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Get That Application Letter Right

Application Letter

There are two main types of application letters; job application letters and college admission application letters. These letters are very important because they are the first thing about you that the addressee of the letter will see. That’s right; they will see your application cover letter before they have had a chance to review the detailed application support material that is normally attached or enclosed. So, if you mess up the covering application letter you already have one strike against you even before they look at your support material.

Also known as letters of application, or application cover letters, these letters should normally be short one-pagers that do three key things:

  1. Introduce the applicant by name and title.
  2. State clearly and specifically, the position or program for which the applicant is applying.
  3. Briefly summarize the primary reason(s) why the applicant should be accepted for the job or program for which they are applying.

Although one page is ideal, in some situations a second page may be needed to cover all of the relevant information. For example, some college and university programs may dictate a number of specific points they want covered in the application letter, making a slightly longer letter unavoidable. Nevertheless, except whenever impossible, an application cover letter should not exceed two pages.

Job-related application letters are usually accompanied by a resume or CV. In college admission situations, the application letter normally covers an overall application package, as per the requirements of the institution.

Over the years we have been asked to review/revise many different application letters for both employment and college program admission. The single biggest strategic mistake that we see in many of the letters  is that the writer has not made a point to find out the specific individual (and/or position) to whom the letter should be addressed. If it is a serious application letter, you need to take the time and trouble and find out exactly to whom you should be writing. Generally speaking, an application letter addressed “To Whom It May Concern” just won’t cut it. If you do that, you will be shooting yourself in the foot.

Image credit: Pixabay.


13 thoughts on “Get That Application Letter Right

  1. My system has been giving trouble. Your work has helped a lot of us, so do not give up on us. You have given favour to continue this work. Blessings.

  2. Thank you! These, and the letter-samples provided in “Don’t Neglect Your Resume Cover Letter” give me both the courage and permission to write my *own* cover letters!
    Happy Halloween!

  3. Thanks Shaun for sharing those remarkable tips in writing application letters. Indeed the samples were very clear and seem so appropriate when writing an application letter.
    Wishing you a great time in winter. In my country the monsoon will be coming. Hopefully the floods will be not so severe as in 2014.
    Best regards.

  4. Dear Shaun,
    You are really very smart writer, and always consistent with your excellent writing tips. Go on with your expertise; I like it very much.
    The weather in Indonesia is nearly similar to that of your Montreal. Political situation and events in Jakarta are now nearly the same as in the USA, but at a different level. Jakarta will elect a new governor next year, and this is the first time from a different ethnic group (Chinese) takes a part in the competition. I wish it would be no security problems as our police and army groups guard and take control of the security situation.
    Thanks Shaun for your interesting works on giving us writing tips. See you next month.

  5. Dear Shaun,
    I am unemployed and a student at a local technical col. I apply to employers with a cover letter until around 2015 my local business center said to stop as employers are not looking at them and one page resume should suffice. What’s your take on this for the 2017 year coming soon?

    Christine Neville

  6. Shaun; thank you for the rerun. I do remember reading this a few years ago. It is always a good thing to review. So grateful for your sharing. Looking forward to your blog next month.

  7. Hello Christine,

    With all due respect to your local business center, I do not agree with their advice that a cover letter is not necessary. Sure, just a CV without a cover letter is the minimum acceptable. HOWEVER, if you include an eye-catching one-page cover letter over your CV, I have no doubt that it will help your cause, not hurt it. Please check out my June blog post on this subject:

  8. Hi Dear Shaun Fawcett,
    Thanks so much for your useful key points about cover letters.I need your guidance and tips about applying for a PhD program. I need some useful guidelines about it. I appreciate your work. All information you give about writing is very useful for me in my research. I am a researcher I need them to write better articles.

  9. Thanks Azadeh,

    There is some info on my main website about college program admission. Here’s the link:

  10. Dear Shaun,
    I must congratulate you for such write-ups and we encourage you to do the more of them as we embark on our research into proposal writing. I am particularly enthused about such write-ups since I may need them in my Master of philosophy program.
    Hope to see you at the end of the month with new tips.

  11. Dear Shaun

    I greatly appreciate the writing tips. It takes me back to school on some techniques I had not grasped at school. The tips give me company, it’s as if you are by my side when I read them.

    Sorry at times I don’t comment. In our country we are going through a rough tough patch, the economy is not ticking in Zimbabwe, companies are closing hence have been a victim of that as well. At times going on the Net is not possible every day, as it requires cash.
    All the same, we hope for the good.

    By Alouis O Mupandira

  12. Dear Shaun,
    Your writing tips are really helpful and the ones I visit the most.
    — Victor

  13. I appreciate your efforts helping how to write letters and your tips for applications for job research. I really enjoyed and love your traveling letters. Keep it up.

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