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Effective Application Letter Content For An Advertised Job

How to write a dynamic targeted application letter that is guaranteed to get you an interview as long as your resume is also written to a high standard.

The secret to writing an effective application letter for an advertised job, is to write content that addresses the employer's needs and to "value add" to your application.

Employers spend thousands of dollars on an a job advertisement that sets out their employment criteria.  Put yourself in the employer's shoes. Do you think that they will be impressed with an application letter that states how good you are and what you can do without addressing their advertised requirements? Of course not. Yet many good applicants, including highly placed professionals, still won't budge from their "usual cover letter", which states how good they are, ignoring individual company needs and is, in fact, it is almost a 'one fits all' letter.

 Are you guilty of writing a 'one fits all' job application letter?

If you don't write a different letter for every job you apply for you need to go back to the drawing board. This mistake has probably lost you many hours even weeks writing ineffective job applications. 

Follow the steps set out in this section, that proves many examples, you will soon acquire the ability to write an effective well targeted job application letter that will impress the employer by writing content that matches the employers criteria as set down in their advertisement and will encourage them to read your resume with positive anticipation, so that you cannot fail to get you an interview.

 

It contains concepts that are set out in another section on writing job application letters using sales techniques that were not specifically written for advertised positions. In this section we will direct you to the additional material when necessary. There are so many aspects to writing a job application for an advertised position that there is some cross over for other types of letters.

 

Target the right jobs

Get rid of outdated letter formats

Address the employer's needs

Do not use examples letters unless you modify then for your own circumstances.

The AIDA sales approach to application letter

The beginning of the application letter

Use your opening statement

The middle of the application letter

Beware of overselling yourself

The end of the application letter

"Value add" to your application

Language and tone of your application letter

What if the advertisement asks me to state a salary? 

What do about referees or references

 

See here for features and benefits and other sales techniques mentioned in this section

 

Have you got your targeting right? Are you going for jobs you are qualified to do?

You should not have to change a resume to match the job. Your resume and targeting plan should be "at one" with each other and should never be changed for each job.

(there are some minor ways to do this in resume that we write for you if necessary and without changing the substance, and we will discuss this with you).

There may be areas that you do not possess do not match exactly what the employer has requested and you must acknowledge this with other information that may be just as important to the job and we will show you how to do this.

But do not waste your time if you cannot fulfill at least 75% of the most important criteria. Targeting the right job and a knowledge of the company you are applying to for a job is still very important.

It doesn't matter if you are going for a driving job or an executive position, the concept and format is the same. Obviously the more complex the position more work is  required. An effective application letter is one that makes it easy for the employer to see how your skills, knowledge experience and attributes, etc.,  match their criteria. A good resume is also crucial and must back up the application.

It is better to make 5 targeted applications a day than 20 that are not targeted to your skills and experience

If you are not sure on what jobs to target you may need to do more research. Instead of giving you point form tips on what this type of application letter should contain, this section provides more heavyweight information on :-

  • Getting rid of old habits

  • High impact or effective, opening statements

  • Features and benefits and how they can be used in an application letter

  • How to write meaningful letter content to put into the application letter that addresses the employer's needs.

  • How to provide value added content (additional skills and how they can be used in the advertised job)

The value of this section is the  "real life " examples to give you ideas and to illustrate the technique used, while allowing you to inject your own personality into the letter. See page index

 

If you are serious about getting your dream job please continue scrolling

Addressing the employer's needs not your own.

Before we go any further some do's and don'ts.

 

Amazingly, as stated, it has been demonstrated time and again that many people just do not see the real value and purpose of an application letter with content relevant to the specific job. They think the resume will speak for itself.  It doesn't.  Consider these points:-

  • Busy recruiters will put aside a poorly written application letter and may not look at the resume. Your application letter creates a first impression.

  • Employer's will not try and pick through your resume to see if you have the criteria they want. It is up to you to tell them.

  • It provides the reader with an insight into your job capabilities, your motivation and your personality, which may not be apparent in your resume and may be difficult to show in a resume.

  • Your letter reflects your writing skills as well as your communication style. Your application letter is an example of your communication skills. If it is vastly different to your own communication style, or level of competency, you may set yourself up to fail in the interview.

