Writing an Effective Application Letter

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1 Writing an Effective Application Letter Hello, my name is Lauren Caramella, and I m a careers counsellor with the Careers and Employment Service at Griffith. This session has been developed to take you through the key components of an effective application letter and it s approximately ten minutes in length. Before you proceed with this session, please pause and print off a copy of pages 7 to 10 from the Applications/Selection Criteria seminar booklet linked to this site, as it will be easier to read these in hard copy. Is it important? Welcome back. Many job applicants think that the resume is the most important part of their job application. While this may be true in many instances, you will find some employers will not even look at your resume unless your application letter suggests it would be worth their time. Recruiters generally request one of four types of written applications. If they ask you to send your resume, always send a cover letter with your resume. If you re asked to apply addressing selection criteria, then you would send a separate document entitled Responses to Selection Criteria and include your resume and a brief application letter introducing yourself. Online applications frequently ask you to attach your resume and an application letter. And finally an online application form, generally, is a combination of your resume and responses to selection criteria. In this session, we re focusing only on the application letter. If you want to know how to effectively address selection criteria, or to pick up some tips on good online applications, refer to the Addressing Selection Criteria and Online Applications sections. A word from recruiters Here s what recruiters have to say about what they want in application letters: It must be tailored to the role and to our organisation. 1

2 You need to show you have done some research into how the role fits within Suncorp. So, this is from Terri Stonge, he s a graduate advisor at Suncorp. It must show confidence by being positive about how you can directly contribute to the specific role - how your studies and experience are relevant. So, this is from Murray Saint, who s the manager of TAS (Tasman Aviation Enterprise). And one more Highlight why you are applying to the organisation and provide some information on the organisation to demonstrate your interest and knowledge of the role. And this is from Annelise Maloney, who s in HR at Deloitte. How can your letter stand out? So, you can understand that recruiters are looking for some key features in any application letter they select. Stand-out applications are tailored to the particular job and organisation, and show the match between the skills and abilities you have and what the employer is seeking. They are evidence-based, so recruiters want to know the context in which you ve demonstrated skills and the results you achieved. They demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of the job and the organisation, showing you have done your research. Recruiters also look for evidence of a strong commitment to work for them. Finally they highlight good writing skills, so they re free of spelling and grammar errors. 2

3 Tailoring to the advertisement Now we know the letter needs to be tailored, but how do we do this? The best thing to do is to go back to the advertisement and highlight the underlying selection criteria. Also take note of the language used. It s important that you identify and address their criteria in a way that they will immediately recognise you have what they want. By using similar language to the advertisement, you are further highlighting this point. Let s look at an example. I ll highlight the key criteria and language used. Graduate Accountants - 6 month contract Okay, so they re looking for a motivated graduate to join their team and they go into your duties, so you would be required to prepare and review personal income tax returns and liaise with clients. It goes into the skills they re looking for: excellent communication skills, ability to work unsupervised, a good eye for detail, the ability to be confidential, and to demonstrate discretion and tact. They then move into their essential criteria: you must have a degree, you must have strong written and spoken English, and an intention to undertake CPA/ICA studies. They also talk about their desirable criteria, which would be experience in tax returns and they talk about the completion of online training, so that would be something that you would also want to mention. So, in responding to this advert you would start by introducing yourself and your qualifications and your excitement about a career in accountancy, in tax, and your intention to undertake CPA/ICA qualification. Next you would outline any experience you have had with tax returns if you have. Then you would outline how you ve gained excellent written and communication skills. You would want to highlight your ability to work unsupervised and also your good eye for detail. You would then indicate how you would demonstrate confidentiality, discretion and tact. And finally you would indicate your motivation to undertake further training in this area and your interest in online training. 3

