The guidelines here apply to both hard copy correspondence and e-mail. (To decide which to use, see e-mail in your job search.) The main difference between e-mail and hard copy correspondence is format.
Your signature block (address) goes below your name in e-mail while it goes at the top of the page on hard copy. Of course you won't have a handwritten signature on e-mail, but don't forget this on hard copy.
All cover letters should explain why you are sending a resume. Don't send a resume without a cover letter. Don't make the reader guess what you are asking for; be specific: Do you want a summer internship opportunity, or a permanent position at graduation; are you inquiring about future employment possibilities?
All cover letters should tell specifically how you learned about the position or the organization — a flyer posted in your department, a web site, a family friend who works at the organization. It is appropriate to mention the name of someone who suggested that you write.
All cover letters should convince the reader to look at your resume. The cover letter will be seen first. Therefore, it must be very well written and targeted to that employer.
All cover letters should call attention to elements of your background — education, leadership, experience — that are relevant to a position you are seeking. Be as specific as possible, using examples.
All cover letters should reflect your attitude, personality, motivation, enthusiasm, and communication skills.
All cover letters should Provide or refer to any information specifically requested in a job advertisement that might not be covered in your resume, such as availability date, or reference to an attached writing sample.
All cover letters should indicate what you will do to follow-up.
In a letter of application — applying for an advertised opening — applicants often say something like "I look forward to hearing from you." However, if you have further contact info (e.g. phone number) and if the employer hasn't said "no phone calls," it's better to take the initiative to follow-up, saying something like, "I will contact you in the next two weeks to see if you require any additional information regarding my qualifications."
In a letter of inquiry — asking about the possibility of an opening — don't assume the employer will contact you. You should say something like, "I will contact you in two weeks to learn more about upcoming employment opportunities with (name of organization)." Then mark your calendar to make the call.
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