This Cover Letter Guide Book is provided for COM Students
and Alumni by the COM Office Of Career Services.
Therefore, all information in this Guide Book is
geared towards communication careers only!

The cover letter and résumé are necessary tools in the successful implementation of a creative job search. Cover letters are introductory sales letters to potential employers, and they always accompany résumés. Your task in finding a job is to differentiate yourself from every other candidate. A good cover letter can do this by motivating the potential employer to read the attached résumé and subsequently invite you to interview for the position you are seeking.

Because employers receive hundreds of résumés a day, and they can only interview a small number of candidates, the cover letter becomes the first screening process. Only a few carefully worded letters stand a chance of gettting through an employer's screening maze. A well-written cover letter increases your chances of getting an interview.

A good cover letter introduces you to an employer and explains why you are one of the best candidates applying for a job with the organization.

Writing and Designing an Effective Cover Letter


The Approach

Designing an effective cover letter includes the following formula:

Provocation + Job Objective + Qualifications + Achievements + Interests + Motivation + Personality + Aggressive Close = RESULTS

To a degree, the cover letter expands upon the résumé, but it also gives you the opportunity to add personal flavor to your approach. Although you want your letter to reflect your personality, always keep in mind the audience and industry to whom you are writing. If you are creative and want to try a "catchy" first sentence - that might be appropriate for an advertising position, but it might not be well received in corporate public relations. Try and bounce your letter off someone in the appropriate industry to get feedback on its effectiveness.

The Ten Basic Rules

  • Type each letter or use a computerized cover letter service so each letter looks individually typed.
  • Letters should be typed in proper business format on 8.5" x 11" bond paper that preferably matches your résumé.
  • Address each employer by name and title. No one likes to receive or respond to a "Dear Sir" letter - it's too impersonal. Professionals suggest that letters be addressed to presidents of companies or someone in senior management who has hiring power (i.e., Vice President of Marketing) so the correspondence will receive immediate attention.
  • This letter is the first example of your writing skills and how you present yourself. Be careful to check for grammatical and typographical errors.
  • Keep your letter short to insure holding the reader's interest. Three to five paragraphs are sufficient.
  • Open your letter with a strong, attention-getting sequence.
  • The body of your letter should include facts about your past experience in addition to stressing your accomplishments.
  • Appeal to the self-interest of the company to which you are writing. Propose a mutually beneficial association with that employer.
  • Try to include challenging thoughts to inspire the need to find out more information in a personal interview.
  • Be aggressive in the closing paragraph and state some kind of plan of action (e.g., I will call you in two weeks to set up an interview).
It is important to keep a record of all your correspondence, and what stage each application is in.

The Ten Basic Letters

  • Letter of application
  • Letter of inquiry/direct mail letter
  • Letter of referral
  • Letter of appreciation/thank you
  • Letter of inquiry of application status
  • Letter of acknowledgment
  • Letter giving or seeking additional information
  • Letter accepting or declining an offer
  • Alumni networking letter
  • Letter of inquiry for summer position and/or internship

Letter of Application

This letter, commonly called the letter of transmittal, is used when you know of a specific job opening and you apply directly for it with your résumé enclosed. This cover letter should serve as an introduction and can be used to highlight certain qualifications or objectives for the job which may not be immediately apparent in the résumé. The cover letter can also be used to stress transferable skills and experience particularly relevant to the job for which you are applying.

Letter of Inquiry/Direct Mail Letter

This letter is used when you have defined the specific kind of job you want, when you have researched thoroughly the companies or agencies for whom you want to work, and when you can articulate how your background and experience would fit into the company selected. This type of campaigning is helpful when you want to reach a larger number of prospective job openings. Thoughtful preliminary research is a prerequisite for obtaining thoughtful responses to your inquiries.

Letter of Referral

This letter is sent to a specific person at the referral of a faculty member, friend, family member, or networking contact. The only difference between the "Letter of Application" is the opening line specifying who referred you for this position, or to this company.

Letter of Appreciation or a Thank You Letter

This letter is sent to the interviewer after an interview and emphasizes the sustained interest you have in obtaining the position. Your personal note will keep your name fresh in the employer's mind. Since this basic courtesy is often overlooked, your response will make you stand out from the other job applicants. This letter, like all other business letters, should be typed, not hand written.

Letter of Inquiry of Application Status

This letter may be used before or after your first interview to find out the status of your application. If you do not hear from the company for a long period of time, it is perfectly acceptable to inquire when the company expects to make a final decision. A long period of time can be defined as three or four weeks or as one week after the date set by the interviewer to be in touch with you.

Letter of Acknowledgment

This letter is a courtesy which informs the prospective employer that you received the offer and are in the process of deciding. Include in the letter a date by which you plan to make your final decision. In some cases, however, the employer may have informed you when the decision must be made, which may be immediately and will therefore eliminate the need for this letter.

Letters Giving or Seeking Additional Information

This letter is important if you have any questions or concerns. Do not hesitate to let the prospective employer know. Asking for additional information will help you make a more informed decision. Be specific and clear.

Letters Accepting or Declining Offers

This letter lets the prospective employer know your final decision. If you accept, plans can proceed for your reporting to work and for your first work assignment; if you decline, other candidates must be sought, interviewed, and/or contacted. Do not accept an offer unless you are certain it is what you want. To accept an offer and decline later reflects badly on the College as well as on you personally and professionally.

Alumni/Networking Letter

This letter is used to obtain an invaluable informational interview, and is a great way to tap into an existing networking resource. Approaching someone for informational purposes, to find out more about an industry or position, can often result in actual job leads or the names of other potentially influential people. It would be too threatening to ask for a "job" because if your contact is not involved in the hiring process, or has no openings, s/he may not want to talk to you. But few people will deny you the opportunity to hear all about themselves. Follow up on every lead.

Letter of Inquiry and Application for Summer Positions and/or Internships

This letter is self-explanatory. All of the same rules apply as previously stated for the letter of application or the letter of inquiry.


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