When you read the initial request, it can make you cringe. In most cases, filling out a job application is relatively painless, but if a company then requests that you include an application essay, also known as a writing sample, it's not uncommon for your nerves to kick in. Such on-the-spot exercises can illuminate a prospective employer, especially if you're applying for a job that requires frequent writing under deadline pressure; however, it's understandable that such a request might make an applicant feel anxious. Fear not. You can prepare for this task by following some sensible, straightforward guidelines. By learning how to put your best foot forward, you can dance your way through the exercise with grace and flair -- while making a lasting impression.
Budget your time accordingly. Most employers allot a certain amount of time for an application essay, such as 30 minutes. In this case, you might want to allocate 5 minutes to reading the directions and your essay choices, 20 minutes to writing and 5 minutes to proofreading and editing.
Choose the topic of your application essay carefully. Employers often give interviewees their choice of three or more topics, so follow the writer’s maxim and choose a topic with which you're familiar and can address with comfort and authority.
Read and highlight the instructions carefully. Take note of the number of paragraphs required, the word count and whether you are asked to incorporate quotes. Particularly if writing is part of the job description, focus on clarity, specificity and a logical progression of ideas.
Avoid topics, words and even punctuation that make you uneasy. As tempting as it might be to want to impress a prospective employer, you might do just the opposite if you misrepresent an idea, misspell a word or punctuate incorrectly. For example, if you're uncertain about how to use a semicolon, use a period instead. Give yourself every opportunity to succeed.
Write an engaging introduction for your job application essay. Strive for creativity, but don’t stray from the topic. Try to relate to the reader. Think of how you would verbally “speak” your essay and follow your instincts.
Write a strong topic sentence and illustrative follow-up sentences to form each paragraph. A strong topic sentence sets the subject and tone for the sentences that follow -- each of which should amplify that first key sentence, one building upon the other. There is no set number of sentences to include in a paragraph, but a good rule of thumb is to strive for at least four.
Close your job application essay on a memorable note, perhaps by tying it into your introductory paragraph. Endings are often the most difficult part of an essay to write, so consider closing with a quote or a provocative question. A good ending should bring an essay to a proper conclusion, without leaving out important information or raising new questions. It also should feel “right” and as such, read your entire essay again to see if the final sentence effectively concludes it.
Edit your words carefully, eliminating vague qualifiers such as “really,” “basically,” “probably,” “very,” “somewhat,” and “practically.” Pare redundancies, such as “future plans,” “first introduction,” and “free gift.” Strengthen your verb choices, but don’t forsake clarity for dramatic flourish.
- Try to have fun writing your essay, but invoke humor and wit only if you're certain they will enhance your essay. Sarcasm is often humorous, but unless someone knows you and your sense of humor, it might be best to avoid it as it could backfire.
About the Author
With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.
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Job Application Letter Format and Writing Tips
A job application letter (also known as a cover letter) is a letter you send with your resume to provide information on your skills and experience. This letter is your chance to “sell” yourself to an employer, explaining why you are an ideal candidate for a position.
The following application letter format lists the information you need to include in the letter that you send with your resume. Also read below for tips on writing a job application letter.
Tips for Writing a Job Application Letter
- Do not duplicate your resume. The purpose of this letter is to show that you are a strong candidate and to highlight your relevant experience and abilities. Since your application letter will be accompanied by your resume, make sure the letter does not duplicate your resume exactly. Your resume is a general record of your experience, education, and accomplishments. In contrast, your application letter should show how exactly your background makes you a good fit for a particular position.
- Tailor each application letter to the job. As mentioned above, emphasize in your letter why you are an ideal candidate for the specific job. This requires that you personalize each letter to fit the specific company and position. Here's information on how you can closely match your qualifications to the job posting.
- Be professional. Application letters have a fairly rigid format — as hiring managers read your letter, they will expect to see certain information included in set areas. You have freedom within the structure to be personable, but it is important to stick to a certain level of formality. Pay particular attention to the professionalism of your salutation and what you call the employer. You wouldn't, for instance, want to refer to the letter's recipient by the first name unless specifically requested.
- Use business letter format. Use the official business letter format when writing your letter. Include your contact information at the top, the date, and the employer’s contact information. Be sure to provide a salutation at the beginning, and your signature at the end. The format listed below provides more information on how to format your letter using official business letter format.
- Edit, edit, edit. Employers are likely to overlook an application with a lot of errors. Therefore, read through your cover letter, and even consider asking a friend or career counselor to read the letter. Proofread any grammar or spelling errors.
Hard Copy Letter vs. Email
The formatting information below is for a hard copy, printed out letter. If you are sending an email application letter, the structure is quite similar, although there are a few important differences.
The main difference in an email is that you need to include a subject line in the email message that clearly lays out your purpose for writing. Another important difference is that, while you include your contact information on the top of a hard copy letter, you include that information after your signature in an email. Read here for more information on how to format an email application letter.
Job Application Letter Format
Use this formatting information as a guideline when writing your customized application letters, so you know what information goes where.
City, State, Zip Code
Employer Contact Information (if you have it)
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name, (leave out if you don't have a contact)
Body of Application Letter
The body of your application letter lets the employer know what position you are applying for, why the employer should select you for an interview, and how you will follow up. See below for a paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown of the body of the letter.
The first paragraph of your letter should include information on why you are writing. Mention the job you are applying for and where you found the job listing. Include the name of a mutual contact, if you have one. You might conclude by briefly and concisely saying why you think you are an ideal candidate for the job.
The next section of your application letter should describe what you have to offer the employer.
It can be a single paragraph, or you can break it up into a couple of paragraphs. If the section gets lengthy, you may use bullet points to break up the text. Remember, you are interpreting your resume, not repeating it.
Mention specifically how your qualifications match the job you are applying for. In this portion of the letter, make your case for your candidacy. It can be helpful to spend some time researching the company — when you know a lot about the company, it helps you make an informed and persuasive argument for your candidacy.
Use specific examples whenever possible. For example, if you say that you have lots of experience working successfully on team projects, provide an example of a time you worked in a group and achieved success.
Conclude your application letter by thanking the employer for considering you for the position. Include information on how you will follow up.
Complimentary Close (examples)
Signature (for a hard copy letter)
Read More:How to Apply for a Job | Job Application Letter Examples