      Further

  • Your application letter should be designed to grab the readers attention immediately so they will continue to read it more thoroughly. (powerful opening statements- below)

  • It should demonstrate you have done your research on the company.

  • What you say in your application must be backed up in the resume or it is meaningless. That is not to say they should match exactly; your letter should do this. (except career change letters). See marketing techniques

  • If the reader can't see that you have skills in the area you stated, your targeting is wrong or your resume is poor. 

  • Your letter should strike the right tone (see further on)

  • You shouldn't use jargon or overused meaningless phrases, often found in badly written resumes --> See marketing techniques

Do not use examples letters unless you modify then for your own circumstances.

 

The reason some people may fail to get an interview is because they use a sample cover / application letter found on the internet without customising the content, or they use the same letter for every job - making only minor alterations in content. This does not fit the criteria of a effective application letter.

 

Of course, sample letters will give you some great ideas. However, you cannot, and should not, use anyone else's application letter.

 

An example of the process used to address the employer's needs has been provided in  the PDF you can download from here sample job applications using AIDA.  Nevertheless, to be able to write this type of letter you require knowledge of what makes a good job application letter. You may want to go back and look at  Writing Job Applications Using Marketing Techniques  first, as some of the concepts, such as features and benefits discussed in this section are treated in-depth and can also be used for your resume.

Do get rid of outdated formatting : How to set out a letter

  • Do not open your letter with the paragraph "I am applying for the position of........advertised in....This is a waste of an opportunity to sell yourself and should never be used
  • Use a letterhead. This is very easy to create.
  • Centre the title of the job as you would the subject in any business letter
  • Pay attention to reading principles
  • Do not write your letter in the body of an email unless the employer specifically states it. Where an address as an option to post, mail your application. Check the closing date and get your application in earlier than stated.
  • If not, email the company and see if they will accept a letter by standard mail. If not, you will have to set up margins in your email programme if you can. Just a fraction wider than A4 paper.
  • Hand write the envelope if you have neat printing or good writing.

Some of these concepts are set out in How to write and set out a  business letter

 

The AIDA sales approach to job application letter writing

 

Your job application should create:-

  • Attention - opening statement

  • Interest - this is the beginning of the application

  • Desire - middle of the application

  • Action - (in sales terms where do you buy). This is the end of the application

See this detailed explanation of AIDA in "The process of applying for an advertised job using AIDA  sample application letter. Download and look at it while reading this section

An effective application letter for an advertised job will use a opening statements as a headline

_________________________________________________________

 

Your job application must have a logical format - the beginning, the middle and the end.

 

 

The beginning of the application

 

Effective application letters use a headline as an opening sentence

 

You may have noticed that marketing or sales letters use a powerful headline to capture the attention of the reader.  Your opening statement is your headline and if it is weak, the impact of your letter will be lost. Marketers can afford to test different headlines in their advertisements  or opening statements for sales letters. You only have one go at acing it. You have to put the job in the first, but the employer expects to see this and will not actually read it. So the brain is wired to receive the opening paragraph as long as the job title is centred.

 

1. Example of a professional position : skills matching

 

IT Professional and Systems Analyst

 

Now you can use your opening sentence

For this exercise, imagine that these examples reflect the employer's stated criteria or needs. A few are for middle of the road jobs, to demonstrate that anyone can use them. They become more powerful at a higher management level. They have to, because the employer expects it. So applicants applying for higher level positions have to really deliver and sell themselves in a dynamic way and appropriate to the level of the position. The principles are the same for everyone.

This is a random example taken from the profile of our sample resumes that can be used in an application. You can see how easy it is to write opening statements in your application letter for a professional occupation if your resume has been constructed correctly. 

Please note: Examples taken from resume samples, are used for the purpose of this exercise only. Your letter should not repeat word by word what is in your resume.  This first examples is for a reasonably high level position. The second one is for an accounts clerk. Once you have the idea you can find more simplistic applications for less demanding jobs can be found in sample letters.

