The Purpose of an application letter
We strongly recommend that you always submit an application letter with your resume.
The application letter is the means by which you as a candidate for a position can:
Demonstrate that you have read and understood the contents of a prospective employer’s advertisement;
Clearly link your experience set out in your resume to the specific requirements of the position;
Demonstrate that you have an understanding of the company’s industry, customers, suppliers, products and those of its competitors;
Highlight the achievements in your career most relevant to the role;
Demonstrate your written communication skills and your eye for detail and give preliminary insight to your ability to construct an influential and persuasive case;
Provide some insight into your personal style in the way that you construct and express your thoughts.
It is also for these reasons that some employers and recruitment consultants insist on an application letter to accompany a resume submitted for an advertised position. As a candidate, your use of an application letter enables you to use similar versions of your resume to apply for different roles by using the application letter to address the specific requirements of each position.
We acknowledge that some recruiters specifically state that an application letter is not required. They will be using software to screen your resume.
Constructing an application letter
From our decades of recruiting experience, we can say with confidence that the majority of resumes submitted in response to an advertisement are not accompanied by an application letter. As a result, a well constructed and to the point letter accompanying a resume can be an extremely powerful influence in securing an interview for a candidate.
Of those application letters which are submitted with resumes, a high percentage are obviously a form letter sent out with multiple applications from a candidate to a range of widely varying positions. A generic application letter which has no relationship to the required skills and experience for the role advertised detracts from an application and can be a key reason for a candidate failing to be called for an interview. Such letters are a waste of time and in fact, work against you.
The technical requirements of a professionally constructed application letter are:
Date the letter;
Address the letter correctly, ensuring that both the title and the name of the intended recipient are spelled correctly;
Make clear reference to the position reference number and the job title;
Write the contents of the letter in compact paragraphs of no more than 3 sentences, focusing each paragraph on the key aspects of the role as set out in the advertisement;
Construct your sentences so that they do not “parrot” sentences and phrases used in the advertisement;
Try to limit the letter to one page. It is acceptable to run to a second page, but highly advisable to limit the application letter to a maximum of two pages.
The application letter enables you to draw out specific components of your experience highly relevant to the position, some of which may not stand out in your resume. If those components are critical in determining whether you will be selected for interview, then it is recommended that you modify your resume for that particular job and application.
In the body of the application letter, concentrate on demonstrating through your experience and achievements your understanding of:
The advertiser’s industry;
The key performance criteria of the job function (for example, profit centre management; sales growth, leading edge customer service performance measures in the industry, staff retention rates, lead conversion rates, operational efficiency);
The technical requirements of the position;
Your experience versus the depth of experience required and the dimensions of the position described in the advertisement (for example, multi site, state or national responsibility, ten years’ sales management experience, management of a team of 10 people for five years, travel to China 8 times per annum for the last six years);
Make a positive and assumptive close summarising why you should be called for interview and indicating that you look forward to receiving a call.
Application letters – What to Avoid
The following ‘sins’ will work against you and must be avoided at all costs:
Spelling the intended recipient’s name or title incorrectly;
Even worse, sending an application letter out with the wrong name on it (usually by picking up the last application letter used and sending it off with no change, or by making bulk applications at the same time to jobs advertised on the internet);
Inserting an incorrect job reference number or position title (It may sound basic common sense, but this does occur more than occasionally);
Spelling errors in the body copy of the letter. Use spell check – that’s what it’s there for. A lack of attention to this type of detail says volumes about a candidate’s potential performance in a role;
Repeating whole slabs of the advertisement verbatim, preceded by the words ‘I have’ (polished communication skills) or, in relation to personal attributes, ‘I am’ (results focused; persistent);
Sending a generic application letter which makes no specific reference to the requirements of the job advertised and essentially performs no other function than to say ‘Please find my resume attached’.
Application letters – What to make sure you do
Check your spelling of the intended recipient’s name;
Make sure you have addressed the intended recipient correctly (correct job title);
Write in your words, avoiding repetition of phrases and sentences in the advertisement how your skills, knowledge and experience relate to the specific requirements of the role;
Keep your paragraphs compact;
Don’t run to more than 2 pages – one page is preferable;
Run spell check;
Print off a copy of your application letter (and your resume) and read them after you have run spell check, to ensure you have picked up words which do exist but are out of context in your letter (for example the use of ‘red’ instead of ‘read’, the use of ‘form’ instead of ‘from’);
Have someone whose spelling and grammatical skills you trust read your final version prior to sending it.