Your application letter is one of your most important job-search documents. An effective letter can get you a phone call for an interview, but a poorly written application letter usually spells continued unemployment. The difference can be a matter of how you handle a few key points. The following are some tips to help you develop effective application letters.

Individualizing Your Letter

Give your readers some insight into you as an individual. In the example below the writer chose to describe particular experiences and skills that could not be generalized to most other recent graduates. Draft your letter to show how your individual qualities can contribute to the organization. This is your letter, so avoid simply copying the form and style of other letters you've seen. Instead, strive to make your letter represent your individuality and your capabilities.

Addressing a Specific Person

Preferably, the person you write to should be the individual doing the hiring for the position you're seeking. Look for this person's name in company publications found at the University Placement Service, the Krannert Business Library, or the Reserve Desk in the Undergraduate Library. If the name is unavailable in these places, phone the organization and ask for the person's name or at least the name of the personnel manager.

Catching Your Reader's Attention

Your introduction should get your reader's attention, stimulate interest, and be appropriate to the job you are seeking. For example, you may want to begin with a reference to an advertisement that prompted your application. Such a reference makes your reason for contacting the company clear and indicates to them that their advertising has been effective. Or you may want to open by referring to the company's product, which you want to promote. Such a reference shows your knowledge of the company. Whatever opening strategy you use, try to begin where your reader is and lead quickly to your purpose in writing.

First Paragraph Tips Make your goal clear.

  • If you're answering an advertisement, name the position stated in the ad and identify the source, for example: "your advertisement for a graphic artist, which appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, May 15, 1998,..."
  • If you're prospecting for a job, try to identify the job title used by the organization.
  • If a specific position title isn't available or if you wish to apply for a line of work that may come under several titles, you may decide to adapt the professional objective stated in your resume.

Additionally, in your first paragraph you should provide a preview of the rest of your letter. This tells your reader what to look for and lets him or her know immediately how your qualifications fit the requirements of the job. In the example letter, the last sentence of the first paragraph refers to specific work experience that is detailed in the following paragraph.

Highlighting Your Qualifications

Organize the middle paragraphs in terms of the qualifications that best suit you for the job and the organization. That is, if your on-the-job experience is your strongest qualification, discuss it in detail and show how you can apply it to the needs of the company. Or if you were president of the Marketing Club and you are applying for a position in marketing or sales, elaborate on the valuable experience you gained and how you can put it to work for them. If special projects you've done apply directly to the job you are seeking, explain them in detail. Be specific. Use numbers, names of equipment you've used, or features of the project that may apply to the job you want.

One strong qualification, described so that the reader can picture you actively involved on the job, can be enough. You can then refer your reader to your resume for a summary of your other qualifications. If you have two or three areas that you think are strong, you can develop additional paragraphs. Make your letter strong enough to convince readers that your distinctive background qualifies you for the job but not so long that length will turn readers off. Some employers recommend a maximum of four paragraphs.

Other Tips

  • Refer to your resume. Be sure to refer to your enclosed resume at the most appropriate point in your letter, for example, in the discussion of your qualifications or in the closing paragraph.
  • Conclude with a clear, courteous request to set up an interview, and suggest a procedure for doing so. The date and place for the interview should be convenient for the interviewer. However, you're welcome to suggest a range of dates and places convenient to you, especially if you travel at your own expense or have a restricted schedule. Be specific about how your reader should contact you. If you ask for a phone call, give your phone number and the days and times of the week when you can be reached.
  • Be professional. Make sure your letter is professional in format, organization, style, grammar, and mechanics. Maintain a courteous tone throughout the letter and eliminate all errors. Remember that readers often "deselect" applicants because of the appearance of the letter.
  • Seek advice. It's always good idea to prepare at least one draft to show to a critical reader for comments and suggestions before revising and sending the letter.