4 Research the organisation Now this would form an excellent basis for your application letter, but there is one thing missing. You need to demonstrate an excellent knowledge of the job and the organisation. How do you do this? Hopefully it s becoming clear just how important it is to research the organisation, to find out more about what they do and how the advertised position fits into this, and why you would like to work for them. There are plenty of sources of information that can help you with this. Firstly, take a look at their website and read as much as you can about them. Read their brochures, their publications, and their annual report. You might find these on the website, but if not, you could obtain them by phoning the contact for the position, or through an onsite visit if they have a public face. The Career Smarter program is a site that has more ideas and resources on this and I ll just show you some resources for this, and at the end I ll show you how to find that. So, there s a section on researching and job search and if you wanted to get some more detail on that, have a look at different information sources that you can follow in that regard. Comparison of two letters So let s put you in the shoes of a recruiter. Take a look at the job ad and the letters that you have printed off on pages 8 and 9. Now just imagine that you are an employer looking to interview someone for the following position. Consider both letters and decide who you would like to interview Ron or Kim. Now pause this presentation and make your assessment. Okay, welcome back. Who did you select? We don t make this too difficult. Most people actually choose Kim but let s consider why. Let s take a look at Ron s letter. Now, Ron s letter is not personally addressed, it has some grammar errors in it. It tends to make bold statements so for example, my strengths are in communication skills and team leadership, and there s no evidence necessarily backing that up. There are no availability details for an interview and it s not so obvious the contact details either. It doesn t address the criteria and show the match and it doesn t really demonstrate much knowledge of the job. Now if we take a look at Kim s letter, it is personally addressed she s found out who to write this 4

5 to and it clearly identifies the role that she s applying for. It has clear contact details and availability for interview. It does address the criteria by talking about studies in law, by talking about the computing skills, the management skills, the practical experience. It demonstrates an excellent knowledge of the job and the organisation. It s well structured and easy to read and it s actually enthusiastic by using confident, active language, such as: I was fortunate to obtain eight weeks vacation work. I value the opportunity to make a worthwhile contribution. I m keenly interested in the Australian coal mining industry. Application essentials Okay, so in summary, there are a number of simple rules to follow in creating an effective application letter. It must be personally addressed if at all possible, it needs to state the position and where it was advertised, be no more than one page, have no spelling or grammar errors, and really indicate an interest in the position. It needs to link your unique combination of attributes, skills, training and experience to the job; to demonstrate knowledge of the organisation; and to conclude with a positive and professional reference to future contact. Application letter structure If you follow this basic structure in writing your application letter, it will help you get started. Your first paragraph should name the position, where it was advertised, introduce yourself and indicate your interest in the position and the organisation, and your knowledge of it obtained through your research of the organisation. The middle paragraph should succinctly answer the recruiter s criteria, demonstrating how your discipline and transferable skills, knowledge and achievements match the requirements of the job. The final paragraph should confirm your suitability and availability, and repeat your interest and provide contact details and other relevant 5

6 information. So you have printed off a sample there, which will outline that in more detail. Speculative letters Given that most positions are never advertised, a speculative application letter where you initiate contact yourself with an organisation you would like to work for, rather than waiting for a position to be advertised can be a powerful tool to tap the hidden job market. You approach this in the same way you would with an advertised position. It s very important to research the organisation, and identify how your skills and abilities would interest the employer. Let s have a look at an example. So, the main difference will be in the opening where you re actually introducing yourself generally and your interest within the field, and specifically your interest within the organisation. You re then putting forward the arguments about what you have to offer and concluding with a confident comment about your match, and the possibility of meeting to discuss those options. Effective writing Your application letter is a sample of your writing skills. It illustrates your ability to summarise and present information clearly and succinctly. Therefore it is important to draw conclusions to guide the reader. There are, on page 26 of the booklet, some common cues and signposts for the reader. Try to keep your writing as direct and specific as possible and avoid jargon. A word about language your application letter is a persuasive tool. You can achieve a great deal by using effective language. Writing in active voice can make your letter more engaging and powerful. For example, I initiated a program to enhance knowledge, as opposed to, A program was implemented to enhance knowledge. Note the use of the action verb initiated. This is another way to make your letter more engaging and persuasive. On page 27 of that booklet there is a list of action verbs that can help you to make your letter more persuasive and compelling. 6

7 Resources This presentation focused on application letters. To find out more about other application types, as well as other aspects of job searching including resumes, interviews and how to find suitable jobs and market yourself to employers there are a range of resources that can assist you. As I mentioned earlier, the Career Smarter website has some very useful information on all of these things. The Careers and Employment Service website has a whole host of information in addition to that. I would strongly advise you to look in the section Assistance with your job search. We also run seminars which go into more depth on these issues and if you need your applications checked you can come to a drop-in session to do that. We also have a careers library, with books and articles and videos to assist you with that. We welcome any feedback you have on this session. Please click on the link next to this session to let us know what you think. Thank you. 7

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