Professional Communication

Cover Letters

Get that resume read! If the job of the resume is to get you an interview, the job of the cover letter to get your resume read. Cover Letters give you the chance to show your personality.

State why you are writing and indicate your knowledge of the employer in the first two or three sentences. When possible, name the position for which you are applying and how you heard of the opening. If you are writing as a result of a personal referral, someone known to the reader, state it in the first sentence. Just make sure that you have that person's permission to use his or her name!

In the body, communicate the ways your skills and experiences can be of value to the employer. You will want to balance your confidence with humility. Highlight prior experience that will make your background come alive. Paint a picture of the type of person they want to hire by describing how your experience relates or is transferable to the employer.

Always thank the person for their time and indicate the step you will take next. This can include reasserting your interest in the position and arranging for a specific time when you will contact the employer to set up a meeting. Avoid endings which lack assertiveness such as "Please contact me..."


  • Individualize each letter so that it is unique to that particular employer
  • Start your letter off with a strong sentence; one that almost begs the reader to read on.
  • Keep your letter to one page.
  • Make your letter look graphically pleasing. Center your letter. Top and bottom margins should be equal. Side margins should be 1 inch each. Use the same header that is on your resume.
  • Use good quality paper that matches your resume.
  • Ask directly for a meeting and indicate that you will call within a week to 10 days to arrange a convenient time. By mentioning when you will call in the letter, you are showing serious interest and initiative. Remember - you must do what your letter says you will do.
  • Mention your resume and any other enclosures.
  • Keep a copy of every letter you send out. When you make follow-up phone calls, it is always helpful to have a copy of your letter in front of you to know exactly what you wrote to this particular person, especially since all your letters will be different.
  • Make it perfect: no typos, no misspellings, no factual errors. After spellchecking on your word processor, proofread your cover letter carefully.


  • Use qualifiers. "I feel that..." or "I think that..." These qualifiers only weaken what comes after them. Usually, these statements can be left out and the remaining sentence can stand as is.
  • Start every sentence with "I."
  • Send a "one size fits all" letter that looks like it could have been sent to anyone.
  • Point out what the employer can do for you or what you hope to gain from this job. Rather, show how your accomplishments can address the needs of this particular employer.
  • Repeat everything on your resume.
  • Copy sample cover letters and present them as your own.


References available upon request is the phrase often used and intended to signal the end of a resume. References are never printed as part of the resume and are typically not included with the resume unless specifically requested by the employer. Always have a copy of your references available.

  • Use the same header as on your resume
  • Include name and current contact information, including email address, and working relationship
  • Reference page should not exceed one page
  • Send this with your resume only if specifically asked, but always take a copies with you to interviews

  • Ask 3 or 4 professionals who can say something about your work performance, either on the job or in the classroom
  • Choose references who will speak favorably, consider professors, friends of the family or previous/current employers
  • One reference can be a professor, at least one should be a current or former direct supervisor, and one can be a co-worker.
  • Provide a copy of your resume so they can speak intelligently about your past experience as well as the quality of your work

Mrs. Jane Jones, Professor of Economics
Former Professor/Advisor
College of Business and Public Administration
Old Dominion University
2102 Constant Hall
Norfolk, VA 23529

Dear [Name of Employer]:

This reference letter is provided at the written request of [name of student], who has asked me to serve as a reference on [his/her] behalf. It is my understanding that [name of student] is being considered by your organization for the position of [job title]. Please be advised that the information contained in this letter is confidential and should be treated as such. The information should not be disclosed to [name of student, if student has waived access] or anyone in your organization who would not be involved in the hiring decision regarding this individual. Additionally, the information should not be disclosed to anyone outside of your organization without the consent of the student.

I have known [name of student] for the past [number of months, semesters, years] as [he/she] has taken the following courses which I teach: [list courses, give brief description of content of course]. As [his/her] professor, I have had an opportunity to observe the student's participation and interaction in class, and to evaluate the student's knowledge of the subject matter. I would rate the student's overall performance in these subjects as average. This is evidenced by [his/her] grades-[state the grades].

[One or two specific examples of the student's performance may be appropriate.] As part of [his/her] grade in [name of course], the student was required to prepare a paper. The paper was designed to measure the student's ability to research, to analyze the results of the research, and to write. [Discuss how the paper submitted by the student indicated to you the student's skills in these areas.] Based upon this, I rate the student's skills as competent, but not excelling.

The one area in which the student performed above average was in oral communications. [Give specific example to support this.]

