The Anatomy of a Job Search Letter

Every job search letter contains the same bones beneath its unique skin of qualifications, experience, and focus. These are the things you absolutely must include in your letters.

Contact information

Your postal mailing address, mobile and home telephone numbers, e-mail address, Skype number, blog address (if you have a business-related blog, not a party blog), and Twitter address, if you have one, appear first on a job search letter.

When applying for an international position, spell out your state, followed by a comma and USA (as in Mesa, Arizona, USA). A Skype number for video calls on the last line of the contact information encourages response. Also, putting your contact phone number in international format (+1-555-555-5555) shows you are hip to the international scene.

Date line and inside address

Place the date two lines below your contact information, and place the inside address two lines below the date. Aligned with the left margin of the page, enter the name of the person to whom you’re writing.

Traditionally, you include the correct prefix, such as Mr. or Mrs., Dr., or Rev. But this is no longer a cut-and-dried rule — contemporary letters do not always include a prefix, especially when addressed to decision makers in informal workplaces.

If you know the job title of the addressee, include that information on the same line as the addressee’s name or on the following line.

The next line contains the organization name and is followed on the next lines by the address.

On the right side of the page, aligned with the inside address information, you can include a subject line labeled RE: (which is an abbreviation for Regarding) to highlight the reason for correspondence.

Salutation

Your salutation is like the eye contact that establishes a connection and begins the dialogue. Do your best to identify the person who will read your letter and address that person directly. Not only does your reader appreciate being addressed by name, but this personal bit separates your letter from the ones written by people who didn’t take the time to do a little research into the company.

If you absolutely can’t uncover the name of the hiring manager, write Dear Employer or Good Morning. It’s a cheerful way to begin. Because no one enjoys reading mail addressed to a generic person, never address your letter to Dear Sir or Madam or To Whom It May Concern.

Try, try, try to discover the name of your reader. It’s courteous, it takes initiative, and it indicates genuine interest in the company and, most important, in the job.

Introduction

Your introduction should grab your reader’s attention immediately. As the kick-off to your letter, it grabs your reader and cements interest to compel a hiring authority to keep reading.

All sorts of rules are given for ways to start your letter. Some say, don’t start with I. Others advise shock value and creativity, a risky approach unless you’re a skilled writer. Still others suggest that you begin with the name of a mutual acquaintance. The most important rule is to compel the reader’s interest in sticking with you until you’ve said what you want to say.

Body

The body of your letter communicates essential information that the employer should know about you — skills, accomplishments, education, training, and quantified statements. Remember to focus on the benefits you bring to the employer’s table. Work in a branding statement, if you have one.

The body of your letter should include a very brief background summary of your relevant experience. This material is information that the reader can get from your resume, so don’t spend too much space on it in your letter. But don’t be tempted to leave it out. Without this key selling point, your reader may never get to your resume.

Conclusion

The last segment of your letter expresses appreciation for the reader’s time and explains what happens next. It says when you will call to set a time for an interview, or it motivates the hiring authority to call you before anyone else does.

Closing, signature, and enclosure line

The closing section is the handshake before parting, sincere and warm. Sincerely, Sincerely yours, and Very truly yours are the most popular, but other choices include Best regards and All the best or just All best. Don’t forget to put a comma after your closing line.

Even if your name appears with your contact information at the top of your letter (highly recommended), type your name below your signature (four lines below the closing) so that there will be no confusion about spelling.

After you’ve motivated your reader, the enclosure line provides a direction. Indicate the item that you’ve sent with your cover letter, such as a resume or portfolio. This line directly follows your signature and typed name.

In communicating online, you can sign off with only your typed name, or you can use a cursive typeface. (Search online for “cursive fonts.”)

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