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:
- Introduce the applicant by name and title.
- State clearly and specifically, the position or program for which the applicant is applying.
- 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.