get Hired

Job related correspondence is often treated like an afterthought, something that should go at the end of the book. In fact, you will be writing to a number of people and for a number of reasons from the start to the end of the job search process.

Many people are intimidated when it comes to sending formal correspondence to potential employers. They know that there is a lot riding on it. The key is to keep the communication short, clear, and focused. It is not that difficult if you know what to include and if you edit and review your letter carefully before sending!

Although not necessarily difficult to prepare, these are some of the most challenging letters you will ever write. We will be looking at some templates or samples you can use.

In most cases you will be communicating by email. Email has changed everything - the U.S. Mail is just not fast enough for job seeking purposes.

The exception is the "thank you" note which is sometimes sent by mail and hand written- not always though- it is a judgment call. It depends on who you are writing to, what type of letter you are writing, what type of job you are applying for and what type of impression you are trying to make. If it is a counseling job for example, you might want to go soft tech. 

Think carefully about who you are sending your note to, what job you are applying for and what stage of the process you are in. If it is a software developer job you are probably going high tech.

Everything happens in a heartbeat these days, and hiring decisions are frequently made in a matter of hours. If you are unable to respond to opportunity instantly, you are out of the loop. You need to be able to send a resume and cover letter quickly. You need to send your thank you letters on the day of your interview.

Keep in mind that you may be sending similar correspondence to different people. It is perfectly fine to recycle your letters, after you have downloaded a template and edited it or adjusted it for the next person or next company. But make sure you check it each and every letter carefully: is the date correct? is it addressed to the right person? does it reference anything specific (job title, company name, industry) that does not apply? Check it line by line before you hit send!

Also, if you are copying text from one document to another, or even sometimes just from one email to another, you may need to run it through a generic text editor first. When you cut or copy from here and from there, unwanted formatting may get thrown in, and it may not show up on your screen. If you paste it into Notepad or TextEditor and then copy it from there, you will be sure to get rid of anything strange.

Sometimes the letter you send will simply be an email. In other cases, you will attach your letters as documents to your email. If you are sending something as an attachment, make certain that you have given a brief description or introduction to the attachments in the email message.

Always make sure you have given all of your contact information in every email. You don't want someone having to search for it. Design a signature that includes your name, cell number, and your email address. (Do not include any quotes or "happy face" icons below your signature on job related email).

If you decide to attach your letters as documents instead of as an email I would suggest that you use the same header as you use on your resume with your name, address, phone, and email address. In other words the header of your resume is the letter head of all of your letter documents.

If you are applying online and submitting a cover letter, as with your resume, always submit it as a pdf to ensure that the formatting is not lost or changed. 

Letters used in job searches include:

Networking Email to Friends and Connections

Email that you send to your friends and connections is a very important part of a serious job search. Chances are the next job you get is one you are going to learn about through someone you know and you will most likely be recommended for jobs through you network.

This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do… reach out to people to say, “I need your help.” Cultural Anthropologist, Margaret Mead, when asked what the first sign of civilization in ancient culture was said, “A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with one who fell.” Helping someone else through a difficult time is where civilization starts.

Everyone needs help at one time or another. There is no shame in that. Embrace the fact that you have friends and close acquaintances to reach out to who will most likely be flattered that you value their opinion and be happy to help. I rarely run into people who don’t like to give advice… Yes people are busy but you are asking for just a short meeting or phone call.

Many times you will discover that the people you know have connections in the companies you are considering. Or they know of companies that are a good bet –companies that are hiring. The biggest mistake a job seeker can make is to keep it a secret.

You may want to take a look online for some direction, getting ideas and researching companies in your field, before you call. Try Googling “the best companies for mothers,” “companies with the best work/life balance,” “the best companies for engineers in Sacramento,” “urban planning firms in San Francisco,” “the best federal agencies to work for.” Use search terms that gives you specific firms to research so that you are knowledgeable before you reach out to meet with your network of contacts.
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    Letters of Inquiry

  • Letters of inquiry are perhaps your first foray into contacting an employer. In this letter you are asking the employer or company representative for information or a chance to meet to gain more information about the company and opportunities for individuals with your qualifications.

    A computer-engineering student sent a "letter of inquiry" to an electronics firm, using the contact section of their web site, requesting a meeting to find out more about the company and to explore opportunities as she was nearing graduation. She had sent a blind email through their web site indicating that she was a student and that she was interested in finding out about the company. A representative from the company immediately responded to her email and invited her to visit and tour the company. At the end of her visit they offered her a job!

