Preparing a Winning Job Application
Your Application Materials
Generally, the materials you submit to an organization
or business will give potential employers their first impression
of you. Each piece should be typed and free of spelling and grammatical
errors. Although it may seem obvious, proofreading and spell checking
are extremely important, as they indicate your attention to detail
and may determine whether or not you are called for an interview.
Any materials you submit should arrive before
the deadlines. If the deadline has passed, you may want to call
to see if they are still accepting applications. To mail the materials,
it is best to use a large envelope to ensure they arrive in pristine
condition. If you would like to deliver your information to the
organization in person, call and verify that the contact person
(or someone else) will be available. A visit to the office presents
an opportunity to ask for a complete description of the job and
see the work environment. However, a practical drawback to visiting
the office (especially unannounced) is that the timing may be inconvenient,
meaning that no one can meet with you.
The following list identifies the most commonly
requested materials. A more detailed description of each element
is provided on the following pages.
Cover Letters — introduce
you to the organization and should always be included.
summarize your academic and professional experience.
Applications — are
specific forms some places ask you to fill out.
Writing Samples —
give insight into your abilities.
Transcripts — are
either informal or official copies of your coursework that may be
References and Recommendations
— can be provided by people who will endorse and verify your
a Cover Letter
Your cover letter will give potential employers
an idea of why you want to work for them. Each cover letter should
be written specifically for the organization and position sought.
It should serve as an introduction of who you are and indicate why
you are interested in the organization and in the specific job for
which you are applying. Your cover letter and resume should complement
each other, with the letter expanding upon the experiences and skills
highlighted in the resume.
The tone of the cover letter has a significant
impact on its reader. Although the cover letter is a marketing tool,
it is important not to come on too strong with the hard-sell approach.
A well-crafted cover letter that highlights your most valuable skills
and displays an understated confidence will often encourage the
employer to pay more attention to your resume. On the other hand,
a poorly written or sloppily presented letter can dissuade a potential
employer from seriously considering you.
Here are some basic points to remember in writing
a strong cover letter:
• Proofread, spell-check, and proofread again.
Few things make a worse impression than cover letter typos. Set
the letter aside for a day before doing the final read or pass it
on to a friend, colleague, or advisor who will give you constructive
• Get the organization’s contact information
right. Call before sending your materials to verify the contact
person’s name and the organization’s address. Always use
a gender-neutral salutation if you do not have the contact person’s
• Keep the letter brief. Three or four concise
paragraphs should be plenty. Too much information all at once is
not necessarily a good thing.
• Explain who you are and why you want to
work with the organization. Focus on the skills or experiences that
pertain to the position, including academic, professional, or volunteer
activities. It is also acceptable to include your enthusiasm for
the organization, the job, and the opportunity for personal and
professional growth. A career counselor can help you outline pertinent
experiences or skills.
• Focus on your three most impressive relevant
skills and experiences. Show them how your experience and creative
ideas can benefit their organization.
• Indicate your general period of availability.
This is helpful for jobs that are of unspecified duration.
• If you are not local and plan to visit
the organization’s area, tell them. You may be able to arrange
• Mention that you will call the organization
by a specific date. And then call.
• Always provide your correct address and
telephone number. Do not make a potential employer track you down.
Indicate when and where you can be reached.
• Don’t forget to sign the letter. It
happens and always looks bad.
Your resume summarizes relevant skills and experiences
and provides a foundation for comparison with other job candidates.
Both the content and visual appearance of your resume; communicate
important messages to the reader, so strive to make your resume
as informative and well-organized as possible.
Your resume should be typed, never handwritten.
Resumes should be as reader-friendly as possible. To facilitate
its reading, selective use of highlighting, italics, fonts, and
other easy-to-read markers can be helpful, but be careful not to
go overboard. Professionalism is important. Sloppiness or typographical
errors may result in your resume being relegated to the bottom of
There are many styles of resumes. Some people
strongly adhere to the single page rule while others prefer an enhanced
description of your experiences, such as a curriculum vitae (CV).
It may be helpful to look at sample resumes in order to get an idea
of the best way to present yourself, or to work with a career counselor
to develop your resume.
Here are some suggestions about developing an
• Proofread, spell-check, and proofread again.
You have heard it before, but it’s important. As with your
cover letter, have someone proofread your resume for clarity and
• Make sure that your address and telephone
number are correct.
• If you use an "Objective" statement
(optional), tailor it specifically to each position. Objective statements
should only be used for specific jobs and generic objectives should
be avoided. "Job objectives" indicate your goals to potential
employers. A "summary" tells what you can do for them.
A note of caution: an employer’s objectives or goals may be
slightly different than yours.
• If your GPA is above 3.0, include it. If
it is below 3.0, do not include it.
• List academic and professional experiences
in chronological order. The key is to make the resume flow. After
college, omit high school-related experiences unless they are very
• List relevant volunteer or extracurricular
experiences. This is useful to show a well-rounded quality and may
bring out abilities that are not apparent from your academic or
• Omit personal information. Family details
and hobbies are not considered professionally relevant.
• Keep description of experiences brief.
Since job titles are not universal, describe your experiences and
try to make them sound as germane as possible. On a resume, five
lines per position is an acceptable maximum length; on a CV, descriptions
should be less than ten lines per position.
• Use action words. You want to convey confidence,
growth, and experience. But be careful, don’t oversell yourself–remember,
you have to live up to your resume if you get the job!
While application forms vary from organization to organization,
use the opportunity to emphasize the ways in which your skills and
experiences can meet the needs of the organization. Think about
why they are asking each question and what kind of information they
are looking for.
Writing Samples: Many organizations request
writing samples to evaluate your writing style, editing capabilities,
or researching skills. The specific content is generally less important
than the quality of work. Most organizations prefer short essays,
academic papers, published articles, or professional analyses that
deal with issues relevant to their specific programs and issues.
One to four pages is usually sufficient.
Transcripts: Some organizations require
that you provide either informal or official transcripts from all
post-secondary schools. In general, this is to confirm a level of
academic competence in the area of the job’s focus. For example,
a student may have a GPA of 3.5 overall, but only 2.8 in a specific
field of study related to the job.
References and Recommendations: Many organizations
request the names of individuals who can evaluate your professional
or academic performance. Naturally, you will want to provide the
names of people who will comment favorably on your abilities. Before
you list people as references, be sure to inform them so that they
will not be surprised if prospective employers call. Call your references
in advance and provide them with a general description of the organization
and the specific details concerning the position for which you are
applying. Make them aware of any skills or experiences that you
would like them to emphasize. They can then provide a strong, supportive
recommendation, commenting on your knowledge of relevant issues,
your abilities as a student or worker, and your willingness to learn
and assume responsibility. As with your own contact information,
it is important to provide accurate phone numbers and addresses
for each reference, and if possible, the best times to reach them.
Some organizations prefer to review written recommendations
instead of calling references. If this is the case, contact your
references and ask them to write letters of recommendation on your
behalf. As above, provide references with information about the
organization, position, and points to highlight. Supply your references
with a stamped, addressed envelope and stress to them the importance
of meeting the organization’s deadline for recommendations.
You should also provide the organization with the name and address
of each person submitting a letter of reference on your behalf.
It is sometimes helpful to have a general letter of recommendation
to submit with your resume and cover letter, but this is not essential.