Job-search and other career-related letters are as important as resumes in conveying your value to employers. You can demonstrate good writing skills as well as courtesy and professionalism. Letters enable you to introduce yourself, state your career interests, and highlight your strengths. There are several types of letters that you’ll need to develop.
Information Interview Letters
Write to a professional working in a career field to request an information interview, in person or by phone, to learn about the person’s work.
- Make it clear that you are seeking information, not applying for a position.
- State how you identified the person, what you would like to learn, and when/how long you would like to meet or talk with them.
- See Networking to learn more about talking with professionals.
Sample Information Interview Letter
128 State Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
April 20, 2010
Mr. James Ingraham, Associate Director
Virginia Small Business Commission
3190 West Canton Street
Richmond, VA 26811
Dear Mr. Ingraham:
After reading the article in the March 26 Wall Street Journal featuring your work with the Virginia Small Business Commission, I am interested in learning more about your experiences in retail development. I am currently a postdoc at Cornell University and am seeking information about retail and warehouse management, particularly for businesses in rural communities. I would appreciate hearing your assessment of where the industry is headed and where you think job opportunities will develop. Any suggestions for how to prepare to enter this field, both in terms of experience and course work, would be very helpful.
I will contact your office in a week to discuss the possibility of scheduling a twenty- to thirty-minute appointment. I have noted that you have registered with the Cornell Career Contact Network and would be happy to communicate through the Network if you prefer. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to talking with you.
Cover Letters and Letters of Inquiry
Explore employment possibilities at an organization through an inquiry letter.
- Target the organization’s hiring needs by learning about jobs for which you may be qualified.
- Visit the website and/or call the organization to obtain information.
Sample Letter of Inquiry
211 Dryden Road
Ithaca, NY 14850
February 21, 2010
Mr. Carl Whitaker, Director Federal Reserve Bank of New York
33 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10045
Dear Mr. Whitaker:
After studying and conducting research for my Ph.D. in economic theory, I have a strong desire to apply what I have learned in a practical setting, working with data and analyzing economic phenomena. Reading the Federal Reserve System: Purposes and Functions, I was struck by the broad array of functions carried out by the Federal Reserve, the significant role it plays in both the money and financial markets, and the influence it exerts on the economy as a whole. I would value the opportunity to work as a researcher alongside some of the best people in the field for the Federal Reserve. With additional significant course work in mathematics and experience using statistical packages such as SAS and Data Desk, I believe I have the academic background necessary to do excellent work as an economics researcher.
As reflected in the enclosed resume, my academic and work experience have helped me develop skills that should be useful in any research setting. Writing articles for economic journals, such ason the West’s response to the crisis in Eastern Europe, taught me to research extensively, analyze my findings, and communicate my conclusions clearly.
I look forward to speaking with you and learning more about the Federal Reserve. I believe that with my strong background in economics and my experience as a researcher, I would make a valuable contribution to your organization. I will call you next week to see if it would be possible to arrange an interview.
(Ms.) Tomika Kim
Letters of Application
Write to a prospective employer about a specific job you have seen advertised or have identified through networking.
- Motivate employers to read your resume through a well-written cover letter.
- Encourage employers to interview you by reading your cover letter and resume.
Sample Letter of Application
321 Linden Avenue
Ithaca, New York 14850
January 10, 2010
Mary Smith, Outreach Director
People for a Livable Planet
40 West 20th Street, 9th Floor
New York, New York 10011
Dear Ms. Smith:
A natural resourcesPh.D student at Cornell University, I have focused my studies on the connections between agricultural, environmental, and economic sustainability. The efforts of People for a Livable Planet to promote consumer choices that are ecologically sustainable and thus conserve natural resources are of great interest to me. I would therefore like to be considered for the consumer outreach and marketing specialist position advertised in Nonprofit Times. I enclose my resume for your consideration.
Through volunteer activities, I have promoted sustainable agriculture and environmental issues. As president of the Cornell Greens, I organized meetings, workshops, rallies, and Earth Day activities for the Cornell campus, and also established an environmental educational curriculum for an after-school program. Last year, I helped found the Student Garden Group to introduce organic gardening to Cornell students and promote local agriculture to the Ithaca community. We ran produce stands at apartment complexes for economically disadvantaged families and senior citizens, and expanded Cornell Cooperative Extension to develop outreach programs.
