Writing Job Applications
Your written application provides a summary of your education, qualifications, skills and experience relevant to the duty statement of the position for which you're applying. To successfully gain a new position you must clearly demonstrate in your written application that you meet all the selection criteria before you will be shortlisted for an interview.
The written application is important because it is probably the only information that the selection panel has about you. The selection panel does not have access to your file (for current employees) or to details about you from previous applications, and they will normally contact referees after interviews have been held. Even if there are some members of the selection panel who know you, there may be others on the panel who know nothing about you.
A written application also indicates the following things about you:
- how clearly you are able to express yourself
- your ability to be brief and to the point in describing your skills and experience
- your ability to exclude irrelevant information
- your use of grammar, spelling and punctuation, and appropriate use of language
- your ability to present information neatly, logically and clearly.
For these reasons it is important to prepare your written application as well as possible. Your aim is to persuade the selection panel that you are the best person for the job and worth interviewing. Suggestions on how to do this are outlined below.
What is included in a written application?A written application consists of a number of documents, some of which are usually requested by the organisation and others which are optional.
You are expected to provide the following items:
- cover letter
- a résumé/curriculum vitae - including details of referees
- a statement addressing each of the selection criteria for the position.
Optional items that you may also need to include are:
- written references
- work samples
- copies of qualifications.
When the Appointment Committee receive your application, they are not only looking at your range of skills and experience, but will also assess your written communication skills. The Committee may examine any of the following:
- how well you structure written information
- how well and how clearly you express your ideas
- how well you target your communication to your audience
- your grammar and spelling ability
- your understanding of document formatting
- your attention to detail in regards to typos and information.
In order to show that you have high quality written communication skills, your job application should use of action words (verbs) to indicate the range tasks you can achieve, and use of a positive tone to demonstrate your abilities. This will indicate that you are proactive (rather than passive) in your job, and focuses on what skills you do have rather than anything you might not have as much experience in.
When putting together your written application, you will need to describe your skills and competencies.
In describing the skills you have and use, it is important that you describe them accurately. Often we undersell our skills by using 'inactive' words, such as 'do' (do the mail, do minutes).
Sometimes we go to the other extreme and use terms that come across to the reader as bureaucratic jargon ('utilise interpersonal communication'). Occasionally we give an inflated indication of our level of responsibility for a task and use 'manage' and 'control' when we actually 'administer' and 'monitor'.
View a list of action words which may be helpful in labeling your skills, together with some examples of how they could be used.
How you phrase what you say and the words you use in your written application can convey either a positive or a negative message to the selection panel.
Try to avoid including what you can't do; avoid phrases such as:
- 'I don't have any experience in...'
- 'My knowledge of... is limited.'
or adjectives such as:
Use of such words and phrases may convey a negative message to the selection panel that you either do not have the necessary skills and experience, or that you lack self-confidence.
Instead, focus on positive statements about what you can do, such as:
- 'I have experience in...'
- 'My knowledge of... includes...'
and adjectives such as:
Such positive words and phrases convey to the selection panel that you do have the skills and experience, and that you have confidence in your own abilities.
The Cover Letter
The covering letter is a brief introduction to the rest of your written application. It is the first document the selection panel will read. Your aim is to introduce yourself to the panel and encourage them to read on and find out more about you. For this reason it is important that the covering letter looks professional, sounds positive and enthusiastic, and attracts the reader's attention. It is also one way of demonstrating your written communication skills.
A cover letter is a summary of the reasons why you are the best candidate for the position. Its purpose is to make the reader want to read more about you in your resume and to get you an interview. It can help to answer three questions that are often on the mind of the employer:
- Can you do the job?
Have you demonstrated that you have the right abilities, skills, knowledge and experience?
- Will you do the job?
Do you seem very interested in the work itself? Do you have the other attitudes necessary for success in the role and in the company.
- Will you fit in?
Have you shown how your values and goals match the company's values and goals? Your language and stories can also indicate how you might fit in with clients and co-workers.
Cover letters also demonstrate your analytical abilities. Employers will be assessing how well you have researched the organisation and the position and how you have analysed and addressed the company's needs in the letter.
Include a cover letter with every application you make but don't use the same cover letter for different positions. Each letter should be specific to the position and the organisation. Employers recognise standard letters and will know you have not put in the effort they expect.
What should your Cover Letter include?
It is suggested that you include the following information in your covering letter:
- your address
- the date
- the name, title and address of the receiver (ie: Director, Human Resources)
- the title and reference number of the position for which you're applying
- a paragraph saying what information you're including in your application, ie: résumé, statement addressing the selection criteria etc.
- a brief explanation of what particularly interests you about the job, the department or section etc.
- a paragraph or two briefly highlighting the main skills or abilities you can bring to the job and any relevant personal qualities or attributes
- details of how and when you can be contacted if required to attend an interview.
