Developing a Letter of Application

Question: I’ve developed my resume and will also likely be filling out job applications. Should I still take the time to develop a letter of application? And, if so, what should it include?

A letter of application can be an important tool in helping you land an interview–and ultimately, the job you seek. Although resumes and job applications highlight key skills, experience, and education, a letter of application serves other specific purposes:

Samples

  • A letter of application can help you get the attention of potential employers. By taking the time to develop a letter of application, you can set yourself apart from those who don’t.
  • A letter of application can help demonstrate that you’ve done your homework. Including details specific to the job you seek demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to consider the position, the company, and their needs.
  • A letter of application should show off your writing and editing skills. In this sense, a letter of application is actually part of your writing portfolio and gives potential employers a sense of you. Appropriately developed, a letter of application should demonstrate your writing and editing skills and entice potential employers to want to see more.
  • A letter of application can highlight information that is not appropriate for a resume or application. For example, your resume might say that you wrote the FuzzyWidget Manual; your letter of application can supplement this tidbit by explaining that you beat the deadline, finished the project under budget, or received a flood of positive reader feedback (and include excerpts).
  • A letter of application should request an interview. As simple as it may sound, the letter of application is your primary tool for requesting an interview.

In general, unless a job listing requests a lengthy letter of application or specifies topics to include, your letter of application should be no more than one page long. Exactly what your letter of application includes depends on the information you want to highlight. The goal, though, remains simple: Your letter of application should introduce you and highlight key information that’s relevant to the job you seek, but do so succinctly without flooding the reader with information.

So what should this one-page letter include? As you’ll see in the next sections, your letter of application should include an introduction, body, and conclusion that contain some basic information. Let’s take a look….

Paragraph 1: Introduction

Perhaps the most important paragraph in the entire letter, the introduction is key to helping ensure that potential employers want to find out more about you. Developed appropriately, the introduction will help lead readers to the relevant details that you highlight in the following paragraphs. To achieve this, you should

  • State your reason for writing (topic and purpose).
  • Identify the position or area of employment you are writing about.
  • Mention briefly how you learned of the position.
  • State your interest in the position or company.
  • State why you believe you are the right person for the job (forecasting statement).

Although this seems like a lot of information to cram into one paragraph, you can do so concisely, like this:

I am an experienced technical writer with an emphasis in content development, as well as a weather enthusiast. I am seeking a position that will combine my technical background in HTML and Web technologies, my strength in communicating complex information, and my interest in weather and natural sciences. The position of Content Developer listed on the Malvern Job Bay site closely matches my experience, skills, and interests.

Paragraphs 2, 3, and (maybe) 4: Body

Notice that the forecasting statement (that last sentence) in the introductory paragraph established that you would discuss how your experience, skills, and interests have prepared you to do the job. So, you would then plan three body paragraphs (one paragraph for each topic). How do you develop these paragraphs?

  • The topic sentence (the first sentence) in each paragraph introduces one topic from the forecasting statement, like this:

    As Content Developer for National Weather Associates, I would bring six years of experience as a technical communicator, including more than three years primarily writing for lay audiences.

  • The supporting sentences in each paragraph provide specific details and examples that
    • Highlight skills, experience, or education that the job description calls for.
    • Identify relevant qualifications obtained through education or experience.
    • Refer to specific experiences or projects that helped prepare you to do the job.
    • Supplement–not merely repeat–details mentioned in the resume or job application.
    • Set you apart from other applicants.

    You likely won’t be able to cover all of these in the body of your letter; however, you should aim to include specific details that support the job you’re seeking. The supporting details for the sample topic sentence above might go like this:

    My strength as a communicator is making information interesting, understandable, and enjoyable–bridging the gap between technical information and readers’ needs. I have successfully developed Web site content about HTML, XML, and Y2K, among other technical topics, and have received comments in return, such as, “That’s the most coherent explanation of Y2K I’ve read so far! Thanks for laying it out so simply!” and “That is one of the best written, organized, and presented articles I have had the opportunity to use.”

  • The final sentence in each paragraph explicitly states how you would apply the experience/skills/interest to the job, like this:

    As Content Developer, I would apply my experience toward making weather topics available, understandable, and enjoyable for National Weather Associates audiences.