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    Cover Letters

  • Cover letters are sent to employers along with a resume to explain to an employer why they are receiving your resume. The first paragraph tells the employer which position you are applying for and how you learned of their position. The second paragraph tells the employer about your qualifications. The third paragraph tells the employer what the next step will be.

    Cover letters must be absolutely perfect in every way. The formatting is typically business letter style or slightly modified if you do not know the name of the individual doing the hiring. Examples in this section show both types of letters.

    Any errors in your letter will automatically eliminate you from consideration for any available positions. You will need to have your cover letter as well as your resume proofed by someone who is ruthless with a red pen.

    Cover letters are sometimes formatted directly in email or attached as a document along with your resume, in which case your email is a very short introduction to your cover letter and resume.

    Thank you letters are one of the best ways to get yourself noticed by an employer. If you are one of the top candidates being considered, you will set yourself apart from the pack by impressing the employer with your thoroughness and thoughtfulness.

    Thank you letters are sent immediately after the interview, thanking the employer for the time he/she spent interviewing you. They can also be used to correct a weak answer given in the interview. "I do feel I could have answered the Verilog coding question more effectively. If I had a second chance to answer the question, here is how I would answer it…"

    I worked with a young engineering candidate, a number of years ago, who sent a thank you letter to CH2MHill, even after he had been told he was not going to be hired. He indicated in his letter that he was still interested and found the interview process to have been a great learning experience. When the candidate who was hired backed out, he was offered the job!

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  • Recommendation Letters

    Recommendation letters are what I call your "walk-on-water" letters. It is a letter that you ask a former employer, a professor, a co-worker, or a co-team member of a project to write for you. The recommendation letter tells the employer that you are an exceptional candidate. You will need to ask someone who you trust will write glowing things about you. (see the section on references)

    Recommendation letters are used not only for jobs. These letters are written for candidates for graduate school, law school, and the military as well as for job prospects.

    You will need to provide the letter writer with enough information about the job, or other purpose for the letter, so that they are sure to hit the most important points.

    Sometimes the individual writing the letter will ask you to write the letter, highlighting your best qualities relative to the job. That means you must construct the letter for yourself. You will need to identify your best qualities, knowledge, and skills relative to the employer's needs.

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    Follow-Up Letter

  • A follow-up letter is a letter that you send after an interview, or after an informational interview, or after an offer has been made. This letter is meant to hurry things along but it can't look like you are rushing things. It is your way of showing an employer that you are thoughtful, interested, and following up. It has to capture just the right tone without being pushy. It demonstrates enthusiasm and interest and impresses the hell out of employers! Very few people actually write a follow up letter so it is going to make you stand out from the crowd.

    A poorly worded letter can cause irreparable harm so be careful!

    The job acceptance letter is a letter that you send after you have received an offer of employment, accepting the offer. It states that you are excited about the opportunity and look forward to working with the company who is making the offer.

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  • Dear John Letters

    "Dear John" are letters that are sent in the event you have accepted a job and you later receive a superior offer that you just cannot pass up. You accepted the first offer in good faith but the later offer is exactly what you want to do. You will need to gracefully back yourself out of the situation without burning any bridges. With new graduates this happens when the market is heated and multiple offers are received. This situation is described in the salary negotiation section of this book in the article titled "Which Offer Should You Take". I created the "Dear John" letter when a young student came to me with the dilemma. She had accepted an offer from Lockheed Martin and later received an offer from Hewlett Packard that was a better professional and personal move- the HP offer allowed her to stay close to her boyfriend.

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  • Volunteer Letters

    Volunteer letters are your most desperate letters. Sometimes you find that a company you really want to work for is just not hiring. It could be that the entire economy has slowed down. Or it could be that you do not have enough to offer an employer when there are a ton of more experienced people on the market.

    You need experience; you need mental stimulation; you need to be able to interact with other professionals in your field so that you do not lose your technical edge or your knowledge base. You also need the contact with people who might eventually be able to offer you a job or refer you to a colleague in another company that is hiring.

    I have coached a number of people through the process of volunteering to work in a company that had not planned to take anyone on. It is a spark of innovative thinking that is a win-win for everyone. The employer gets a new, enthusiastic team member that does not cost them anything and you get experience and exposure to current issues. You are in the epicenter of where you want to be instead of alone in your room moping.