Friday, October 17, 2008

Write it right

Write it right
By Daniel Ough for GULF NEWS Published: October 10, 2008

In Part 1 of this series we dealt with the importance of having well-written correspondence. We looked at the format, the content, the length and the appropriate way of writing letters to enhance your job search and help you become the preferred candidate.

In Part 2 we looked at some specific examples of letters to understand the rationale behind not only how we write but what we say, including letters responding to an advertisement, speculative letters and letters seeking to register with a recruitment company.

This week we will be looking at other types of letters that you may need to write during your job search. It may be helpful to first review a few tips on letters, generally.


All letters should be crisp and to the point, clearly explain their purpose, and convey information in a professional way. Letters should be ideally one page, but no more than two, and printed only on one side. Sentences should be no more than 15 to 20 words and there should be no more than three sentences per paragraph.

Make sure that your letterhead provides your name, mailing address, telephone number (including voice mail) and e-mail address. The content of the letter should only include what the reader "needs to know", avoiding embellishments, flowery language and trite or cute wording.

Good quality plain white paper is fine. Coloured paper is not a good idea as, if it is faxed or photocopied, it can come out grey or even blurred. The paper used should be A4 size, the same as that used for your CV. Always have letters typed. Use white space and bullets in formating your letter to help make your points stand out. Use a business-like font like Arial or Times New Roman, in font size 12. No copperplate writing or clip art or
fancy borders should be used.

Always address letters to specific individuals with both name and title, and always check that you have the correct information about the recipient of the letter.

Spelling and punctuation
Check for spelling and punctuation mistakes. Don't rely on spell-check.

Follow-up letters
Many jobseekers find it a challenge to know what to do when they have heard nothing following an interview. There is a fine line between being persistent and being a pest. Being persistent very often pays off; being a pest turns people off.

Follow-up letters should be timed correctly.
The timing of a follow-up letter is generally governed by what was said or understood at the interview. If it was mentioned that the company would let you know their decision in, say, two weeks and you do not hear anything, it is professional to send a letter a few days after the end of the two-week period. Sending it before the end of the two weeks can be interpreted as being a pest or being desperate. You don't want to be seen as someone who is impatient.

When you are sending a follow-up letter because you have not heard the outcome of the interview, be polite. Don't show your annoyance or be too demanding. The tone of the letter needs to be such that the reader feels that you are still interested without putting them on the spot or "putting them right" for not responding in the time stated.

Always give companies the benefit of the doubt; even though you were told two weeks, people (even interviewers) get sick and have crises in their lives they must cope with. Although to you the job is a top priority, the employer's priorities may have changed.

Sometimes you don't get a follow-up letter after an interview simply because you have not been selected for the position. Sometimes companies overlook the fact that they need to write to you promptly, advising you that you have been unsuccessful. Sometimes e-mails and letters get lost and a well-worded follow-up letter may bring that to light, or may bring up a genuine oversight in advising you of the current status of your application. You should still write a follow-up letter, and even if you don't get the response you are looking for (ie, a job offer) it does help you to close the chapter and move on in your job search.

Letters asking for clarification or consideration after receiving a job offer

You may have received a job offer that is not clear and you feel you need additional information in order to make a decision or you need clarification about some detail of the offer.

It may be that the offer is not what you are expecting, in particular relating to the remuneration or conditions of employment. Letters asking for clarification or consideration need to be very carefully worded. A badly-worded letter could result in your actually losing the job.

Letters of clarification or asking for consideration are "safe" provided no part of the letter can be construed as a counter-offer. An example of a counter-offer is a response to a company saying that you would not accept a salary of X, but would if it were Y; or that you would only accept the post if the leave stated in the offer were increased from four weeks to six weeks.

Another example would be where the company offers one return air ticket per year back to your home country, and you state that you must have two tickets in order to accept the offer. By sending a letter making a counter-offer, from a legal standpoint, you are turning down the employer's offer. The employer is then free to offer the position to another candidate.

A letter asking for clarification or consideration does not put the job offer at risk. During the period of correspondence being exchanged the offer is still on the table. Typically you could write, "Thank you for the offer of employment. I am writing to seek clarification whether the medical cover stated in the contract extends to my family and also whether there is an excess to be paid for each claim."

A letter of consideration could be as follows, "I note that you have offered a salary of X. This is lower than I expected and I am writing to ask whether you could give consideration to including the provision of a performance bonus at the end of each 12-month period completed with the company."

Although it may not be specified in the offer letter, the period that the offer is available to you is time limited and an extended period of correspondence seeking clarification or consideration could also result in your losing the offer.

Letter withdrawing from consideration for a post.

If you are withdrawing from a selection process, while it is important that you phone the company and advise them, it is always best to follow up with a letter.

Some jobseekers don't feel there is a need to send a letter to a company if they are withdrawing from a position, perhaps because they have been offered another job. However, in the future you may want to be considered for another post in that company and you want to be remembered as someone who acted professionally and who showed respect for the company.

Write a letter expressing your thanks for having the opportunity to attend an interview, but explaining that as you have been offered another position you wish to
be taken off the company's short list. Doing this professionally and with tact will not damage your relationship with the company, which may be important in the future.

Letter resigning from your present company

Although you may have a face-to-face meeting to tell your boss that you are resigning from the company, legally you must always put your resignation in writing. Any notice period will start from the date your company receives the letter (not the date you are sending it).

Keep your resignation letter factual and short. You do not need to disclose why you are leaving the company or details about your new position. Typically your letter should say, "I am writing to inform you that I am resigning my position from (date). In accordance with my contract I am giving X months notice and my last day will be (date). Thank you for the opportunity of working in your company."Never use a letter of resignation to tell the company what you think of them or to criticise the company.

Some jobseekers are tempted to "tell them a few home truths" in their resignation letter, or to get things off their chest, saying things they have wanted to say for a long time.

Don't be tempted to do this. Remember, you will still need to work out your notice period and receive your last salary, and those are sufficient reasons in themselves. But you may also need to have a reference from your last job for your new employer.

Letter accepting an offer

When you have been offered a job, legally you have to respond in writing to accept the job. Keep it brief and professional and don't go overboard with flowery language. It will be sufficient to say, "Thank you for your offer of employment dated (date) which I am pleased to accept. I am looking forward to joining your company on (date)."

Letter rejecting an offer

This letter should be professional. Don't be drawn into making any emotive comments. Keep it brief. It is not necessary to explain why you are not accepting the offer. Your letter might say, "I regret that I am unable to accept the position you have offered.

I am very impressed with your company and would be grateful if you would keep me in your database in the event that other positions related to my skills and experience might arise."

Letter advising friends and colleagues of your new position
During your job search it is quite likely that you have benefited from talking with friends, colleagues and people
in your network.

It is important to show appreciation to those who have assisted you. A personal letter to your friends and colleagues advising them of your new position provides
an ideal opportunity for you to thank them for the part they have played in your success.

And finally, remember that well-written correspondence can enhance your job search, and poorly-written letters dramatically reduce your chances of success.

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