Other Types of Correspondence
There are many other kinds of letters you will be called upon to write as you progress through your job-search campaign. When you're looking for a job in the government, you might need to do some networking with existing contacts, or even make some new ones. You might need to write letters of introduction, letters of application, or letters of inquiry to help you along in your job search. The following sections describe some of these types of job-search correspondence.
Remember that spelling, grammar, and punctuation are very important, so make sure to have a friend or family member look over your cover letter before you send it out to prospective employers. Even if you think you have caught all errors, a second pair of eyes can be invaluable when it comes to proofreading your job-search materials.
Letters of Introduction
A letter of introduction does just what it says: It introduces you and describes your circumstances to readers. You also clearly identify what you would like the reader to do next and what you will do next. You can seek assistance, specific information, or referrals. Readers are, most often, prospective network members and advocates, or people who can offer answers to specific questions. They are, less often, potential employers from whom you solicit consideration.
Letters of introduction are most effectively used as research and information-gathering tools. They ask readers to conduct information conversations or for referrals to persons, organizations, or Web sites that might be of assistance. Always phrase your requests in ways that require more than “yes” or “no” responses. They should inspire readers to forward names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, Web sites, or other desired information. In closing, you note whether you will “patiently wait for an e-mail response” or “follow up by phone to discuss your reactions to this request.”
Don't ignore the power of a brief cover note, most often an e-mail. Effective communication does not always have to be formal or lengthy. You can first briefly ask for some very specific information, and then follow up with more detailed documentation. In fact, people today may respond better at first to a number of quick e-bites, rather then one lengthy document. While it is always a good idea to attach resumes to any job-search letter, you do not have to do so with these briefer messages. Eventually, through follow-up efforts, you will send resumes to everyone you contact.
Letters of Application
A letter of application is a reactive tool used specifically to apply for a posted position. Within this letter you first state the job title (and number, when given), where you saw the posting, and your desire to interview for the position. Later in the letter, you support your request for consideration by offering an accurate assessment of your qualifications. These two or at most three subsequent paragraphs show readers that you know the field, function, and title in question and that you have thought about what it will take to succeed.
These middle sections are where you share with readers what you learned through qualifications and achievements inventories and goal-focused competencies and capabilities analyses. You are the one required to look back, then look forward, and, most importantly, share your future-focused and confident views. After review of these paragraphs, readers must sense that you are worthy of an interview.
Be prepared to reflect knowledge of the job, and use words contained in the announcement. Show readers that you have more than the minimum qualifications. Refer to “the attached resume,” and expand upon the qualification summary. Definitely use phrases from your resume that reflect upon past achievements, with a preference for those that project knowledge of the future. Maintain and share your always-improving target vocabulary in letters of application. Use words from the actual job description and from Web sites and articles written about the department or agency. Through this targeted letter of application, you are applying for a particular job with a specific organization. Give them a clear sense of your focus.
Whenever possible, close letters of application with a statement like “I will call to confirm receipt of this letter and to discuss next steps.” You must remember to follow up initial correspondence with phone calls and, if needed, with e-mails, then phone calls again. Do leave voice-mail messages if you don't get through when you call. Don't call too often. Be persistent, but not obnoxious.
At one time, all resumes were delivered by the postal service. Then FedEx and other express carriers came along. Now electronic transmission is possible and, more important, popular and convenient. As paper folded into envelopes has been replaced by e-mail messages and attachments, the world of resume writing and job search have changed.
Letters of Inquiry
A letter of inquiry is a proactive tool used to inquire regarding current opportunities and, most often, to inspire individualized consideration for future ones. In order to gain consideration, you must reinforce the sense of focus represented in your resume. In fact, the more effective you are at displaying your knowledge of the field, the more likely it is you will get an interview. Show reviewers that you have done your homework about the field, function, and department or agency. A letter of inquiry is your opportunity to state in very clear terms in what field and within what functions you are focusing your search. Ideally, you can cite some commonly used job titles, but they don't have to be specific to any particular organization. Like letters of application, the middle two or at more three paragraphs show readers that you have analyzed what it will take to succeed. You support your request for consideration by offering your summary of qualifications. You should make sure to address queries like the following:
Why have you chosen the particular field?
What does your background have to do with the field and the function you wish to serve?
What are the key qualities required to serve within the desired day-to-day roles?
Answer these questions proactively, and you will have the opportunity to answer other questions reactively, on the phone or in an interview. Use phrases and vocabulary that are specific to your field.
Some letters of inquiry begin with, “I'm contacting you at the suggestion of” a specific person who is serving as an advocate or network member. A name recognizable to the reader at the very beginning of your correspondence should ensure that it will be thoroughly read and, you hope, that an interview will follow. Close all letters of inquiry with “I will call to confirm receipt.” You might also wish to copy your contact person to generate some behind-the-scenes supportive communication. Don't hesitate to identify the option of “meeting to discuss current opportunities or informally discussing future options.”
