Get That Application Letter Right

October 30, 2016 – 2:51 pm

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 c.v. In college admission situations, the application letter normally covers an overall application package, as per the requirements of the institution.

Over the years I have been asked to review/revise many different application letters for both employment and college program admission. The single biggest strategic mistake that I see in many of the letters submitted to me 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 from the outset.

My main writing help website contains eight or nine examples of typical application letters for employment and college admission situations. These are all real-life examples. Although all of them were written for actual situations, I have removed any identifying details to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.

Click on the following link to see a number of generic examples of application letters:


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  1. 13 Responses to “Get That Application Letter Right”

  2. 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.

    By Marion smith-mendez on Oct 30, 2016

  3. 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!

    By Karen J on Oct 30, 2016

  4. 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.

    By Asiah on Oct 30, 2016

  5. 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.

    By Ashari on Oct 30, 2016

  6. 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

    By Christine Neville on Oct 31, 2016

  7. 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.

    By Veronique on Oct 31, 2016

  8. 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:

    By Shaun on Oct 31, 2016

  9. 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.

    By Azadeh on Oct 31, 2016

  10. Thanks Azadeh,

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

    By Shaun on Nov 2, 2016

  11. 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.

    By John Kennedy Kwesi Obeng on Nov 3, 2016

  12. 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

    By Alouis Owen Mupandira on Nov 11, 2016

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

    By victor on Jan 6, 2017

  14. 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.

    By Shafi on Jan 12, 2017

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