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Writing Professional Letters

The need for effective oral and written communication skills is extremely important in the work force. Therefore, it is critical that as a candidate you are able to write professional letters throughout your internship and job search to effectively market yourself to potential employers.

Why Should I Write a Cover Letter?

By now you are probably aware that a resume is an important document during the job or internship application process. However, do know that a well written cover letter can be just as important? A cover letter allows a you to personalize your application - providing the employer with specific information about your interest in their organization and their position, then addressing how you are specifically qualified. 

The Structure of Effective Letters

There is an acceptable structure for writing professional letters as noted in the guidelines below:

  • Your return address and the current date needs to be placed at the beginning of the letter - either top left corner, tabbed or flushed right in the upper right-hand corner of the letter. Do not include your name or telephone number in this section.
  • The employer’s address should be placed at the left margin before the salutation. The inside address includes the name, title, department, and complete address of the organization to whom you are writing.
  • The salutation is the formal greeting of the letter. “Dear Mr.” or “Dear Ms.” preceding the individual's last name is appropriate. The punctuation following the salutation can be a colon (:) or comma (,). Do not use “Mrs.” unless you have seen this title used by the individual in question. Do not use “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” as it will appear you have written a form letter. If you do not have the name of an individual, you may use “Dear Human Resources”.
  • The body of the letter comes after the salutation. The body can be three to five paragraphs in length depending upon the content and intent of the letter.
  • Paragraphs can be indented five spaces or block style can be used. The text within each paragraph is single-spaced with double-spacing between each paragraph.
  • The closing follows the body of the letter. It is aligned with your return address and current date that opened the letter. A formal closing, such as "Sincerely," is appropriate. Three to four blank lines are inserted and type your formal name as it appears on your resume.
  • Above your typed name, sign your name in blue or black ink. Other colors of ink and pencils will not photocopy well.
  • If information is to be enclosed, (i.e. a resume or transcript) then it is appropriate to place the word "Enclosure:" at the left margin followed by the name(s) of the document(s) enclosed.

Tips for Writing High Impact Letters

  • Letters should not exceed one page in length.
  • ​Do not send "form letters". To make a positive, professional impression, you should make the effort to personalize and tailor each letter to a specific employer.
  • Be sure to use a high quality, 8 ½” by 11” bond paper. It is best to use the same paper on which your resume was printed.
  • Your cover letters must be error-free. Be sure to proof-read each letter for typographical, spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. Have others read your letters for clarity and to check for errors.
  • All letters should be typed and printed on a laser-jet printer. Hand-written letters or notes are unacceptable. Neatness counts and so does attention to detail.
  • If you are concerned about damage to your documents, you may want to use a full size manila envelope for mailing. Remember that a professional appearance is important. Be sure to type the return and mailing address directly onto the envelope or onto a label.
  • In some cases you may be sending your documents to employers by e-mail. Be certain that you keep this correspondence professional in manner and follow the same guidelines provided regarding letter content and structure.

The following descriptions represent the types of letters that you might find appropriate at various stages of your job search.

Application Letter (Letter of Interest)

When you send a resume to an employer it must be accompanied by a letter of application, also known as a cover letter. This letter is essential. The purpose of the cover letter is to highlight the skills, education and experience you possess related to their position. You will express to an employer why you are interested in the position and what contributions you believe you can make to the organization based upon your qualifications. Since the cover letter is the ideal place to focus on the specific skills you want to emphasize for a particular employer, a unique cover letter must accompany each resume you send.

  • Be sure to introduce yourself, the position for which you are applying and identify the source that listed or advertised the position opening. If you were referred to the position by a specific individual, make note of that in your letter.
  • The letter should be addressed specifically to the person (by name and title) who will be conducting the screening process and/or interviews. You can generally find out this information by calling the human resources department of the organization.
  • The objective of this letter is to highlight your skills and experience in relationship to the needs of the employer to whom you are writing. Each letter of application you write will be different based upon the position requirements and functions, focusing on the skills that are important to that particular employer.
  • Be sure to indicate your willingness to discuss the position further and to be available for an interview.
  • If you have been asked to provide salary requirements, you may note this in the last paragraph of your letter. An example: “With regards to salary expectations, I would hope to be compensated in the range of $XX,000 to $XX,000 based upon my education and experience.” Be certain to research what salaries are typical for your career field!
  • If you are applying for a position through an on-line application system, there may be a section in which you can copy & paste or upload a cover letter. If there is not a designated space, you may include your cover letter information in the "Additional Information" section if one is provided. 

Letter of Inquiry

During your job search, you might encounter times when you are in need of information about an organization, a specific position or geographic location. In this case, you would write a letter of inquiry. In the letter, you request the information needed.

  • A letter of inquiry is sent by itself. Your resume should not be enclosed. This can hurt your candidacy if you should contact the same organization in the future.
  • Even though you are requesting information from the organization, it may be appropriate to share information about yourself and your strengths. Remember that it should be provided in the context relevant to the information requested.
  • This may be your first contact with a potential employer. Therefore, it is critical that this letter be well-written and targeted to the organization in question.
  • Often times organizations cannot immediately respond to various requests. You should close your letter by stating your intended method and time line for follow-up. Then be sure to carry out your actions.
  • NOTE: Due to legal issues, many employers will not accept unsolicited resumes. Also, writing a letter to inquire about potential job openings or the application process may not be the best means of connecting with an employer since many will list openings on their website. It is suggested to view the employer website, and if you do not see a "Jobs" or "Career" section of the site, call or e-mail to find out where openings are listed. With on-line applicant systems, individuals may be able to apply for positions without seeing specific positions listed.

