How to make a strong application – Part 4: Your application documents
In our ‘How to make a strong application’ series, we tell you everything you need to know about choosing and applying for jobs – from the question “What do I want to do?” to the perfect job application photo to the interview stage.
When applying for jobs, as is so often the case in other areas of life, first impressions count. So it’s very important that your application documents make the best possible impression on your prospective employer.
The application: what should it include?
Complete application documents include a cover letter, your CV and your references and certificates – in that order. You can also include a cover sheet if you like, but it is not essential. If you do decide to use a cover sheet, it should include your application photo, your contact details, the company’s address, the job you are applying for and a ‘Contents’ section listing everything contained in your application. The cover sheet should be clear, easy to read and in muted colours. This will make you look like a serious candidate. And of course, make sure there are no typos anywhere!
If you are applying for a specific job that comes with a reference number, the number needs to be clearly visible on your application. This makes things easier for the personnel manager. Your contact details also need to be clear and prominent: this makes it easier to invite you to an interview later on.
The cover letter: show your strengths
If you have decided not to include a cover sheet, the cover letter will be the first page of your application. It should be no longer than a page and should have a heading at the top including the recipient’s address, your address, the date, and the subject of your letter (which job are you applying for?) Then comes the main body of the text. In your first couple of sentences, explain why you want to work for this company. The beginning of your letter should be interesting and exciting, but not too long.
In the main section of your letter, you need to talk about the job being advertised and explain why you are the right person for it. It’s a good idea to avoid set phrases like “I am writing to you to apply for…” Be sure to mention your personal skills, experience and reasons for applying for the job, which should all relate to criteria mentioned in the job advert. Highlight your strengths to make it clear to the company why they should employ you. Take care not to just re-hash your CV in the main body of your cover letter – this would be duplicated information and not very helpful for the person dealing with your application!
At the end of the letter, indicate your desire for a personal interview with a phrase like “I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss my qualifications”. End your letter with “Yours sincerely”. Below that comes your scanned signature. If the job advert requests it, mention your expected salary before the end of the letter.
Before concluding your cover letter, carefully check that you have written the company’s name correctly and addressed the contact person by name. It is also very important to avoid spelling mistakes and typos. If in doubt, ask somebody who is good at spelling to read your letter.
The CV: what, when, where
The next section of your application is the CV. The aim of the CV is to present the most important facts about you and your qualifications. It should be no longer than two pages. If you have not used a cover sheet, your application photo should be attached to your CV. Your personal details should appear at the top of the page; then list your highest-level qualification followed by your professional experience, any internships and work placements you have completed, and any temporary or holiday jobs you have had. Experiences such as military service, voluntary service or Work & Travel programmes should also be mentioned on your CV. Complete your profile by listing any language skills, computer skills or other special skills you have, and any hobbies you enjoy.
Emphasise the points that relate to the requirements in the job advert! The fact that you like playing handball, for instance, can show that you are a team player – after all, handball is a team sport. Put the date and your signature at the end of the page.
When putting together your CV, it is important to make sure the layout is very clear and to include as much detail as possible about each stage of your life. You should list your experiences in reverse chronological order, with the most recent at the top. Emphasise your strengths, and check through your CV to make sure there are no mistakes in it.
Certificates: evidence of your skills
References, certificates and proof of additional qualifications belong at the end of your application. It is best to present them in the same order as they are listed on your CV, and check to make sure you have not left out anything important. Everything you include in this section supports and provides evidence of the skills you have mentioned in your cover letter and CV.
Once all the elements of your application are complete, you can send it off.
In the next part of the series, we tell you what you need to be aware of when sending an application via email.