A good letter of intent can land an applicant an interview, whether it's with the hiring manager of a company or the admissions board of a graduate program. In the business world, a letter of intent is also called a cover letter or letter of interest, while in academia it's typically called a statement of purpose. The same basic rules apply, however, when drafting a letter of intent for a job or a school. The ultimate purpose of the letter is to convey the value and worth of the applicant, show genuine interest and detail important qualifications.
A generic letter of intent should not be used to apply for multiple companies or schools. Most hiring managers or admissions staffers can spot the difference between an applicant who has researched the company or the school and those who have not. It's important to show knowledge of the position or program by citing specific details. For example, if the hiring company or institution recently made headlines in the news or hired a new president, noting that in the letter of intent shows an interest in the organization as a whole. In general, try to appear well-informed and up-to-date about the company, school or program.
A good letter of intent is specific. Note special skills, achievements, experience or interests that are qualifying factors for the position. It's often not enough to talk about general accomplishments. Include details of those accomplishments, especially details that will stand out or seem unique to the person reading the application. If there are written qualifications for the job or school on the organization's website, expand on those in the letter of intent to show compatibility for the position.
In addition to getting specific, it's important to convey the worth of relevant skills to the overall goals of the school or company. A person with international relations experience might be a top candidate for a company looking to go global. Similarly, a student with sign language skills could add to the cultural diversity of a college campus. Try to convey how personal skills or experience can help the company's bottom line or contribute to a school's academic reputation and community.
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The easiest way to botch a letter of intent is to let spelling, formatting or grammar mistakes spoil good content. Write the letter and revisit it before sending. Read it out loud to a friend to ensure that it makes sense to an objective listener. Finally, have one or two people look it over before sending. Often times, a second or third set of eyes will catch mistakes.