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 are some situations which you may find yourself responding to in your letters.

Responding to a Listing

When responding to a posting, read the description 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.

If a contact name is not provided, call the company and do some research, unless the ad specifies "no calls." Always respect this request. You may be able to find a contact name using some online sleuthing, but many companies are open to a quick call or e-mail request for the contact information. People like to be acknowledged, and taking the time to find this information can show your attention to detail and willingness to take the extra step.

Before composing your letter, research the company, peruse the Web site, and get as good a feel as possible of the company culture, people, and of course, the products or services provided. If the targeted business is a public company, you can also check the EDGAR database on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Web site at http://www.sec.gov/edgar/searchedgar/webusers.htm. You may also want to try Hoover's online at http://www.hoovers.com. Sites such as the Better Business Bureau can be helpful to get a sense of a company’s reputation, and there is a good chance the company has a profile on LinkedIn, so look there as well. Other social media sites may be helpful, as well. If the company has a Twitter account, add it to your Following list to see what information is posted. And of course, there is always Google. And if you know someone who works at the 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 familiar with the business.

"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.

With the multitude of Web sites now posting jobs, responding to this type of ad can also be potentially dangerous regarding your information. As a general rule, avoiding these types of listings on sites such as Craigslist can be a good idea. If you do respond, create a separate version of your resume and cover letter that does not include personal information, instead listing only an e-mail address and possibly a phone number. Avoid sending additional information such as your address, home phone number, or any other personal information that could compromise your online and/or personal safety.

That said, some 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.

Many companies who place blind ads use generic e-mail addresses or even a post office box number. If there is no company Web site listed, you may be able to get some clues from the e-mail address. Some may still use a company e-mail, and you can then use that information to further research the company. 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.

The Internet delivers many promises through job boards and large résumé banks, and the number of job boards is overwhelming. 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 of résumés. The competition is fierce. There is no guarantee. As enticing as the sites promise results, 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. Remember to use your network, make direct contacts with businesses of interest, and use a variety of search options. Always research job board sites, and use those that are reputable.

Depending on your e-mail, you may want to use a separate e-mail address strictly for your job search, particularly if your personal e-mail address is less than professional. Set-up a free e-mail account, using your name, if at all possible. 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.

Responding to Recruiters’ Ads

Letters to recruiters’ 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 often necessary to inform a recruiter of your salary requirements. For someone new to the workforce, it may be necessary to do some research. You can do salary research online. Monster.com's Salary Center allows you to search by field. The Occupational Outlook Handbook online also lists general salary information by job type at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ and also at http://www.bls.gov/bls/blswage.htm. You can also find salary information at http://www.salary.com/, or http://www.careeronestop.org/SalariesBenefits/sal_default.aspx.

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 the 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 and/or global positions. 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 solely on a recruiter to find you a job.

Cold Call Letters to Employers

You have done your research and found the perfect company, but 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, 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, 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 mentioned, recruiters work for the employer, not for you.

When writing to recruiters, as when writing to companies, make it clear who you are and what you do. Clarify specifics related to the type of job you are seeking. Sales, for example, cover a broad range; recruiters need detailed information from you as far as what you are willing to accept. 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.

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, mention this in your letter. When you introduce yourself, note 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.

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 a number of other 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, save each version with an updated file name. 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.

With an understanding of the various types of letters, and when to use them, you will be well prepared for a variety of professional correspondence situations throughout your job search.