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Correspondence: Say It In Writing

Write your way to the top during the job search. Practical advice on cover letters, thank-you letter, letters of recommendation, list of references, job search emails, and letters of acceptance and decline.

By Valerie Anderson

In spite of a rebounding economy and an improving outlook for graduates looking for that first real-world job, many college students believe that it’s more difficult to find a job now than it was in the past. “While the economic data suggests otherwise, the reality is that many college students are finding their own personal job search to be more difficult than they anticipated,” states Brian Krueger, president of “They are translating their own personal difficulties into a view that job searching must be more difficult in the economy in general.”’s most recent survey found that entry-level employers planned to hire 9.1% more college grads in 2006 over the previous year. (You can find these results online at Even with significant growth, graduates are finding strong competition among fellow classmates. Stephanie Jax, manager of College Relations for Ecolab in St. Paul, Minn. explains, “I have noticed many changes in the competition on campus and in student demographics. The students that I met on campus were more well-rounded and better prepared for the job search.”

The Written Rules

So what does this mean for you? It simply means that all aspects of your job search must be on point. Including your writing skills.

During college you had to put your writing skills to work in many different ways—you wrote research papers for classes, essays during exams, wrote up labs for courses, and maybe even had to use your writing talents during various jobs and internship experiences.

Throughout your job search you will have to use your writing skills in many different ways, as well. Job search related correspondence comes in many different forms—the cover letter to your resume, thank-you letters, lists of references and letters of recommendation, job search emails, and letters of acceptance and decline. As with any part of the job search, it is imperative that you put thought and effort into these correspondences; they can make or break your first impression on your prospective employer.

Cover Letters

When writing a cover letter, you should remember that this is your opportunity to speak directly to each individual employer. Don’t send out the same generic cover letter for each position! Tailor every letter for the job for which you are applying. If possible, address it to a specific person. Typically you will be able to find the contact name at the company’s “about us” page on their Web site.

Be enthusiastic in your letter and explain why you are contacting the employer, if necessary, remind them of the type of work you are looking for or the specific position you are applying for. If you learned about the position through someone in particular, and you have approval to mention his or her name, it can be beneficial to do so in your cover letter.

Remember that you should not reiterate everything that is already in your resume or write a full autobiography. Your letter should be concise and demonstrate that you are the right person for the job. State why you are interested in the position, and point out some additional, relevant experiences that pertain to the job. Include your desire to meet with the employer to discuss how you would be beneficial to the company. You can add a statement like: “I will contact you next week to schedule a convenient time to get together.”

Another word of advice on cover letters: avoid negatives. Save any explanations of gaps in employment history or other issues for the interview itself where you can explain them and let your personality outshine any possible concerns. Also avoid any discussion of salary history. If you were specifically asked for this information in a job posting, you should still keep your answer vague by offering a salary range or saying that your requirements are flexible.

And don’t forget to include your contact information—your telephone number and email address. Always thank the reader for their time at the end of the letter as well.

Cover Letter Tips:

  • Your letter should be one page in length and in typical business letter format.

  • Keep the layout clear, easy to read, and with a logical progression.

  • Proofread! And have a friend or someone at your career center proofread your cover letter.

  • Use high-end stationery for your resume and cover letter.

  • Use a typeface like Times New Roman, Courier or Book Antiqua.

  • Don’t forget to sign your letters or to attach resume!

Thank-You Letters

Always send a thank-you note after a job interview—to everyone who helped you with your job search, like people you had informational interviews with, references, people who refer you to job openings, or any other employment contacts that you want to keep in touch with.

After an interview, thank-you notes should be sent out as quickly as possible, ideally within 24-hours. If for some reason you are unable to do so, you can send an email, but a handwritten note is preferable.

Thank-you notes are also a good opportunity to include any information you may have omitted during the interview that you wish you had mentioned. But remember to keep the note brief! You should also reiterate your interest in the job, include a brief mention of your qualifications, and end with a final thank you. Again, always proof your thank-you letter and have someone check it over for you as well.

List of References/Letters of Recommendation 

As part of the job search, you might be asked for a list of references to present to prospective employers. This list should include your references’ name, title, company, phone number and email.

You can also secure letters of recommendation from both past professors and employers as well. These letters should explain a summary of your accomplishments in either the past position or course.

Job Search Emails

If you are like most people, you use email everyday to communicate with friends and family. Therefore your writing style when using email might be more casual than when you write in other formats. However, when using email during your job search, make sure your tone remains professional.

And don’t forget to attach your resume! You don’t want to have a resend the email with an “oops!” in the subject line. You can either attach your resume as a Word document or embed it within the body of the email. Some positions will specifically state how they would like your resume sent; otherwise they will typically be able to open attachments.

Email Tips:

  • Keep your subject line professional and specific to the position.

  • Personalize the email by addressing the recipient by name—just like you would when sending a cover letter.

  • Your email correspondence should be similar to a cover letter, but more concise. You can use bullet points in order to organize and highlight the key points that you want to convey.

  • Always include all necessary contact information.

Letters of Acceptance and Decline

In some cases, when you are at the point of accepting or declining a job offer, you will do so in written form. It is helpful to do this in a letter because it cements the decision and prevents any misunderstanding.

Tips for Letter of Acceptance:

  • In a letter of acceptance you should include your agreed-upon starting salary and other benefits and bonuses, as well as your job title, starting date and location. If there is a relocation package, you should also state this agreement in the letter.

  • Acceptance letters also typically include a brief note about your excitement about taking the position, and your pleasure in being selected for the job.

Tips for Letter of Declination

  • In this type of letter you should reiterate your gratitude for the offer, but state a brief reason for turning down the position.

  • You can also include a statement that leaves open the possibility of some future contact, if appropriate. It is important not to burn any bridges during the job search. You never know when you meet these contacts again during your career!

Valerie Anderson is the Senior Editorial Manager of Graduating Engineer & Computer Careers.

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