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A Chain of Correspondence Not a Chain Letter

The interview is the heart of the job application process, but the resume and correspondence will make the first and last impression

By Candace King

It's a sad but true fact that a poorly written resume, cover letter or follow-up letter will be nothing more than a brief source of amusement for a potential employer before it makes its way to the recycling bin. While silly typos and grammatical errors might provide some entertainment, they also reflect an inattention to detail on the part of the job candidate-an undesirable trait in any employee. Luckily, by following a few standard practices, your resume and correspondence can reflect a keen attention to detail and ability to excel in your chosen field.

Think of each piece of correspondence between yourself and your potential employer as a link in a chain-each individual link needs to be sturdy in order for the chain as a whole to be strong. The links in your chain of correspondence should include: a cover letter or a letter of inquiry, a resume, a thank-you letter and a letter of acceptance or refusal when appropriate.

Common Characteristics

All correspondence between yourself and potential employers should conform to a few basic rules. The number one rule to prevent your correspondence chain from breaking down under careful scrutiny is to keep it professional. All correspondence should be word-processed and printed on high-quality, 81/2ý x 11ý paper. Generally, resumes and letters should be one page in length. However, if you are a job applicant with several years of experience in your field, your resume can exceed the one-page limit if necessary. All correspondence should be proofread carefully for spelling, punctuation and grammar.

The Letter of Application

The letter of application can be a cover letter or a letter of inquiry. A cover letter is used if you're applying for an advertised opening within a company. The letter of inquiry is sent "blind" to a company that you are interested in working for. Instead of applying for a specific position that you know is open within the company, you will be inquiring after any open position. These differences will be apparent in the body of the letter (see the "Sample Cover Letter" and "Sample Letter of Inquiry" on the opposite page). However, the overall form and style of the letters are the same.

The opening paragraph of a letter of application should spark the interest of the employer. Use it to explain how you heard about the job or why you're interested in the company and identify your career objective as well. The middle paragraphs-no more than two-should broadly establish what skills you possess that would be a good fit at the company. Remember, your resume will highlight the details of your experience, so don't get too carried away explaining them in your letter. The body paragraphs are an opportunity to express your knowledge of the company and how you see yourself fitting into their big picture. To that end, refer the employer to sections of your resume that explain in more detail the skills the employer would find most valuable. The final paragraph should again express your interest in the position or the company. Invite them to contact you to set up an appointment, and explain your intent to follow up your letter and resume with a phone call on a specific date. And don't forget to tell the employer that you value their time with a statement like, "thank you for your time and consideration."

The Resume

A resume is the main link in the chain of correspondence. It provides the employer with the facts they need to know in order to decide whether or not you are a viable candidate. Your goal when creating your resume is to give potential employers an honest representation of your skills. But you can mold it to reflect your most important strengths based on the individual needs or requirements of particular employers. Also, your resume will naturally change over the length of a career, i.e., education experience will move to the bottom of your resume after you've achieved several years of work experience. Some things should remain the same, however. The header should always contain your personal contact information: name, current address, telephone number and a professional email address (this is no time for to make an appearance).

The next section of the resume, your objective, should be short, very specific and should include a job title whenever possible. If you are sending a resume with a letter of inquiry you can use a generic title that fits your field of interest (i.e., programmer or civil engineer). Don't limit yourself by adding the word "assistant" or "trainee." The employer will determine the appropriate level of employment based on your resume.

As a recent graduate, the next section of your resume will be the education section. Always list the school's name, location, the year you graduated (or the date you expect to graduate), your GPA if it's a 3.0 or better and any honor's programs in which you were involved. If you haven't had much or any experience in the field for which you are applying, include a list of relevant coursework under your education information.

Once you've accumulated several years of experience in your field, the education section will follow the experience section. The education section will also shrink to exclude relevant coursework and GPA. In the experience section, there should be a small subsection for each position. It will start with your title, the company name, location and your dates of employment.

This information can be rearranged to start with the company name if you prefer to emphasize the company before your position within the company. Also include a list job duties and acquired skills-present this information concisely using action words.

Toward the end of your resume you should list your computer skills. A list of computer software names that you are familiar using is sufficient, but if the list stretches to four or five lines of text you might want to break it up a bit with subcategories appropriate to the software they describe.

Finally, you will reach the final section of your resume-the activities section. Not too long ago, this section included personal information about hobbies, sports and personal interests. While this information is important to you, it is usually not important to an employer. Remember, they are looking for a candidate for a specific position in their company, and this is the one piece of paper that is going to give them the most information to make that decision. With that in mind, include association memberships, honor's programs (if you aren't going to list them in the education section) and any volunteer work you've done in the field.

The Thank-You Letter

When your letters of application and resume have done their job and you are granted an interview, you must follow the interview with a thank-you note. You will have a better feel for the company environment at this point in the process, so you will be the best judge of what form the thank-you letter should take. In some extreme cases, an emailed thank you is appropriate. For example, a fast-paced, casual, Internet company is a good candidate for an email. It might also be appropriate if you know that they will be making their decision in a time frame that won't allow a letter to arrive in time. Otherwise, you should break out another piece of that special paper, a matching envelope and a stamp.

The thank-you note is just that, a note. This is not the time to reiterate absolutely everything that has taken place in the process so far. It is the time to acknowledge the value of the employer's time and your continued interest in the position. Start with a paragraph thanking the interviewer for the opportunity to meet with him or her. Remember to include the specific position title and the date of the interview so the interviewer will be reminded exactly who you are.

The next paragraph should convey your continued interest in the company, and remind the employer of the skills you have that you think would be most valuable to the company. You can include new information is this paragraph, but it should be pertinent to the job. End the note with your gratitude, and mention that you look forward to hearing from them.

The Letter of Acceptance

In most cases, the thank-you letter will be the final link in your correspondence chain. Occasionally, however, you will need to write a letter of acceptance. This link will be necessary, for example, if you have applied for a position in another state or country, and the employer can't easily invite you back for a second or third interview to make a face-to-face offer. It might also be necessary in a more traditional company where management likes to have written documentation in their employment records confirming employee's satisfaction with their job offer. Whatever the reason, if you are called upon to write a letter of acceptance, there are three things you must accomplish within the letter. You must confirm the title of the position and the salary. You must accept the position at that salary. And, again, you must thank them for their time and the opportunity to join their company.

The Letter of Refusal

If, for any reason, you are made a job offer and decide not to take the position, you might want to send a letter of refusal. Again, you want to be specific about the job title, although you don't have to mention the salary. You want to respectfully decline the offer and site a specific reason, (i.e., an earlier offer from another company). Remember to thank the employer for their time-you never know if you might want to apply for another position with the company in the future, so don't burn any bridges!



Candace King is a free-lance writer from Vernon Hills, Ill., who also works in the graphic arts department at a small publishing company where she has extensive hiring experience.

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