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Written by Karl KahlerKarl Kahler

Letter of Interest vs. Cover Letter

12 min read
Letter of Interest vs. Cover Letter
Artwork by:Antonina Kasyanikova
A letter of interest and a cover letter are similar but not identical documents used to apply for a job. Here we explore the differences and discuss how to write each of them to maximize your chances of getting the job that’s right for you in 2021.

A letter of interest and a cover letter have much in common — they are both letters that job seekers send to employers in hopes of obtaining employment. 

But there are key differences you should be aware of, such as the circumstances when one or the other is appropriate, and how exactly they should be written.

What is a cover letter vs. a letter of interest?

The differences between a cover letter and a letter of interest are pretty simple:

  • A cover letter is a one-page letter sent with a resume when applying for an open job that is publicly advertised in a help-wanted ad or some other kind of job listing.
  • A letter of interest is a one-page letter sent to an employer that is not advertising an open job you want — but you really want to work for that employer anyway, that’s why another name for it is an expression of interest. You’re writing to let the employer know what skill sets you have that appear to match its needs, and to inquire whether there might be any openings that match your qualifications.

So if you’re a lion tamer, and you find a job listing for a circus that’s seeking an experienced lion tamer, you need to write a cover letter to send to the circus with your resume, applying for this specific job opening.

But if you’re a lion tamer and you’re not aware of any job openings in your field — BUT you’re aware of a popular circus that has lion shows and employs lion trainers — why not launch a pre-emptive strike and reach out to the circus first? 

That’s where you need a letter of interest (also known as a “letter of intent,” a “letter of introduction” or an “expression of interest”). So what is a letter of interest exactly? It is a way of expressing your interest in working for a specific company in your field that you admire or respect, even if it hasn’t announced that it’s hiring.

Or if you’re toiling round-the-clock for a failing tech startup somewhere in Silicon Valley, perhaps what you’d really like is a job with Google, Facebook or Apple. Maybe you have a specialized skill that could be useful to any or all of these companies, but you’ve scoured their job listings and nowhere do they mention an opening for your specific “superpower.” This is where you need a letter of interest.

Expert tip

Do your best to find the right person to address your letter of interest to. Then, find out as much as you can about that person. A human connection can make all the difference, especially if there is no job posted.

How to write a letter of interest vs. a cover letter

The idea behind a cover letter is pretty straightforward: it provides a personal appeal for the job, showcasing your character, offering reasonable arguments regarding your value as a professional and aims to connect with the hiring manager on a human level. The letter of interest, however, has one additional element in its writing: a direct offer to take you on as an employee, with you as the initiator of this procedure.

Here’s an example to highlight the idea in practical terms:

A private school in Schenectady, New York, has posted an opening for a high school Spanish teacher, and it just so happens that you’re an out-of-work high school Spanish teacher in Schenectady, New York! All you have to do is apply for the job.

But maybe you’re friends with the lady from Peru who currently teaches Spanish there, and she’s told you that the Spanish classes are completely overwhelmed, they’re turning students away, they need another Spanish teacher, and they’re thinking of promoting French teachers from within who don’t really excel in Spanish. So they haven’t yet posted any job opening for a new candidate, but they really need one.

Your letter of interest to the administration of this school, offering your services as a Spanish teacher in Schenectady, might look like a gift from heaven to the principal, superintendent and school board. Why should they post the job at all if they’ve already found the perfect candidate?

Expert tip

The content: letter of interest vs. cover letter 

The difference between an expression of interest vs. cover letter occurs mostly in the first paragraph. In one, you are introducing yourself and letting the employer know you’re interested and either know they may have an opening soon or are aware there is no opening. In a cover letter, you are letting the employer know that you are responding to a job listing.

Here’s an example of the lead paragraph of a letter of interest you might send:

Example

Dear Dr. Anderson:

As a high school Spanish teacher with eight years of experience at public schools in New York, I recently learned that your Spanish program might be able to use a new “profesor.” My old friend Lety Álvarez, your current Spanish teacher, tells me that the current demand among your students for Spanish classes exceeds the supply of teachers, and I’d like to inquire whether you might be interested in expanding your staff with a new “maestro de español.”

The rest of this letter might be almost exactly the same as a cover letter , stressing your work experience, educational credentials, certifications and special skills. 