Students often ask if they will receive acknowledgment by the employer after sending a letter of inquiry. Be aware that since you will be sending an unsolicited letter, you may or may not receive a response. However, these letters do demonstrate to an employer that you are taking a planned, organized approach to your job search. This can be impressive and encouraging to employers.

Pre-Interview and Pre-Screening Letter

An opportunity might arise where it is necessary to write a letter to an on-campus recruiter or job fair employer in order to secure an interview. Similar to a letter of application, the purpose of the letter is to highlight your qualifications and career interests to the employer.

  • Explain your purpose is to request an interview with the organization.
  • Consider the organization's employment needs and demonstrate how your career goals and qualifications match their needs.
  • Enclose a resume for the purpose of screening. This is appropriate considering that you are referring to a specific position.
  • Close the letter firmly by requesting the future interview or meeting.

Interview Confirmation Letter

Once your application has been screened by an employer, you may be granted an opportunity to interview with the organization. This interview could be a site visit, a telephone interview, or on-campus interview. If time permits, you may wish to confirm the arrangements made for the interview. This demonstrates to a prospective employer that you are organized, responsible, and concerned about the details of the interview.

  • Review the arrangements made for the interview. Be sure to include the time, date and location of the interview.
  • Refer to important information that you were asked to bring to the interview or complete in advance such as a pre-employment exam, employment application, or official transcripts.
  • Restate your appreciation for the employer's consideration of your qualifications and the opportunity to interview.

Post Interview Thank You Letter

It is strongly recommended to send a thank you letter promptly after each interview. This can reinforce or leave a favorable impression on an employer, especially because so few candidates take the time to send them. Given that some employers may be making interview or hiring decisions in a relatively short time-frame, you may wish to e-mail your thank you letter, which is acceptable. A point to keep in mind is that the longer you wait to send a thank you letter, the less impact your letter will have on the employer.

  • One purpose of the thank you letter is to remind the employer of your qualifications and the strength of your candidacy.
  • This is a perfect opportunity to restate your interest and enthusiasm in working for the employer and the job opportunity.
  • This letter will demonstrate to the employer your professionalism, courtesy, and your ability to follow through on details.
  • It is not necessary for thank you letters to be lengthy. Keep the content concise and to the point. Highlight specifics of the interview or the overall visit.
  • Thank you letters should not be general form letters. They need to be tailored to the specific position and organization at which you interviewed.

Thank you letters should also be sent after informational interviews, network meetings, receiving information from employers, having an instructor/adviser write a letter of recommendation or any time that an individual has significantly impacted your job search.

Job Offer Clarification or Acknowledgment Letter

Employers will differ in how they extend an offer of employment to a candidate. Job offers may be extended over the phone or by letter. In either case, it may be necessary to clarify aspects of the offer prior to your final decision.

  • Even if you are hesitant about accepting a job offer, it is best to show your enthusiasm and appreciation for receiving an offer. The last thing that you want to do is to appear unprofessional if you do not accept a position at the present time with the organization.
  • Be specific about the conditions of the offer. State the salary, start date, benefits, or other relevant information you have been provided.
  • If you are unable to make a decision with your current information, request additional information that may assist you with your decision.

Job Offer Acceptance Letter

Accepting a job offer will be one of the more enjoyable points of your job search. Most organizations will ask that you call and give a verbal commitment. This enables the organization to act quickly to close the search and to prepare any necessary paperwork for you to complete. If writing an acceptance letter, keep the following in mind:

  • Even though a verbal acceptance has been given, it is an excellent idea to confirm this acceptance in writing. Restate the terms of the appointment, job title, starting date, or other relevant information.
  • It is an excellent idea to mention your enthusiasm for beginning the position with the organization.

Job Offer Declination Letter

Even if you decline a job offer during a telephone conversation, it is a professional courtesy to decline the offer in writing. Remember that it is not professional to send a letter of declination prior to contacting the organization by telephone. By being tactful and appreciative in your letter, it will help you avoid hurting your chances of being considered for future job opportunities with that organization.

  • Always be appreciative of the experience and opportunity to have interviewed for the position.
  • Be concise and to the point.
  • If you have accepted another offer, you may inform the organization of this opportunity.
  • A declination letter can also be sent to refuse a site visit or second interview. Once again this is a professional courtesy.

Networking or Informational Interview Letter

Many times you may want to speak with a professional in the workforce to obtain information about a career field, an organization, or advice on preparing for a specific career. Informational interviews can be a very effective way to research these questions. When contacting alumni or professionals regarding an informational interview, it is best to do so in writing so the interviewee will know what is expected of him or her.

  • Introduce yourself and how you found their name and contact information.
  • Specify exactly what type of information you want to obtain.
  • Let the interviewee know whether you would like a face-to-face meeting, a telephone interview, or even email correspondence. Note that you would appreciate this information at their convenience since you are asking for their assistance.


The purpose of any job search correspondence is to highlight your qualifications and to distinguish yourself from your competition. Quality, well-written correspondence can be extremely powerful and highlight your written communication skills. If you send several letters to the same organization, it is best to keep them organized in case you need to make reference to any of the letters during your job search. If you are ever in question as to whether to send a letter or not, it is best to send written correspondence.

CareerSpots Videos:

View this short video about writing a solid cover letter so you stand out and impress recruiters.