And, put those together, and you have a paragraph:

As Content Developer for National Weather Associates, I would bring six years of experience as a technical communicator, including more than three years primarily writing for lay audiences. My strength as a communicator is making information interesting, understandable, and enjoyable–bridging the gap between technical information and readers’ needs. I have successfully developed Web site content about HTML, XML, and Y2K, among other technical topics, and have received comments in return, such as, “That’s the most coherent explanation of Y2K I’ve read so far! Thanks for laying it out so simply!” and “That is one of the best written, organized, and presented articles I have had the opportunity to use.” As Content Developer, I would apply my experience toward making weather topics available, understandable, and enjoyable for National Weather Associates audiences.

So, the body paragraphs detailing how your experience, skills, and interests have prepared you to do the job might look like these:

As Content Developer for National Weather Associates, I would bring six years of experience as a technical communicator, including more than three years primarily writing for lay audiences. My strength as a communicator is making information interesting, understandable, and enjoyable–bridging the gap between technical information and readers’ needs. I have successfully developed Web site content about HTML, XML, and Y2K, among other technical topics, and have received comments in return, such as, “That’s the most coherent explanation of Y2K I’ve read so far! Thanks for laying it out so simply!” and “That is one of the best written, organized, and presented articles I have had the opportunity to use.” As Content Developer, I would apply my experience toward making weather topics available, understandable, and enjoyable for National Weather Associates audiences.

Additionally, I have the people and project management skills necessary for planning and producing content, establishing and meeting goals, and working as a team member. For example, I have excellent skills in organizing content, interviewing people, and gathering information, which would be essential for producing Web site content. Likewise, I am a self-starter capable of managing multiple projects, setting goals, and meeting deadlines. As Content Developer, I would use these skills to meet individual and team goals, meet deadlines, and provide content that meets weatherassociates.com visitors’ needs.

Finally, as a weather enthusiast, I am an avid weather watcher and frequent weatherassociates.com visitor. For example, I recently mentioned weatherassociates.com in an article that featured tornado season and related information. Plus, I have attended weather presentations, read general-interest weather books, and studied weather, oceanography, and astronomy in introductory college courses. This general background would help me successfully plan, develop, and implement lifestyle content for National Weather Associates.

Again, notice the pattern in the three sample body paragraphs:

  • The topic sentence in each paragraph introduces one topic from the forecasting statement.
  • The supporting sentences in each paragraph provide specific details and examples.
  • The final sentence in each paragraph explicitly states how you would apply the experience/skills/interest to the job.

Final Paragraph: Conclusion

Finally, the concluding paragraph also includes some basic information:

  • Restate your competence.
  • Summarize the points discussed in the body.
  • Request an interview or, possibly, describe your availability for an interview.
  • Include contact information.

Again here, you can include this information concisely, like this:

My skills and experience as a technical communicator, as well as my interest in weather, have prepared me for the Content Developer position. I have enclosed my resume, which provides details about my writing experience, publications, skills, and achievements. If you need additional information or would like to see writing samples, please call me at (272) 555-5555, or email me at brian@example.com. I look forward to scheduling an interview and to discussing the Content Developer position.

And that’s it! By developing your letter of application with these sections and details, you can get the attention of potential employers, demonstrate your writing and editing skills, highlight important information, and request an interview. And, by starting with an outline for the introduction, body, and conclusion, as described here, you can concentrate on choosing relevant details that match the job you’re seeking. Good luck!

Letter of Application Checklist

  • Does the letter have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion?
  • Does the letter contain information that’s relevant to the position you seek?
  • Does the introduction include a forecasting statement, and does the body follow through with the topics and organization forecasted?
  • Does the letter supplement, not merely repeat, the information contained in the resume or job application?
  • Does the letter provide specific examples–numbers, excerpts, comments, or scenarios–that back up your statements of competency?
  • Does the letter focus on how your skills/education/experience/knowledge can benefit the company?
  • Does the letter use block or modified-block style correctly?
  • Is the letter limited to one page (or does it appropriately provide information specifically requested)?
  • Is the tone personable and professional, and not arrogant or demanding?
  • Does the letter request an interview?
  • Does the letter include contact information?
  • Is the letter signed?
  • Does the letter (and envelope) address a specific person at a specific company?
  • Does the letter look clean, and is it free from errors (no typos, no grammar/punctuation errors, and no formatting errors)?