Your resume is not the only thing that needs to be rock-solid when you're hunting for a job. Before a hiring manager looks over the details of your education and work history, it's customary for you to introduce yourself in a more conversational manner. This sometimes means crafting a cover letter. In other cases, it means crafting a letter of introduction. Each has its place, depending on the situation.
Letter of Introduction
The letter of introduction is appropriate when you have your heart set on working in a certain field or at a certain company, and want to make your availability known to hiring managers in that field, or at a specific company. The purpose of the letter is to let the hiring managers know a little about your skills, qualifications and education, and to offer your services as an opportunity arises. Often, you'll send a letter of introduction "cold," meaning you are not responding to a specific job advertisement or posting.
At the top of your introduction letter, let the addressee know you're interested in working with the company as opportunities arise, and then name the field, department or specific job you would like to pursue. In the second paragraph, tell the addressee what makes you a great candidate for any future positions. Making yourself relevant to the company's workforce takes some research and educated guessing, since you won't have a job posting with specific skills to address. Instead, you'll have to check out former postings or research the company website, blogs, and newspaper articles to get a feel for what types of people the company typically hires. Base the description of yourself on what you've learned about the company. In the third paragraph, ask for a follow-up action; ask to have your resume -- which you'll attach -- added to the company's human resources file, ask to come in for an initial meeting, or tell the addressee you'll be contacting her to discuss future opportunities.
The Cover Letter
A cover letter, meanwhile, is similar to a letter of introduction, but it's different in one important way: The cover letter is typically written in response to a specific job or internship posting. Like the letter of introduction, the cover letter is meant to give hiring managers an idea of why you're the best person for the job. But unlike the "cold" letter, you'll be able to address details or requirements that the hiring managers have specified as necessary for the position.
When you write a cover letter, start off the first paragraph by stating the job for which you're applying and how you found out about the position. Then, like a letter of introduction, you'll use the second paragraph to outline what makes you a great candidate. In this instance you can look to the job posting as well as research in the company -- via websites, blogs, newspaper articles and connections you make on LinkedIn -- to detail the reasons why you're a great candidate. Like the letter of introduction, the third paragraph is used to talk about next steps. Slightly different than the letter of introduction though, here you can mention how you're looking forward to an interview, or how you'll call on a specific date to check on the status of your application.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.