Important Letters

Cover Letters, Thank You Letters & Letters of Reference

Cover Letters

A cover letter must always accompany your resume and/or application to an employer. When emailing your resume, you may choose to incorporate your cover letter into the email document. If you choose to attach and send the cover letter to be printed, be sure to include a brief introduction in the actual email document as well. Put a specific subject line and a brief message within your email document, to let the recipient know the attached files aren’t viruses.


A good standard opening sentence is: “I am writing to apply for the position of ______” then indicate where you saw the position posted or who referred you to the position. Your letter should be composed of three or four short paragraphs.

Paragraph 1

  • Inform the reader of what position you are seeking. Be specific! Don’t just say “an entry level job”. If you are not applying for a specific position, then drop a reference to the business (“a position in a biochemistry laboratory working in soil contaminant analysis”).

Paragraph 2

  • List your specific skills that apply to the job
  • Describe length and type of work history that applies to the job
  • Address how you meet specific requirements listed in the job posting
  • Demonstrate that you understand what the employer’s business is and how your qualifications are a match for that business.
  • Be specific. Don’t just say you would be “a valuable addition to the team” without explaining why.

Paragraph 3

  • Tell the employer that you would like an opportunity to meet with them to see if your skills are a match for their needs. Be polite and humble.
  • Indicate any action you will take (e.g. if you plan to call)
  • If you are applying for a job that is far away, indicate when you can/will be in the area for an interview.
  • Refer them to your resume or any attached items such as writing samples or transcripts.
  • Ask them to contact you if they have any questions; include your phone number and e-mail address.Return to top

Close with “Sincerely,” and leave space to sign your name.

If at all possible, try to find the name of a person to address your cover letter. You may be able to locate the contact person’s information through the company’s website and/or by telephoning the company directly for the appropriate person to address your cover letter and resume.

Career advisors are available to help you with composing and proofreading cover letters and resumes.

Thank You Letters

Always write to thank a person after speaking and meeting with them – whether it was a networking contact or a job interview. It shows professionalism, personalization, and proper business etiquette. Send your letter within 2 days of the contact, if possible.

Is it ok to email a thank you letter?

Yes, although you will have to judge whether the person you talked to will be more receptive to a paper or an electronic thank you. There is no rule to help you here. Given the amount of electronic communication, a written letter often stands out more and conveys more sincerity.

Letters of Recommendation

Whether you are applying to professional programs or in search of a job, you will be asked to provide letters of recommendation. Perhaps you will be given forms to have filled out, or maybe the letter can be more personalized. Either way, there is etiquette to be followed when requesting that someone serve as a reference:

Ask Permission First!

Ask your reference for authorization to use their name as a reference before giving it out. Choose people you are sure will recommend you favorably. If you are in doubt about the kind of recommendation the referee will write, ask them honestly.

Ask for a letter well before the date it is due.

Nothing is more irritating to the referee than to be asked to write a letter of recommendation under pressure. If there are deadlines necessary for you to be considered for a position, be sure to let your reference know. Ideally, you want to ask for the reference at least one month in advance of your deadline.

Ask the referee cordially and formally for their help.

A scribbled note slipped under the door with “I need these 10 letters out by Friday” will not suggest the kindest recommendation. You are requesting a significant effort; do it politely and with consideration for your referee’s schedule.

Identify yourself.

If it’s been a while since you’ve been in contact with the person, identify yourself and relate when and how you knew the person you are asking for a reference from. For example, you might provide a summary of memorable interactions: “My final project was the one that…” or “I came to office hours and we talked about…”

Provide information.

Be sure to supply the following information: a resume, a list of major classes taken from the referee (also when and grade earned), a statement of career interests and goals, and anything else which would serve to identify you and your strengths. Be sure to indicate why the letter is being written, (e.g., medical school, graduate school, lab technician, etc.).  The more specific the purpose, the more specific (and relevant) the letter will be.

Provide the full name, title, and complete address of the person to whom a reference letter should be written.

This is important—a brilliant recommendation that goes to the wrong place or person is useless. If you are filling out a reference form, be sure to mark the form “confidential” or “not confidential,” depending on whether or not you have waived your right to review the reference.

It is recommended that you waive your rights to read the letter or form–recipients place more credence on letters that are not read by applicants.

ALWAYS send a brief thank you note to your references.

This is a basic courtesy for anyone who helps you along the way.