How to Write Letters & Emails


Letters and emails can be just as important in the internship or job search as an effective resume. They can include cover letters, thank-you letters, emails relaying information, attached documents, and direct messages on platforms such as LinkedIn and Handshake.

Have each letter or email:

  • Addressed to a specific person by name and title. Use gender-neutral titles (e.g., "Dear Hiring Manager") if you cannot obtain a name.
  • Tailored to the specific position and organization.
  • Checked for grammatical, typographical, and spelling errors.
  • Concise in length.

Cover Letter

A cover letter accompanies your resume. It’s your chance to expand on your resume and outline to an employer how you meet the skills and qualifications they require or prefer for a position.

In your letter/message include:

  • The position for which you are applying and how you learned about it. 
  • How you'll add value and why you want to work for the organization. 
  • Your qualifications related to the position, highlighting skills outlined in the position posting.
  • Examples from your resume, adding more detail and emphasizing information of particular interest to the employer. 
  • A call to action that is polite, open-ended, and shows that you're looking forward to talking with them more about the position.
  • A thank you for reviewing your application materials.

Types of Letters & Emails

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Application

When: This is what we traditionally think of as a cover letter and is sent to apply for a position an employer is actively seeking to fill. 

What: Keep your letter brief - three to four paragraphs long using standard business format. Use the position posting to craft your letter to connect your experiences to the position's requirements.

How: Most often, you’ll upload the document to an applicant tracking system on the organization’s website or through an online job board when you’re applying for a position. It could also be attached to an email and sent directly to someone. Follow the directions as outlined in the position description.

Further Reading: Cover Letter Examples for Every Type of Job Seeker

Thank You/Follow-up

When: A thank-you email is expected after a job interview, career conversation, job shadow, career fair, or networking event. 

What: It may be brief and should express your appreciation for the interview or contact, mention key points discussed during the interaction, and reiterate your continued interest in the position or connection. 

How: This message should be written within two days of the interview and can be sent via email. You can send it to the person you interviewed with if you have their contact information. When interviewing with multiple people, send it to everyone or to the point person and ask it be sent to the rest of the committee. If you don’t have that information, send it to the person you’ve been working with to coordinate the logistics of your interview(s) and ask that the message be passed along to your interviewer(s). 

To follow-up after a career fair or networking event, send an email, LinkedIn connection request, or LinkedIn message to your contact(s).

Further Reading: A Perfect Interview Thank You

Seeking Information

When: This may be written anytime. 

What: At the start of a job or internship search to gather information about an organization, especially if you have been unable to find information from other sources. You can also inquire about job or internship possibilities although none may be advertised and to request further discussion about future opportunities with the organization. 

After a job offer is received and you need more information in order to make your decision. Be certain to ask for specific information. Getting answers to your questions in writing may eliminate unpleasant surprises later, should you decide to accept an offer. In writing this message, always reinforce your interest in the opportunity and express your appreciation for the offer of employment.

How: Email may be the most common format for this inquiry. At the start of a search, check the organization’s website for contact information or connect with a relevant contact via LinkedIn. In the job offer phase, connect directly with the Hiring Manager or the HR department.

Inquiring About Status

When: If you have not heard from an employer after a reasonable period of time or after the application closing date for a position, you may want to inquire about the status of your application. 

What: Recap the history of your application, indicating dates of your correspondence and your interview(s), and state why you need to know your status (perhaps because you have other opportunities). Be certain to express your continued interest in the position and express your appreciation for the employer's consideration.

How: You can send an email to your contact at the organization or to the HR department, depending on where you are in the hiring process. If you have more urgent needs, such as receiving an offer from another organization, you may want to call the organization instead of sending an email.

Withdrawal from Search

When: Between interviewing and receiving an offer from an organization. Your reasoning may include: accepting another job, realizing the job and/or organization are not a fit for you, family/life circumstances change during the hiring process.

What: Let the employer know you no longer want to be considered for the role you’ve been interviewing for. It is your choice if you want to include your reason. Keep the message brief and positive. Subject line could be, “Withdraw Application.” Your message would consist of: a salutation, concise paragraph about withdrawing your application for X role with the reason (if disclosing), and thanking for their time during the hiring process.

How: Once you’ve decided to withdraw, be prompt with notifying the organization by email or with a phone call. This allows the employer to focus on the other viable candidates in their applicant pool. This message is sent to the Hiring Manager or Human Resources representative you’ve been working with during the hiring process.

Declining an Offer

See the "How to Reject an Offer" section of our How to Navigate Offers page