Cover Letter Examples
If possible, keep your covering letter to a single page. Too much information, especially if it is not relevant to the job, may detract from the letter. Your statement addressing the selection criteria is the place to give more detailed information about yourself and your ability to do the job.
Example 1 - Proforma letter
This example shows the key elements of a good covering letter. The information does not have to be in the same order as the example, but make sure it is logical. How you lay the letter out and what information you put in each paragraph is up to you.
Example 2 - Professional Staff cover letter
What is a résumé or curriculum vitae?
The terms résumé and curriculum vitae (or CV) tend to be used interchangeably to mean a summary of your background, personal details, education, qualifications, skills and work experience. The main purpose of the résumé is to promote yourself so you get to the interview stage. Prospective employers will usually spend one to three minutes scanning a résumé and approximately 80 per cent of this time is spent on the first two pages, so its content must be clear, concise and relevant to the job.
There is no single way for your résumé to look, however, it should:
- attract attention
- arouse curiosity
- make the reader want to meet you.
In some instances, employers will request that you submit an electronic résumé when applying for a position. Often, these electronic résumés are ‘read’ by scanners (essentially text readers) in the first instance, rather than by a human being. These scanners are not designed to interpret or distinguish non-standard characters or formats; therefore you should consider submitting your electronic résumé in ASCII format.
Making your résumé easy to read
It is often said that employers on average spend only about two minutes reading an applicant's résumé. This means that your résumé must look good and attract the reader's attention, and all relevant details must be clear, easy to read and easy to find. To make it easy for the selection panel, consider the following:
- Keep the résumé brief, maximum length of four to five pages; use single side printing.
- Give lots of relevant information but be brief and selective.
- Put the information in a logical order so that it is easy to find the relevant details.
- Be consistent in the way you present the information: in terms of headings, order of information, use of words, layout etc.
- Use point form rather than long paragraphs.
- Make the résumé look professional by effective use of spacing, bold, uppercase, font sizes, underlining, etc.
- Use simple font, eg: Times New Roman, Arial, size 11-12 font.
- Do not use folders, coloured paper, borders etc.
- Do not use a separate cover page.
- Consider your audience and what they are looking for.
- In deciding what to include and what to leave out, be guided by those events that are likely to demonstrate skills an employer might be interested in.
- Presume the prospective employer has no prior knowledge of your area of expertise - avoid acronyms and jargon.
- Outline your last three jobs or your last 10 years previous work history.
- Spell and grammar check and ask someone else to read your resume.
The way you structure your résumé in terms of order and appearance is up to you, and there are a number of different formats you can use. Much depends on personal preference and on what aspects of your qualifications or experience you want to emphasise most strongly (and the amount of experience from which you have to draw). Whatever style you choose, make sure that the items most relevant to the vacancy are covered and are easy to find. résumés vary greatly in the way they are presented and the information they include, depending on such factors as personal preference. The following information may help you to decide what to include in your résumé and what to leave out.
- telephone number (home, work, mobile)
- eligibility to work in Australia (if not an Australian citizen or resident).
Can be listed in a number of ways:
- most recent qualifications first
- highest or most relevant qualification first
- divided into secondary and post-secondary education.
For each item listed, include the following:
- qualification level achieved (eg: Year 10-12, certificate, degree, diploma, etc.)
- for qualifications gained overseas, provide details of the equivalent Australian qualification (if unclear)
- dates of qualifications (indicate if still in progress)
- name of school, college or university and location (name of city; name of country - if outside Australia).
Other Qualifications and Training
- Other qualifications and certificates, eg: first aid certificate, driver's license
- Professional development - give dates and course titles.
Can be listed in a number of ways:
- most recent employment first - this is the most common form
- chronological order
- by type of employment (eg: administrative, technical), if doing so would make it easier for the Appointment Committee when looking for relevant positions.
Give the following information about each job:
- name of organisation, name of department, position title
- summary of key duties and responsibilities - list these in point form and use action words (eg: 'organised', 'coordinated', 'supervised')
- dates of employment.
The further back in time you go, the less detail you need to give for each individual job.
Outline details of reasons for any gaps in employment, eg: home duties, travel.
Volunteer Work or Work Experience
Set these out in the same order and format as your employment history.
Summary of Relevant Skills
These may include:
- use of specific computing and software packages, other equipment
- knowledge of internal systems, eg: Human Resources System (HRS), Financial Records System (FRS), library cataloguing system.
- use of electronic information systems, eg: Excel, Publisher
- understanding of internal procedures, eg: accounting, payroll, etc.
- relevant skills not covered in the selection criteria, eg: presentations/public speaking, book-keeping, budgeting, conference organisation.
Membership of Professional Associations
- Provide the full name of association and type of membership.