A confident public speaker, I have participated in a training course for peer counselors, completed a course in oral communication, spoken at rallies and festivals, and worked as an educator in a variety of teaching situations.
I am eager to apply my knowledge and experience to an educational advocacy organization when I graduate in May. I will call you next week to schedule a time to discuss my interest in increasing public awareness about ecological agriculture and environmental conservation at People for a Livable Planet. Thank you for your consideration.
Follow-Up Letters and Thank-You Letters
Thank interviewers for meeting with you following information or job interviews.
- Reiterate your interest in the field or the position, and recall aspects of the interview that were especially enlightening.
- Speak with a career advisor if you have concerns about sending an email, a handwritten note, or a more formal letter, and whom to write to if you spoke with more than one person.
Sample Thank-You Letter
125 College Avenue
Ithaca, New York 14850
May 15, 2010
Julie Blair, Vice President
Reed Putnam Investments
30 Wall Street, 17th Floor
New York, New York 10022
Dear Ms. Blair:
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with you and your staff yesterday when I interviewed for the financial analyst position. The discussions were highly informative, and I was impressed with the planned addition of a mentoring component to the training program. This is precisely the kind of training program I am seeking.
My visit strengthened my interest in the financial analyst position and my enthusiasm for working at Reed Putnam. I believe that my master’s in economics, my leadership position in the graduate student business association, and an internship with Davidson Sack last summer have prepared me to make a significant contribution.
As you requested, I am enclosing a summary of the research project I completed in a course in financial economics. Please do not hesitate to call me at (607) 555-1824 if I can provide additional information. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you again for your time and the courtesy you extended to me.
Enclosure: Research Project Summary
Respond to the employer to express your pleasure at receiving the offer. For more information, see Evaluating Offers
- Confirm the terms and conditions of your employment, including salary, start date, benefits, etc.
- Request a written confirmation of the detailed offer if you have not received one.
Decline an offer of employment once you have decided to take another position. For more information, see Evaluating Offers
- Thank the employer for the offer and for the opportunity to interview.
- State that your decision is based on careful consideration of your current interests and goals.
- Pave the way for future opportunities with the employer and networking with individuals you met there through a cordial decline letter.
Guidelines for Writing Letters
Prepare well-written career-related letters. For more information and guidance, see Sample Letter of Application above.
- Describe how your qualifications meet the employer’s hiring needs.
- Convey that you are informed about the organization and enthusiastic about the position.
- Learn the name and title of the person responsible for hiring in the department of interest; address your letter to that person.
- Demonstrate your competency in communicating.
- Refer in your opening sentences to a personal or professional contact who has directed you to the organization, if applicable.
If you decide to correspond with employers via email, follow these guidelines.
- Introduce yourself early in the message and state your reason for writing.
- Include your cover letter as well as resume in the body of the message since employers may not be able to open attachments.
- Keep the tone of your message professional and positive, and proofread your message carefully.
- Delete distractions at the bottom of your messages, such as annoying or cute signatures, standard quotes, etc.
- Use standard business-letter format and generous margins.
- Limit letter to 3–4 short paragraphs.
- Single-space paragraphs and double-space between paragraphs.
- Address the individual by name and use his/her appropriate title.
- Use the person’s full name (e.g., “Dear Pat Smith”) if you don’t know his/her gender.
- Attract attention with a strong first paragraph.
- Refer to your enclosed resume.
- Use specific examples to document skills, experience, and accomplishments.
- Highlight and expand upon the most relevant information in your resume.
- Emphasize what you can do for the employer, not what you hope to gain.
- Keep the tone positive, natural, and professional. Be persuasive.
- Make sure grammar and sentence structure are correct.
- Have someone proofread letters to make sure they are error-free.
- Use good quality bond paper and envelopes in white, ivory, or light gray.
- Sign letters.
- Keep copies of your letters.
- Use the passive voice.
- Include extraneous information.
- Reiterate verbatim what’s in your resume.
- Point out weaknesses or lack of experience.
- Begin too many sentences and paragraphs with “I.”
- Use jargon or excessive wordiness.
- Exceed one page.
- Copy exact wording from letter examples in this web guide.
- Assume spellcheck will identify all errors.