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Or you might not have any inside intel on a potential job opening, but you’ve identified a reputable company at which you know your skills would be a good fit:

Example

Dear Mr. Stroud: 

Having practiced personal injury law for six years in the Bay Area, I’ve met your attorneys in court, sparred with them before judges and even had lunch with a few of them, and I’ve been consistently impressed with the excellence of your team. Although I’m not aware that you’re currently advertising any openings, I’d be honored if you would be willing to discuss whether my qualifications and experience could be a valuable complement to your firm. 

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Expert tip

Q&A

Is a statement of interest a cover letter? 

No, they may contain similar information overall, but they are used in different circumstances. 

Should I write a statement of interest?

Absolutely, if you want to work at a company that does not have a job listed that suits your skills. Otherwise, stick with a cover letter.

What should a letter of interest include?

Like your cover letter, the statement of interest should include your work experience, educational credentials, certifications and special skills, but your first paragraph should explain why you are writing and why you chose the company you did.

Do your homework

A key difference between a cover letter and a letter of interest is that one is solicited and one is not. If an architectural firm posts an opening for a junior architect, then it’s going to expect to receive multiple applications from people responding to the ad.

But if an architectural firm never posted any openings — yet you send a letter of interest out of the blue — then the onus is on you to explain what you like about this company, how it got your attention and why you want to work there.

You’ve got one big advantage: You’re showing great initiative in reaching out to a company you’ve noticed that isn’t necessarily hiring. But you’ve got one big disadvantage: The company isn’t necessarily hiring. 

So it’s essential in writing a letter of interest that you research the company in depth, learn everything you can about it, and be prepared to explain why you want to work there.

Expert tip

If you’re looking for places to start the research for your letter of interest or cover letter, here are a few ideas:

  • Dun & Bradstreet’s Hoovers: You can try it for free or head to the library.
  • Vault: Research companies by name or industry.
  • The Fortune 500 and its other lists such as best companies to work for.
  • LinkedIn for information on the company and its workers.
  • Use your own resources: If you know someone who works at your target company, reach out.
  • The company website!

Should I include a resume with a letter of interest?

In a word, yes, you should include a resume with a letter of interest. Why wouldn’t you? 

Including a resume is not considered an absolute must when sending a letter of interest, while it is with a cover letter format . But if you pique an employer’s interest with an exploratory letter, wouldn’t the hiring manager want to see more information about your work experience, education and job skills? 

It’s best to give your target employer more than one way to review your qualifications — to linger on the thought of whether you might be a possible hire. 

Expert tip

Tips on when to write a cover letter vs. letter of interest

Circumstance Letter of interest Cover letter
Your friend told you there may be a job opening in her company soon.  
You saw a job posting you would be perfect for.  
You have dreamed of working for ESPN all your life, but it doesn’t look like they are hiring.  

Covering the basics in a cover letter or letter of interest

Whether you’re writing a cover letter or a letter of interest, some things don’t change. Despite the differences described above, here are some basic rules that apply to both cover letters and letters of interest:

  1. Use an attractive header that includes your name, occupation, address, phone number and email. Review the free cover letter templates at Resume.io, find one you like and make it your own. You can use these templates for either a cover letter or a letter of interest.
  2. Use an appropriate greeting, like “Dear Ms. Barr,” that identifies the person responsible for hiring by name. “Dear Sir or Madam” is not going to work here —you need to research the company you’re targeting and figure out who makes the hiring decisions.
  3. Write a provocative introduction in which you introduce yourself, identify the type of job you’re seeking, and provide a compelling preview of your qualifications for this job.
  4. Use the body of your letter to highlight your work experience, education and skills, and also to identify why you want to work for this company specifically. You can’t just write one cover letter OR letter of interest and send the same letter to 50 different employers.
  5. Conclude your letter with a final paragraph that contains some kind of call to action, respectfully urging the recipient to get back to you to discuss how to follow up on your proposal.
  6. Close with an appropriate sign-off, such as “Sincerely” (or an equivalent phrase), followed by a return and your full name.

Whether you need to write a cover letter or a letter of interest, the templates, examples, guides and occupation-specific job-search advice at Resume.io are always available to you. 

Best of luck in your job hunt!

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