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The Art of Writing Job-Search Letters

Taken from "Planning Job Choices 2000 43rd Edition"

The most challenging part of the job search process is writing professional level correspondences for a variety of unfamilar situations, such as applying for positions, showing appreciation, and accepting or rejecting offers. Because there is no single formula or model letter that will work well for every occasion, you should give as much careful consideration and attention to detail in your letter writing as you do in other career planning and job-search activities.

This article introduces you to the art of writing job-search correspondence. It provides a context for letter writing, suggestions for writing style, and general guidelines for producing high-quality letters.

Job-search letters in context

The purposes and impact of every letter should be considered carefully. It's important that you craft your letters to reflect what is appropriate for your audience, your objectives, and the requirements of the situation.

Effective letters are only one component in a larger system of interrelated tasks and activities designed to advance your career. Ideally, your letters should flow from, and be linked to, the following career development tasks:
1. Assessing your abilities, skills, knowledge, interests, preferences, values, and motivations;
2. Researching and evaluating occupations, jobs, and employers;
3. Defining your work objectives and career goals;
4. Writing a resume;
5. Planning and implementing your job-search campaign;
6. Interviewing for job opportunities; and
7. Choosing appropriate work.

Most often letter writing supports the last three tasks. It is important to remember that effective letters are part of a larger career planning and job-search process.

Writing Style

To create a positive impact, analyze your "audience" by considering his or her problems and requirements, then plan your letters accordingly. (Audience analysis is a process of putting yourself in the reader's situation in an attempt to understand his or her needs and problems.) After such analysis, you can then compose your letters to show how your background and talents can meet the reader's needs; to convince the reader of your value as a prospective employee; and to persuade the reader to take action in your favor. A key point to remember is that responsibility for effective communication rests with the writer, not with the reader.

Seasoned business writers tend to follow these basic principles:
1. Decide your purpose in writing, then plan accordingly. Place the most important items first, supported by facts.
2. Group similar items together in a paragraph, then organize the paragraphs in logical relationship to one another. Do the work of organizing your information for the reader.
3. Keep your letters personal, warm, and professional. Avoid being either overly familiar or overly officious in tone. However, keep in mind that business letters are formal, not informal, documents.
4. Say what you mean directly. Show that you understand the value of the reader's time by being as brief as possible.
5. Write clearly and simply. Avoid jargon and overly complex sentences.
6. Be positive in content, tone, word choice, and expectations. Suggest that you are an optimistic, responsible, productive, and reasonable person.
7. Use active voice and action verbs in your writing.
8. Keep the reader's interest by varying sentence structure and length.
9. Reduce uncertainty and abstraction for the reader by including specific facts.
10. Provide information that reflects the reader's interest. Stress the benefits for the reader.

Types of letters

Communication skills are among the most important skills you bring to your career, and your job-search letter usually will be the first sample employers will have of your competency in this area. Your letters should be functional, understandable, easy to read, and pleasant in tone. Every communication act is a message about you.

There are seven basic letters you will probably use during your job search:
  • application
  • acceptance
  • prospecting
  • withdrawal
  • networking
  • rejection
  • thank-you

  • Each letter has its own function and should be used accordingly. A brief description of each letter follows. Be sure to sign the original letters and to keep copies of all correspondence.
    1. Application Letter:
    The purposes of this letter are to get your enclosed resume read and to generate interviews. Use this type of letter in response to specific job advertisements and vacancy announcements. Your strategy is to demonstrate that your qualifications fit the requirements of the position. Study the position description carefully and decide on one or more themes--education, experience, interests, responsibility, etc.--that show persuasively how well you fit the position. Link major job dimensions with your related past performance and experience.
    2. Prospecting Letter:
    The purposes of this letter are to seek out possible vacancies in your occupation, to get your resume read, and to generate interviews. Prospecting letters are used extensively for long-distance searches. Target specific individuals in specific organizations. Structure this letter similarly to the application letter, but instead of using position information, focus on broader occupational and/or organizational dimensions to describe how your qualifications match the work environment.
    3. Networking Letter:
    This letter is designed to generate information interviews--not job interviews--which allow you to meet individuals who can give you specific information about your intended career. Your purposes in seeking information interviews may vary, but your reasons for wanting to meet with a contact person must be sincere. Information interviewing isn't a magic shortcut to employment; it requires solid preparation, sincerity, and much effort. The networking letter is the first step in the information interviewing process. Normally, a resume is not attached to a networking letter, but it may be presented during the interview itself to help the interviewer address your questions.
    4. Thank-You Letter:
    This is one of the most important yet least used tools in a job search. It is used to establish goodwill, to express appreciation, and/or to strengthen your candidacy. The basic rule of thumb is that everyone who helps you in any way gets a thank-you letter. When used to follow up employment interviews, thank-you letters should be sent within 24 hours to everyone who interviewed you. Also, be sure to send thank-you letters to each contact who granted you information interviews and to those who provided references for you.
    5. Acceptance Letter:
    Use this letter to accept a job offer, to confirm the terms of your employment (salary, starting date, medical examinations, etc.), and to positively reinforce the employer's decision to hire you. Most often, an acceptance letter follows a telephone conversation during which the details of the offer and the terms of employment are discussed.
    6. Withdrawal Letter:
    Once you accept a position, you have an ethical obligation to inform all other employers of your decision and to withdraw your employment application from consideration. Your withdrawal letter should express appreciation for the employer's consideration and courtesy. It may be appropriate to state that your decision to go with another organization was based on having better person-job fit for this stage in your career. DO NOT say that you obtained a better job.
    7. Rejection Letter:
    Candidates may have to decline employment offers that do not fit their career objectives and interests. Rejecting an employment offer should be done thoughtfully. Indicate that you have carefully considered the offer and have decided not to accept it. Also, be sure to thank the employer for the offer and for considering you as a candidate.

    Closing Thoughts

    Finally, please remember that you are unique. Strive to allow your individuality to be expressed through your writing.


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