Based upon the student's academic performance and my understanding of the position for which the student is applying, I believe the student would perform (place overall evaluation here).

If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me.





Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers


  • Greeting: Your greeting should be formal: Dr./Mrs./Ms./Mr.
  • Mind Your Manners: Use Please and Thank You. EXAMPLE: Inquiry from Jane Doe Regarding a Volunteer Opportunity with XYZ Company
  • Address your Subject: Always include a subject in your message, and make it as specific as possible.
  • Formal Writing: Write in complete sentences and be concise.
  • Be Professional: Do NOT use phrasing, text messaging, all caps, exclamation points or emoticons.
  • Spell Check: Check for spelling, grammar, and proof read before sending.
  • Use a signature: Include your name and your contact information.

Phone Calls

  • Avoid distractions: Avoid music, TV, laptop or other noises in the background while making the call. 
    • EXAMPLE: Good Morning, May I please speak to ______________? My name is _____________ and I am a (jr/sr) majoring in ________ at Old Dominion University. I was interested in a (fall/spring/summer) employment opportunity and was hoping you had a few minutes to speak with me about internship/practicum opportunities in your organization.
  • Prepare your introduction: If necessary make an outline of what you intend to say. Don't read this outline word for word - but rather use it to help you keep the conversation focused and on track.
  • Speak clearly and slowly: You might need to practice before you call.
  • Be prepared to ask questions: Discuss your availability, and how you can contribute. If there are no immediate openings, ask for other leads OR tell your contact you will check back at a later time
  • End with gratitude: Thank the employer for their time, and confirm what your next steps are, and if necessary send them a copy of your resume.

Thank You

A thank you letter is a very important piece of professional correspondence directly related to your interview. Follow up is a crucial component in making and maintaining a positive impression with those individuals with whom you have demonstrated a genuine interest and motivation towards.

Most students tend to email thank you letters to employers, but a handwritten letter is a great way to show extra initiative. In deciding on a format, consider what the employer has told you about the recruitment timeline and whether or not there is enough time for a hand written letter to arrive before a hiring decision is made.

Saying "thanks" can help you stand out from the crowd and continue a positive rapport with the employer. Consider the following:

  • express your appreciation for your interview
  • reconfirm your interest in the position
  • summarize your interest in the organization
  • provide any additional information that may have come up in the interview
  • stress points that highlight your strengths, skills, or accomplishments

If you interview with more than one person, it is a good idea to send a thank you to each individual. This means that you need to get the names, titles, and contact information for all of the people who interviewed you. It is a good idea to ask for business cards.


Thank you for taking the time to meet with on (DATE). It was such a pleasure speaking with you about (JOB TITLE). After hearing more about your company, I am confident I can make a (POSITIVE ADJECTIVE) contribution at (COMPANY NAME).
I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Dear Mr. Example,

Thank you for the time you took to talk with me on Monday afternoon about the sales position at ExampleSales Inc. Your company has such a great product to offer its clients and after hearing more about the position I feel I can make a positive contribution as part of your team. I'm looking forward to finding out the next steps in the hiring process. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any further information regarding my application.

Cindy Sample

ODU Marketing Major
Class of 2013

The job search is a blur of information exchange: e-mailed resumes, online applications, interviews via video conferences. Don't let the fast pace fool you. Common sense and courtesy still apply, including taking the time to say thank you.

Could your thank-you letter make or break a job offer? Consider this: If your application and interview are equal to that of another candidate, the person sending the thank-you letter gets the recruiter's attention one more time.

Like cover letters, thank-you letters are concise and personalized. The key is making a connection to the person and reiterating an idea discussed during the interview.

  1. Send a thank-you e-mail or letter within 24 hours of your interview. Consider the company culture. Because recruiters travel extensively, e-mail may be the best route. A follow-up business letter sent through the post office is a nice touch.
  2. Take time to take notes. Immediately following each interview, write down the information discussed while it's still fresh in your mind. If you are meeting with multiple people, find time to note each specific conversation. When you write your thank-you note(s), use this information to remind the interviewer of an idea or discussion that came up during your interview.
  3. Who receives a thank-you note? Anyone who interviews you gets a note. The notes may only vary by a sentence or two-make sure you reference specific conversations.
  4. Ask each interviewer for his or her business card. You'll walk away with important information. You'll have the recruiter's full name, spelled correctly, e-mail address, street address, and other contact information.

Courtesy the National Association of Colleges and Employers

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