Letter Tips for Alumni

Yes, letters are an important part of your job search---to most employers.  Generally, the recruiting staff does not have much time to read cover letters since they are charged with reviewing a much larger number of incoming resumes than the hiring manager they support. However, many hiring managers will read them and consider cover letters a part of their evaluation process. So, unless instructed otherwise by a company, we recommend including a cover letter with your resume. That said, however, a one-letter-fits-all presentation is not usually effective nor does it take advantage of the opportunity that a well-crafted letter provides you. Most employers can detect when a letter was written specifically for their position or when it is being duplicated just to accompany a resume. The more you work to tailor your letters, the more likely your letters will work for you.

Once you have gained experience, you are in a position to leverage specific accomplishments, achievements, and results that you can point to as “yours” in carrying out your responsibilities well. In a cover letter, the accomplishments that match the main responsibilities and requirements of the position are going to be the essence of whether or not the letter is providing value-added to the reader as they start to review your material. The middle paragraph should be the key, sending the message: “You are looking for someone who can do A, B, and C. I accomplished A when I_______________.  I demonstrated B when I______________.  And I showed expertise in C when I__________________________.

The accomplishments you choose to point to for one company’s position may not be compatible examples for another company. So, a good cover letter means reading the job description well, understanding the first 2-3 listed responsibilities of the position as well as the first 2-3 “must have” requirements (beyond the academic degrees), and targeting your accomplishments toward matching those needs and requirements. Candidates who fail to do that in the letter and, most importantly, the resume, will probably not make it to the top of the “must meet” pile.

Thank you and follow-up letters are also critical elements toward obtaining second interviews and offers. When you are interviewing, try to obtain the names and titles of all those you meet who had a specific interview appointment with you as well as any you met during a group or panel interview. When you leave the building, take time to reflect somewhere nearby (in the car?) on what you remember from every interview and interviewer. When you return home, compose and send a follow up note to each person thanking them and summarizing something that you recall as important in the discussion you had with that individual, your understanding of the position, and why you feel you would be an excellent fit.  Email or snail mail is fine---it will depend upon how quickly the process seems to be going.

If you wish to have your letters critiqued, we are happy to assist you. You may request assistance by emailing cdcalumni@wpi.edu. We often recommend setting up a phone appointment to discuss the critique, since conversation may enable more complete answers to your questions than email. Call 508-831-5250

For more general information on letter writing:  Content of a Cover Letter, Sample Cover Letters or Additional Letters

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Last modified: July 28, 2010 09:06:59