Hot tips for writing that all-important job application letter

Writing a covering letter for a job application can be a harrowing experience, second only to the interview itself.

What should you include…. what would be better to leave out? Fortunately, there is a recommended formula for letters….

Firstly - If you are responding to an advertisement, then first go through the text of the ad and pick out the words and qualities the recruiter is looking for.

Your letter should aim to echo these back to the prospective employer so that they see you straight away as a good “fit”. Mentally step into the role too…. imagine the qualities which the role is likely to require…. and put these on your list too.

Secondly - work on the letter format itself:

  • The job reference - Clearly indicate the job reference, the job title and where you saw it. However, if the ad was in a free sheet or “jobs sheet”, use the expression “Local Press”.
  • The salutation - If the advert gives the person’s first name, address them that way (“Dear Christine”).
  • The first paragraph should explain why you are writing. Overall, the objective is to express interest in the job, but do it from their point of view. The aim is to get them interested, not to explain why you desperately want to be considered! Match the tone of the ad, mirroring the expressions used. For example: In response to your advertisement for an experienced Java developer with finance sector and team leadership skills, I am enclosing my CV for your consideration.
  • Next you need to hook their interest some more by picking out particular items from your CV which relate to the skills / experience they’ve asked for or which you’ve deduced they’ll wish to see. The easiest way to do this is to use a few well-chosen bullet points. For example:

    In particular I would like to draw your attention to the fact that I have:

    - recently completed the development of a new online consumer banking project for Jones Bank Plc, where I led a team of three developers concentrating on server-side modules interfacing with the bank’s legacy systems
    - obtained familiarity with a variety of configuration management tools
    - completed a course in financial services compliance disciplines
    - contributed to the evaluation of platforms for structured systems design and development

  • Ideally, you should end the letter in an assertive way, which communicates that you expect them to want to see you, again using key adjectives from the ad if you can e.g. :”I look forward to meeting you in order to discuss my team leadership and technical experience further…”

Contributed by:
Christine Burns
M.Sc., C.Eng., M.B.C.S.
Plain Sense Limited