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Letter of Interest vs. Cover Letter: What Is the Difference?

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Although they have similarities, a letter of interest and a cover letter are two distinctly different documents. While both are used for the end goal of obtaining a job, they have varying purposes and should have different content. Learn more about the differences between a letter of interest and cover letter, when you should use each type of letter and what to include in them.

What is a letter of interest?

A letter of interest is a document that someone seeking a job sends to a company that they wish to work for. The letter explains the sender’s interest in working for the company, introduces the sender and usually asks for information about job opportunities. A letter of interest can also be called a prospecting letter or a letter of inquiry.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a document that a job candidate sends as part of an application for a certain position. A cover letter accompanies the applicant’s resume and should detail the sender’s explanation for why they are a good fit for the open position.

Letter of interest vs. cover letter

The main differences between a letter of interest and a cover letter include:

Timing of the letter

A letter of interest can be sent at any time. It is usually sent when the company has not advertised any open positions, but the sender wants to communicate their interest in working for the company anyway. Since many jobs are filled internally or through networking before they are posted publicly, sending a letter of interest can help you discover job opportunities that are not public yet or will not be made public.

A cover letter is sent in response to an open position advertised by a company. 

Purpose of the letter

The purpose of a letter of interest is to communicate the sender’s desire to work for the company and to ask for information about whether there might be job opportunities available now or in the future. Occasionally, a letter of interest is used to ask for more information or additional opportunities besides the open jobs that are already posted.

The purpose of a cover letter is to apply for a specific open position at a company.

Accompanying material with the letter

Since a letter of interest is not applying for a certain position, it can be sent as a stand-alone document or with a resume.

A cover letter should always be sent in addition to a resume and any other application materials the job advertisement requested, such as letters of recommendation, transcripts, proof of certifications, portfolios or other qualifications.

Content

The content of a letter of interest is more general than a cover letter. It should express the sender’s interest in the company and provide a general explanation of skills and experience that could add value to the company.

A cover letter’s content should be specific to the open position, explaining in more detailed terms than the accompanying resume why the applicant is an excellent candidate for the role. It should include a statement of what position the sender is applying to and focus on their education, work experience and skills that are relevant to that position.

How to write a letter of interest

If you want to send a letter of interest to a company, consider using these steps:

1. Firstly, research the company

Before composing your letter of interest, you should thoroughly research the company you want to send it to. Your letter will be more effective if you understand the company’s purpose and needs and can tailor its content to that information. It will also be more effective if you can find a specific person to address your letter to, instead of ‘To Whom It May Concern’ or ‘Dear Hiring Manager.’

You should also research whether you have any contacts at the company or know anyone who has contacts there and could assist you. You could ask your contact to introduce you to someone at the company or ask their permission to use their name as a way of introducing yourself in your letter.

2. Secondly, begin with a brief introduction

After the opening greeting of your letter, you can begin by briefly stating your name and who you are. This should only be one or two sentences, as you will explain more about yourself later.

3. Thirdly, state and explain your interest in the company

Immediately after your brief introduction, you should explain the purpose of your letter by stating your interest in the company. Use your research to show that you understand the company’s current state, mission and goals. It is good to be complimentary in this section (without overpraising) to communicate your sincere admiration and interest in the business. Explain why you are interested in working for the company by giving details about the work the company is doing. Focus this section more on the company than on yourself.

4. Fourthly, describe how you can add value to the company 

The most important part of a letter of interest is connecting your interest in the company with your value to the company. Include a general description of your background, including education, work experience and skills, but focus on transferable skills or employability skills to communicate that you could be an asset to any area of the company. You can include your resume with the letter to provide the recipient with more particular details of your qualifications.

You can also use your knowledge of the company to propose a specific way that you could help or benefit them or solve a problem within their business.

5. Then, request to be considered  

After explaining your interest and value, directly request information about possible job opportunities and to be considered for those job opportunities. You can also ask for a meeting or phone call with the letter’s recipient to discuss your value proposition and any opportunities in person.

6. Next, use a professional format 

When you have composed the main content of the letter, take some time to make sure it’s presented professionally. Use a business letter format, including a formal heading, greeting, closing phrase and signature. Make sure your contact information is accurate and easy to find on the page. Keep the letter to the length of one page only.

7. Finally, proofread carefully

Before sending the letter, closely edit and proofread it. Revise any typos, grammatical mistakes or inaccurate information to ensure that you make a good impression on the reader.