If you have a good resume it may contain exactly what the employer requires and there may be a temptation to repeat the resume in your job application - after all, you spent hours on compiling it so it is targeted at jobs you are qualified for.  So if the employer is looking for skills and experience

Now say the employer has asked for an It specialist to set up a new mechandising account management system. This is a skill area that is shown in your resume,

  • Optimised fund account processing time from 2 days to 1 day by redesigning a pricing model onto spreadsheets.

Try and find different words. 

At XYZ company I customised IT programmes to fit company requirements while at the same time making improvements for greater productivity.

Now don't be harsh I am not an IT specialist but you get the idea, don't you?

Here is another.

  • Solid track record for designing and implementing complex technology and systems solutions on time and within budget.

If you can't find anything that is better than this statement you can say: "See  my resume, demonstrating that I have a "solid track record in designing...."  Use this phrase verbatim only if the resume is powerful and a complete match, and you can't improve on it without making a statement less powerful.

Get straight to the point. Personalise it by putting  "I" or in this case "I have a solid track record....." before the sentence, or equally, if appropriate, this second part of the sentence can be used.  For this resume statement below. you can say, 

  •  I have combined my business.acumen and IT expertise to achieve measurable outcomes in cost reduction and efficiency to achieve revenue growth for a medium sized engineering company.

This would have been better with a measurable outcome stating what the revenue growth was. However, the size of the company is important. If it was a multi national company say so. If it is the same industry as the one you are applying for then say so: This is for a higher level manager or executive.

Here is another opening sentence based on one of the accountabilities in the same resume.

Despite the unfamiliar wording it could easily be customised in a job application letter for another IT position. This is how it appears in the resume.

  • Created templates for system documentation and user manuals that were adopted as an OMAM standard within South Africa.

I repeat, when taking a statement from a resume that answers the employer's criteria to put in an application letter be sure and personalise it and change it a bit to ensure it is not stilted. 

Possible scenario for this application letter based on the employer's needs.

Let us imagine that this company is going through organisational change and it wants someone to help them to set up a branch office in a different state or country. They need someone to develop systems that are compatible with their head office mainframe computer, and at the same time adhere to local standards that differ from those required by head office. Now this is clearly shown in your resume.  In this scenario an opening statement can be used.

I created templates for system documentation and user manuals that were adopted as an OMAM standard within South Africa. This was part of a similar project to the one you are undertaking.

 

I was a valuable team member working with others to integrate systems and develop new standards to conform with local standards. I undertook the following tasks,

 

Now these tasks and will match other criteria in the advertisement.  

Use point form. Once again only match what is relevant and do not use the same wording as your resume.

 

These tasks lead logically into the middle of the letter as shown below. You can" value add" in the last paragraph if necessary. This is explained later.

Note: In the first sentence a benefit statement has now been given for the whole job. The applicant has addressed this early, by saying she has already been through the process. So this is the benefit.

A winning application letter will use effective content for maximum impact by using features and benefits as shown in marketing techniques

 

Do not just paraphrase the criteria.

Examples are difficult because each job advertisement will have its own, sometimes complex, criteria and you have to keep your application letter short. The applicant may be short on experience and skills, and the employer will place importance on criteria such as organisational skills, being a good communicator and/or a highly motivated individual.

 

These criteria are harder to demonstrate. You cannot just say in your application letter that you possess these skills. This is an extremely bad mistake many job seekers make. It is meaningless. As I always say, a baby can communicate. The employer wants to know your level of communication and wants an example of how you have used your communication skills  or maybe your organisational skills. 

 
Use an example that will fit into the category of the advertised job so that it is relevant. Always try and match the advertised job in your examples.

 

This one always gets me, If you cant demonstrate to a high degree that you have bright personality, fall back on "my referees will testify that I have a bright personality". If you haven't got a bright and perky personality you should decide if it is the right job for you.

2. Example of a lower level position. How to get evaluate the criteria which is sometimes obscure or not specific. You can address it using different words to say the same thing.

Accounts Clerk to Assist the Company Accountant

Here is part of the job advertisement. "This is a busy position and you will need to have good organisational skills and work with minimum supervision."  So in a job application for and accounts clerk, your opening statement could take in all of the above criteria in one carefully composed sentence.

