Types of Cover Letters (Back-to-Basics Series)


Frankly, your eyes would cross if I provided a full list of every type of cover letter. I believe there’s only one cover letter, but over the years, professionals have taken up to calling the cover letter by more specific names to help define the purpose of the letter. For example, in my article entitled purpose of a cover letter, I highlighted only a small number of of cover letter types; i.e. resume cover letter, cold-contact letter, and follow-up letter.

No doubt, most job searches will require different cover letters with varying written content that matches the goal of the letter. For example, here are a few select cover letter types you may need throughout your job-search campaign:

A letter sent to a company, which may not have publicly advertised open positions. Simply put, you’re sending a introduction to what a sales professional would call a “cold contact.” They don’t know you. They aren’t expecting correspondence from you.

A cold-contact cover letter means you’re making an introduction with the hopes that your resume will arrive at an opportunistic time. With that, your letter may spark enough interest to result in a job interview. For obvious reasons, a cold-contact letter will generate the fewest leads. Your correspondence will be faced with many obstacles, such as a strained hiring department, the potential that a position doesn’t exist for you, and possibly, your skill set doesn’t match their needs … even if they abruptly start hiring while your letter is in transit. A cold-contact letter is also known as an introductory or broadcast letter.

The most promising cover letter to send is the one sent for an open position. They need … you want … seems win/win to me. =] The company is seeking a new recruit and you’re perfect for the position; therefore, you write a cover letter that highlights the key mentionables of your career in relation to the company’s needs. A job-specific letter is also known as an ad-response letter.

Probably one of the best producers, a referral cover letter means that you’ve been referred to the company through a mutual acquaintance. It’s best to mention your referrer within the intro paragraph of your letter, and preferably, place their name as prominently towards the top of the content as possible (first sentence would be great!). A referral letter is also known as a networking or sponsor letter. Since networking is still king when locating prime employment opportunities, a referral letter represents your best chances.

A follow-up letter seems like a last ditch effort on the part of a jobseeker, but it can actually “make” your candidacy in some cases. Companies don’t always make hiring decisions when expected, so sending a follow-up letter a couple weeks after the submission of your original resume and cover letter, or a few days after an interview, can actually reflect your ambition and dedication to the employer — and in some cases, making you a more viable option to employers.

When sending a follow-up letter, list new and unique content whenever possible. Try not to regurgitate details contained in your original cover letter. Instead, expand upon those details that put new angles or views on your work history and list of accomplishments. A follow-up letter could be referred to as a reintroduction or thank-you letter.

The terminology may throw you, but their meanings aren’t a mystery. Be sure to utilize unique content regardless of which cover letter type you use. The one complaint that hiring managers have with jobseekers is that they oftentimes receive letters that are blatantly canned … and probably boring. When sending a letter, whether the content is canned or unique to the specific company and recipient, be sure that the reader is left with the impression that the letter was written specifically for him … no exceptions.

Written originally in August 2005; Revised and republished in February 2010.

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