Requests for networking assistance should be clear and concise. Not everyone shares a common definition of this term. With a letter, you can seek “information about your career biography,” “advice regarding how to gain consideration within your organization,” or “referrals to others who can provide information or consideration.” At the pre-research (research before job search) stage, you might focus on the first and third requests. When in job-search mode, you might focus on the second and third.
When communicating with alumni, family, or friends, do not be vague in your requests. If you want the names and e-mail addresses of specific people, ask for them. If you want to know “How do I break into your field?” or whether they will forward the attached resume to the right person, ask. Regardless of your request, be appreciative in tone and in words. Be sure you say thank you. Then say it again, for good measure.
To simplify, “networking” involves clearly stating your goals, then asking for specific help of others to attain these goals. These requests can be of persons you know or of those you would like to know. They can follow or be included in letters of introduction to individuals who are at first just names gained via articles, professional association directories, or search-engine referrals. As with all communications, the impact will come from follow-up efforts.
Ideally, everyone you contacted would respond promptly and positively. But, sometimes, effective campaigns involve follow-up communication. While patience is a virtue in some circumstances, it is not a characteristic of a strategic job search. Your challenge is to figure out what to say next and when to say it.
Your cover letters will broadcast your intent to call and confirm receipt of your resume. Don't expect much out of this exchange. Very few of these letters will result in any kind of positive response. Most likely, you will leave a message with a receptionist or via voice mail. Do leave voice-mail messages. State your name, identify that you sent a cover letter and resume and that you wish to “confirm receipt and, ideally, set up a phone or in-person interview.”
Whenever you make a revision in your resume, you have a good reason to send a brief follow-up letter. Whether you've changed your address, added a new course or seminar, or seen another positing on a Web site, after you've updated your resume, send it accompanied by a cover note. Refer quickly to past contacts, yet focus on what is new and directly relevant on the resume.
You should alternate your communication approaches — phone calls, e-mails, and faxes — and be sensitive to how often you are contacting potential employers. Because most resumes today are e-mailed or faxed, your initial confirmation call can take place within twenty-four hours. The old “I will call within a week” standard closing phrase is most definitely passé. If next-day calls get through, that's great. If they lead to interviews, wonderful. Most likely, they will yield a polite “please be patient.” If you talk to an actual person, ask when you should call back. Then follow the suggested timeframe. If you were told next week, don't call before. In general, one contact a week for the first three weeks, then one contact a month after is a good rule of thumb.
You can follow calls with brief telegram style e-mails. A message like the following is appropriate:
“Tried to call today, but could not get through. Understand how busy you are. Just wanted to confirm receipt of resume and cover letter (below). Can we talk by phone or in person? Thank you.”
For the first follow-up contact, you can include another copy of the cover letter and resume. For the following two (maximum) follow-up contacts, you can include just a copy of your resume.
Expressing appreciation is a very effective form of job-search communication. Everyone knows to send a thank-you note after interviews, but too few communicate their gratitude before then. A thanks for confirming receipt of your resume, including an expression of continued interest and a clearly expressed wish for telephone or a face-to-face interview, is usually the first of these efforts.
A thanks for clarifying status, including an expression of continued interest, with a statement regarding when you might follow up again, is most likely the second. Too often ignored, a thank you for a rejection letter or e-mail is also appropriate. Respond to a “your background does not match” letter or e-mail with an “I remain very interested in your firm, and ideally we can discuss where my qualifications best fit” statement. Be careful of tone, but do seek continued consideration as well as some additional focus.
Appreciation should always be expressed to network members and advocates who have referred you to postings or persons. By keeping these individuals informed of your efforts you are subtly, or directly, inspiring their own follow-up efforts. Follow-up calls or e-mails by network members to their contacts, requesting “special consideration” often leads to interviews and speeds up an otherwise slow process. In many ways your follow-up networking letters are as important as those to organizations you wish to work for.
Confirmation, Acceptance, and Declining Letters
While it's usually not legally or logistically required, it is a good idea to confirm most activities and decisions in written form. Whether these expressions are transmitted via electronic means, faxed, or mailed is not important. But it is important that you communicate continually and effectively. The growing use of e-mails has made this process quicker, easier, and less awkward for most.
Never send only a resume. Always complement this document with a brief or detailed cover page. Clearly identify your desired outcomes. In most cases this would be an interview, but sometimes it is an information conversation or a referral. No matter which, politely make your request and support it with particular entries on your resume.
You must call or e-mail a few days before each interview to confirm the time and date and to assist with your preparation for this important series of conversations. When making decisions regarding offers, you must continue to communicate enthusiastically. After you have made a decision, you will accept or decline via a brief note, either faxed or e-mailed.
These continued communications are good habits to get into, and they set the scene for future positive interactions. Pre-interview contacts facilitate critical next steps, and post-offer communications impact salary and other discussions. In many cases, they can lead to consideration and offers years from now.