Key Elements of an Excellent Letter
Job search letters are specific examples of general business correspondence. The following are characteristics of highly effective business letters. These can be used as a checklist for quality control of your job campaign correspondence:
Customized: Do not copy sample letters verbatim or use the same letter for several purposes. Each letter is customized for the occasion and should utilize you own choice of language.
Concise: Say what needs to be said, including courtesies and pleasantries, but do not create long letters with unnecessary or irrelevant content. Shorter is better. Limit to one page except for special purposes.
Properly Formatted: Use uniform margins, center body of letter on page and include return address (or letterhead), mailing date, mailing address, personalized greeting, paragraphed body, and closing and enclosure notation. Use white space, paragraph breaks, and bullets to focus attention on the major points you want to make.
Error Free: There can be no misspelled words or incorrect grammar, usage, or punctuation (including capitalization). It is advisable to use a second reader.
Purpose Stated: Immediately, or very early in each letter, state the reason for your correspondence.
Follow-Up Stated: At, or near the end of your letter, the next steps or the anticipated follow-up should be stated. Tell the reader what you will do to move the relationship forward.
Natural Language: Avoid "big words" you seldom use in speaking as well as stilted or very formal expressions. Use conversational language and the active voice: "I appreciated your letter" instead of "Your letter was much appreciated." Most writers avoid contractions.
Short Sentences and Paragraphs: Long sentences and paragraphs appear hard to read and tend to conceal key information. One-sentence paragraphs are acceptable (especially for emphasis).
Warm and Friendly: Business letters should not be cold and all business. Use friendly expressions and project feelings of enthusiasm, interest, and optimism. Showing genuine gratitude and appreciation is highly recommended.
Confident and Positive: There is no room for arrogance or the appearance of boasting in letters, but undue modesty or uncertainties are even worse. Project a "can do" attitude and a totally optimistic outlook.
Individualized: Use the other party's name in your greeting whenever possible. Write "Dear Search Director" or use an appropriate title if the name is unknown. "Dear Sir or Madam" and "To Whom It May Concern" are poor choices.
Courteous and Non-presumptuous: It is all too easy to forget that you are no longer in a directive role as a job seeker. Be careful to "ask permission" and to avoid making assumptions that may sound too directive.
Focused on Needs: Most job search letters should address the needs of prospective employers. Your goals and priorities are important, but secondary in your correspondence. Do not attempt to negotiate terms or discuss confidential issues until you have a firm job offer.
Use the word "I" sparingly: Mix up the way you begin sentences.
Finished: Attend to details before mailing your letter:
Proofread the letter one more time. Reading aloud is very helpful for content and flow.
Be sure that the letter is clean, printed on quality paper, and properly folded.
Verify that the envelope is clean, flat, has a return address and the proper postage.
Check print quality to be certain of high contrast and unbroken copy.
Sign each letter neatly; avoid flamboyant signatures.
Make and keep a file copy.