How to Write a Cover Letter

This section covers various aspects of writing cover (and other types of) letters.

Get Organized

Before you begin sending any letters, it is important that you devise some way of keeping track of who you send letters to and when. For instance, if you send a letter to Mr. X asking for an interview and offer to call him during the week of June 6th, you need to have that date on record so you can be sure to meet that commitment. Also, if you are sending out 40 letters to various employers, it becomes very important to know what you have said in a particular letter so that you can accurately follow up on your correspondence.

One method you might use to track your letter campaign is to create a table in a word processor with these columns:

Then make another table to record the responses you receive from each letter with the following column headings:

Keep these tables up-to-date and hold on to the letters you receive.

Do's and Don'ts



Cover Letter Formats

There are two basic formats which may aid you in writing your individualized letter of application:  the "shotgun letter" and the "rifle letter."

Shotgun Letter

The shotgun format letter is used to broadcast your availability to many employers in your field without composing a separate letter for each one. Although it is not usually used to pursue a specific job lead, it is wise to personalize it.


By inserting the appropriate word or phrase, you can tailor each correspondence with much less effort than individually composed letters.

To use a shotgun letter, you would first prepare a list of organizations offering the position you are seeking, as well as those pertinent to your interests and training. The next step is to write a letter of inquiry in which you approach the company requesting employment information. It is important to research the organization as much as possible so as to lend credibility and insight to your inquiry. When writing the letter, be sure to do the following:

Rifle Letter

The rifle letter is used to investigate a specific job lead. You may be answering an ad or following up on a suggestion offered by your placement office, a relative, friend, etc. Since the nature of the opening is known to you, construct your letter to show how your abilities can be applied to meet the employer's needs. You can also make reference to specific information you discovered through conversations or by doing research about the organization.


You would also use a rifle letter to respond to a classified advertisement in a newspaper or a job listing on the Internet. When working with this kind of job posting, consider the following guidelines:

Cover Letter Outline

Your Present AddressCity, State, Zip Code

Date of Writing

Ms. Jane BlankTitleCompanyStreet AddressCity, State, Zip Code

Dear Ms. Blank:

First Paragraph: Tell why you are writing; name the position, or field, or general career area about which you are asking. Tell how you heard of the opening or organization.

Second Paragraph: Mention one or two of your qualifications you think would be of greatest interest to the organization, slanting your remarks to their point of view. Tell why you are particularly interested in the employer, location or type of work. If you have had related experience or specialized training, be sure to point it out.

Third Paragraph: Refer the reader to the enclosed application form, resume or the fact that a placement office has or will send full credentials to provide additional information concerning your background and interests.

Fourth Paragraph: Close by making a request for an interview, suggesting date and time and indicate that you will phone the day before (when you reach the city, for instance) for a confirmation of the appointment unless you hear beforehand that the reader does not wish an interview. If, instead of wanting an interview, your request is for further information concerning the opening, it would be polite to enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Make sure your closing is not vague, but makes a specific action from the reader likely.


(Your Handwritten Signature)

Type Your Name

Other Kinds of Letters

You will also have to write other letters while conducting a job search. These may include an interview appreciation letter, a letter of acknowledgement, a letter of acceptance, or a letter of declination. 

Interview Appreciation Letter

Your interview should always be followed up with a "thank you" letter expressing appreciation of the interviewer's time. Not only is this an accepted courtesy, but your letter can also serve to refresh your session in the mind of the interviewer. If a trip to the organization is required, the appreciation letter may accompany your expense account for the visit. When writing an appreciation letter be sure to:

Letter Of Acknowledgment

Once you have received an offer from an organization, it is important to respond as soon as possible. While an immediate "yes" or "no" is not essential, acknowledgment of the offer is expected. When writing this kind of letter, be sure to:

Letter of Acceptance

Once you have decided to accept an offer, the employer should be notified immediately. It is not necessary to wait until the offer's expiration date before contacting the recruiter and hiring officer of the organization. An employer will appreciate your promptness as it will allow them the opportunity to assess the status of their personnel selection process. When writing a letter of acceptance be sure to:

Letter Of Declination

As a matter of courtesy, a letter of declination is due to those organizations whose offers you are rejecting. Despite the negative nature of such correspondence, it is vital that you inform those firms of your decision. Such a letter will often accompany a telephone call, making your decision a matter of record and avoiding any confusion that may arise from verbal communication.

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