I have a successful track record of prioritising and controlling accounting work flows in a fast paced environment, assisting the company accountant to perform all accounting functions.

The assumption is that the bolded words have been part of the criteria. "prioritising" could be "able to work with minimum supervision" or "good organisation skills", so can "controlling". "Fast paced environment" will answer the criteria, "a busy position".

Assisting the company accountant of course reiterates the job title and ties this sentence up nicely.

The applicant will then go on to complete the middle of  the application letter and demonstrate the rest of the skills/experiences mentioned in the advertisement. Use point form. If nothing specific is ask for in the advertisement (this is often the case) then mention what you know to be the most important part of the job. Try to use one or two outcome statements if possible. This will be discussed further on as "value adding".

Staying with opening statements, most companies want to know what you can do for them. These are generally the outcomes shown on your resume if it is written correctly as mentioned previously. If you are telling an employer that you "control accounting work flows in a fast paced environment, you should say that you have accurate data entry skills at x number of words (or figures) per minute and how it can benefit the company. This can be addressed in the middle or end of the letter in line with reading principles  See How to write a business letter

3. Some other examples 

In one resume I prepared, the client had exceptional data entry skills and the employer actually eliminated the need for casual staff at the end of the month, which was the company's usual practice for many years. This was an outcome that went into the resume. However, this was a specific outcome for this client, so don't use it in your own application letter if it is not fact.

In another resume example, a good data entry person left the company and she later found out they had to fill the position with two people. (this is only too common).  So accuracy and data entry speed can actually be beneficial to a company and should not be underestimated.

Your proficiency in the way you approach your workload, i.e. setting priorities, streamlining systems and a skill such as your high typing speed can create a $ benefit for the employer. You can 'value add' to your application letter by saying this in your resume so see further on.

Impressions are about expectations

 

An employer who is looking for an accounts clerk will not expect to see to a powerful application letter.  On the other hand, an employer advertising for a manager has higher expectations. They will expect a dynamic letter because this fits the profile of the person they want.

The position or level of skills required is important, only insofar as the employer who receives a strong application letter with a powerful opening statement, that is backed up with content to reflect the employers needs, and maybe exceed them in some way, will create a very favourable impression with the employer.  Why? Because they did not expect it. The applicant has talked directly to the employer by addressing his/her needs and shows the promise of being able to deliver extra benefits appropriate to the position (value adding). This includes the amount of bad debts you were able to retrieve and the number of accounts you maintain, for example that is above wheat the employer would hope for.

Beware of over-selling yourself

Value adding is a skill you have that you know is part of the job but the employer has not written into the job description. It may be a more advanced skill.

You could have acquired this skill from a professional development course. It is something that is "over and above the employer has asked for". You need to make it clear as to why you are mentioning it. Although this is mentioned before elsewhere it is appropriate to mention now. You could say "in addition to the skills that you have asked for, I can bring to the company a sound knowledge of xyz". It is another benefit and will set you apart from other applicants.

Example of overselling yourself

Value adding for an accounts clerk as demonstrated is highly recommended. However, some applicants oversell themselves for the position. This can lose you the job so be  sure you understand the job requirements and value add when it doesn't encroach on someone else's position in the company. You need to research the company so you understand where you will fit into the organisation. You do not want to sell yourself out of a job. Do not write and application for your bosses job.

For more advanced winning application letter opening sentences see

The world's greatest job application letters

Find powerful opening sentences and content for your letters. For only about $20 USA dollars this is a must have resource.

The middle of the application letter

After a strong opening statement the applicant will now have to deliver the goods: Using Features and benefits is a good way to do this

 

 

Still using the Accounts Clerk job, the applicant should now state what he/she actually did to assist the accountant as per criteria. You must be organised for addressing each of the employer's requirements. See this example of the whole process. This job application sample letter shows you how to organise your material so that you do address the criteria and don't miss anything. For example,

 

I assisted the accountant  by:-

  • Taking his suit to the dry cleaners  (feature) so he wouldn't come into work looking like he has slept in his clothes which made him look more competent than he is. (benefit).