- Detail any official position(s) you hold or have recently held.
Hobbies and Recreational Interests
It is optional whether you list such details. If you include them, make sure you:
- list current activities rather than ones you haven't engaged in for years
- select activities that you think will be relevant and don't list too many.
Referees are people who are willing to testify confidentially to a prospective employer on your behalf.
You must provide details of the number of referees requested - if the advertisment asks for three referees, you must provide three. If the number of referees is not specified, provide details of at least two, preferably work-related, including:
- Title, full name, organisation, address and phone number
- Position title and relationship to you (eg: Supervisor).
Tips on selecting referees
- Make sure you have sought the referees' permission before including them in your résumé.
- Allow your prospective referee a genuine opportunity to say no. You want a referee who will be 100 per cent in your corner, not someone with a half-hearted commitment.
- Select people you know well and who can speak knowingly about your professional and personal attributes.
- Referees should include former direct managers or one-up managers who can comment on your work performance.
- In most cases choose people who can discuss recent events, not ancient history.
- Send referees a copy of the job advertisment, your résumé and application.
- Keep referees informed of your job seeking activities.
- Referees who hold senior positions carry more influence and credibility providing they meet the criteria above.
- You can ask a referee what they would say about you if asked. Too many people are damaged by referees who do not provide a good reference.
Optional Résumé Details
- Date of birth
- Marital status
- Number of dependents
- Driver's license
- Hobbies, interests, languages spoken.
To help you decide whether or not to include such details, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the information relevant to the job for which I'm applying?
- Is it necessary to include it? (eg: health - few people are likely to admit to being unhealthy in their résumé!)
- Will it help the selection panel to get a more complete picture of my skills and abilities? (eg: that you've held responsible positions in sporting clubs)
- Could the information bias the selection panel in any way?
If you cannot answer yes to any of these points, exclude these personal details.
There are a number of additional documents you may wish to add to your written application. These include:
- written references
- work samples
When deciding what to include, bear in mind that the selection panel won't have time to read pages and pages of information. Be selective about what you provide, and only include the best or most relevant documents.
Although you are asked to provide the names and addresses of at least two referees in your résumé, the selection panel are unlikely to contact them until they have interviewed the shortlisted applicants. Since your aim is to obtain an interview, you may decide to include written references in your application.
Good written references will enhance your application and demonstrate to the Appointment Committee what others think of your abilities, strengths and personal qualities.
If you are going to attach copies of written references there are a number of things you need to think about:
- Recent references are likely to carry much more weight with the selection panel than those dating back a long time; there is little point in including references that are more than about 3-5 years old.
- Choose work references rather than personal references, as the selection panel is most interested in what previous employers think of your abilities.
- Make sure that any references you include are very positive and don't say anything which is ambiguous and might be misinterpreted by the selection panel. For example:
- If a reference says something like '...was very good at following set procedures', the Appointment Committee might misinterpret this as meaning that you were not good at thinking for yourself and using initiative.
- Similarly, if a reference says '...was generally hard working and reliable', this might lead the Committee to think that for some of the time you were unreliable and didn't apply yourself to the job in question.
- Don't include too many references - be selective and choose only the best.
Usually, if a job applicant wants to provide the selection panel with samples of their work, they take them to the interview. If the panel wants to see them they can either look at them during the interview or afterwards.
The kinds of work samples you can include in a written application are generally limited to such documents as newsletters, leaflets or flyers, copies of short reports, samples of complex spreadsheets, etc. If you decide to include a work sample make sure it is:
- relevant to the Selection Criteria and the Duty Statement
- clear to the Appointment Committee what your contribution to the document is, ie: whether you designed it, wrote it, typed it etc
- the best example of your work and that it will impress the Committee.
Don't provide more than one or two samples - the Appointment Committee won't have time to look through lots of information. If you're in any doubt, ask the contact person for the job if they would like you to include samples in your application.
You may wish to provide copies of qualifications achieved, including:
- formal award courses such as degrees, diplomas, trade certificates etc.
- certificates for short courses such as first aid, train the trainer, the national restricted electrical license etc.
- certificates for training courses in the use of computers or software packages etc.
The question of whether or not to provide copies of qualifications when you apply for a job is unclear and a lot depends on the preference of the selection panel. Some employers don't want to see them, some like copies to be included in the written application, while others prefer you to take originals along to the interview.
If you are uncertain whether to provide such documents in your written application, consider the following:
- Rather than overwhelming the Appointment Committee with paperwork which they are unlikely to read, you could simply mention in your application that copies of certificates are available on request.
- If you do decide to attach copies, only include information that is relevant to the Selection Criteria and the Duty Statement (eg: details of your high school transcript are likely to be of little interest to the Committee if you’ve been in the workforce for some time or have obtained higher qualifications).