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What is Job Application Letter and What to Include

The r�sum� is a condensed version of the story of your professional life. It can't, and shouldn't, contain details about your work history--those go into the cover letter you send along with your r�sum� to an employer.


The r�sum� cover letter (sometimes called a job application letter) gives you an opportunity to make a strong positive impression on an employer. It is your way of marketing yourself-- it can explain who you are and what you can do for them. If you are not answering an ad for a specific job opening, you can use the CD-ROM database Computer Select to search for information about manufacturers and companies. Ask yourself:
  • What do they sell?
  • Who are their customers?
  • In what direction do they appear to be moving?
  • Why does this employer appeal to me?
  • Why would I appeal to them?


Job application letters are often aimed at two different audiences: the technical people with whom you will be working and the business-oriented people who handle staffing, payroll, promotions, and human resources management. These two audiences have different needs and different values.


Engineering Career Services (at the U.W.-Madison) offers this advice on developing a good cover letter:
  • It should be one page long and neatly typed (or word-processed) on the same paper used for the r�sum�.
  • Address your letter to a specific person {ask for help in getting a name from Engineering Career Services}.
  • Use a formal, dignified serif-type font in 10, 11, or 12 points.
  • Center your letter on the page.
  • Spellcheck and proofread a letter before you send it.

Keep a copy for yourself to help you remember what you told them about yourself. If it's good enough to get you an interview, you may want to use it again with a different employer.


This is the most important part of the letter. You have just a few seconds to make a strong positive impression on your reader. Choose each word with extreme care.

Tell who you are and why you are writing.
I am writing in response to your advertisement in the Wisconsin State Journal for an Engineer.

If you are responding to an ad, tell the reader where you saw it--they may have run different ads in different places.

If you learned of a job opening from a friend or colleague, mention this contact in your letter.
My Inferential Differential professor, Calvin MacTavish, suggested that I write you regarding the opening you have for a Computer Engineer.

If you are not responding to a specific job opening, explain what you have to offer the employer.


Tie your training and experience to what the employer is looking for. Show what you have to offer the employer.
  • Read ads carefully to find out what the employer is looking for. When you are applying for an advertised position, your letter must respond directly to the points covered in the ad.
    If an ad describes "the ideal candidate," your letter must show how you fit that description.
    If the ad lists skills or experiences applicants should have, your letter must explain how you fit the bill.
    You may find ads that seem to promote the benefits of working for the organization more than they advertise job openings. Your response should show how well you would fit into that organizational culture.
  • If possible, get a copy of the job description used by the employer--you can ask for one when you call to find out the name of the person in Human Resources to whom you should address your letter.
  • Don't assume that your reader knows all the abbreviations and acronyms that you know. Unless these are everyday terms, define them in your letter.
  • Don't lie. Explain what you know and assure the reader that you are a fast learner who is capable of quickly filling any gaps in your knowledge.
  • In addition to the specific skills you bring to a job, keep in mind that employers also consider other characteristics. Their idea of a good worker may be someone who is:
    • Careful; thorough, but fast
    • Dedicated; loyal to the organization
    • Team player; gets along well with others
    • Willing to go along with organizational culture
    • Problem solver
    • Easy to train
    • Stays calm in crisis situations
    • Skilled at communicating ideas to others
    • Doesn't need a lot of close supervision; can work independently
    • Persistent; sticks with it; sees things through to completion
    • Shows Leadership potential
  • Technical people sometimes forget to mention non-technical experiences which may be valuable. Include any experiences you may have had dealing with the public, handling money or working with a budget, serving on teams or committees, holding elective office, writing, or training others.
  • If an organization you have worked for adopted a particular management philosophy, such as participative management or total quality management, you may want to mention that in your letter.
  • Be concise. Be clear. Every word counts.


Always conclude by asking the reader to do something.
  • State specifically what you hope your reader will do: set up an interview, send you an application form, etc. Be careful not to sound too demanding or insistent.
  • Let your reader know where you can be reached.
  • End with a goodwill statement:
    • I look forward to hearing from you.
    • Thank you for your consideration.
    • Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about my qualifications or training.


It may be very difficult for you to find the right tone for this sales pitch for yourself.

Engineering Career Services suggests you write in a voice that is professional, warm, and somewhat formal. Try reading it out loud to hear how it sounds before you send it.

  • Avoid being too "cute" or making inside jokes
  • Show confidence in yourself without sounding arrogant, brash, or overconfident
    • I am sure you will agree that I am extremely qualified for this position.
    • "I am sure" is cocky and conceited.
      --- The sentence leaves nothing for the reader to do since it implies that the writer has already evaluated his or her own qualifications
  • Don't be shy about telling your readers how good you are. Couch it in terms of what you can do for them and for their organization. Remember: you know you need them, but they need to see why they need you.


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