  • Making him coffee (feature) so that he could get up the energy to get off his "but" and do some work. (benefit)

Ok so don't tell the truth, but the applicant should say what he/she did to assist him or her if you like, run the accounting department as stated in the criteria.

Using another example: an accounts payable person may do the wages, so just stating  "experience in payroll", for example, is not enough information  It needs substantiating and show the level of skill.

  • Prepared the fortnightly payroll for 100 f/t, p/t and casual staff.

If any of the experience used in the application letter was gained in a job further back in your job history, you need to say:-

  • While at Hardy's Chocolates, I prepared minutes for board meetings.

It is important that the employer can see in your resume the claims made in the job application.  Your resume will probably give these specific duties if they are essential to the job and maybe it wont if they are low level skills or not essential. However the resume must show that the applicant has performed a similar role.

 

The job application should not leave any criteria unanswered or leave the employer to try and sieve through the information. Why should they bother. There will be other applicants who have written a better application letter.

 

 

The end of the application letter

 

State how the employer can benefit by employing you.

 

To reiterate, analyse the job and company and at the end of the letter give them something more than their stated criteria and make sure they know that it is "over and above" their stated criteria. This is value adding.

 

Another example of a value added sentence.

"In addition to your stated criteria, I have assisted the accountant by.... Here you state the accountabilities in your job that assisted the accountant that are not in the criteria.

Stronger value added statement would be as previously mentioned. "In addition to your stated criteria, I can bring to the job a sound knowledge of XYZ", (It must be relevant).

Now is the time to close your letter.

Here you can expresses your interest in the job and ask for an interview.

You should not go overboard or too pushy. However, you need to let the employer know you are very interested in the job. Say where, when and what time you are available for an interview.  If this information is not provided, and you are still in a job, an employer will be uneasy about contacting you at work.

You need some excellent closing sentences in your job search arsenal. Try Amazing cover letters. I love this as you can change to suit your circumstances. For a taste of what this author offers-

Get your complimentary copy of Top 10 Secrets of the… "World’s Greatest Cover Letter"

Language and tone of your application letter

Finally the language and tone will not be the same for an unskilled job and a highly skilled position paying top dollars.

The language used by a highly skilled professional will be different to the language used by a person with a much lower level of skill. If a professional's salary is over, $75,000, for example, the language of the letter should reflect a high level of writing (If required in the job, we are not talking about high paying manual or semi skilled work or even some trades).  It should create an image of the applicant that  fits the position and salary for that position.

As stated before, many job seekers on a lower skill level, make the mistake of copying example letters shown by the thousands on the internet, or get a professional to write it.  It can create an image that is actually detrimental to your application. Employers may get the impression that you are too ambitious for them, or that you may not fit in. Worse still, they can spot a professional letter at a glance and will make an assumption based on experience, that you didn't write it. You will lose credibility.

If you do get a professional to write your application letter, remind them that the literacy standard should not be the same standard of a highly paid executive. Keep the language simple. Otherwise when you meet the employer it will become obvious that you did not write the letter. Although we offer these services, I strongly encourage the client to learn how to write their own application letters.

Your tone should be confident but not boastful or arrogant. This applies equally to all job seekers. If you use sales techniques you are creating features and benefits and these are powerful in their own right.

If your skills do not match your tone in your application letter you can come across as boastful or arrogant . So you need to be careful you do not overdo the sales pitch.

Many people misunderstand sales language. It is not about clever boastful words, it is about selling features and benefits. There is no need for superlatives. If you answer the client's needs using features and benefits you should be able to strike the right tone.

See features and benefits and tone of your letter plus lots of ideas and examples  Job Application Letter Writing Using Marketing Techniques

What do about job references or referees

Some people are confused about job referees and job references

A referee is someone who can give you a verbal reference to an employer. It must be current and preferably from your last position.

A reference is a written document form you former employers or someone who will vouch for you. It doesn't carry as much weight as a referee report. Some references do not tell the prospective e employer what they will want to know so before you ask for a written reference as what the are going to write, make sure it contains specific job information.  See Government link below

Prepare your referees: Differences between reference and referees and how to prepare your referee can be found in Prepare for an interview

See my article on referees

Look at this link from the Government

How to choose your referees

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