Learning Materials > Job-Seeking Skills Resources
Job-Seeking Skills Resources: Application Letter

Introduction [top of page]

This site covers some writing principles useful for the opening, body and ending of the cover letter. It explains the principles briefly and gives examples to help you think about these principles. The examples are NOT models. Try to evaluate them first on your own first, then compare your ideas with the comments given. Consult a language instructor if you have a problem or disagree with the comments.

This section focuses on the solicited letter, i.e. you are sending your application to companies which are advertising jobs. We have not covered the unsolicited letter here. You will need to consult other sources if you want to write to companies which have not issued a job notice.


General Knowledge [top of page]

To test if you have a good general understanding of the cover letter, try out our quiz here. Explanatory notes will be given when you submit your answers. Go.


Opening [top of page]

Like most business letters, you state the purpose of writing in the first paragraph. Typically, you state your interest in applying for the position, and give details of the source from which you heard of the position. You may also make a general claim about your eligibility for the position, to introduce the evidence that you are going to present in the following paragraphs.

Read the examples below to see if they are appropriate openings for a cover letter. Compare your ideas with the given comments.

Example 1

I am writing in response to your job vacancy notice for the position of Quality Assurance Executive posted in the Careers Center at the University of Science and Technology. I wish to apply for this position and enclose my resume for your consideration.

Example 2

After attending the recruitment talk presented by City Finance, I am very interested in the post of graduate trainee in the International Business Section. I have no doubt that my qualifications, work experience and abilities will make me an indispensable member of your team.

Example 3

Please consider my application for the graduate trainee position as advertised in the Careers Office of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. I am a final year student, majoring in Business Administration with International Business as my major area of study. I believe I am suitable for this position because I am very interested in banking.


Body: Content [top of page]

What do employers want to get out of the cover letters? There are certain kinds of information that most employers consider essential. Try our quick quiz here to see if you can pick the most important information from a given list of items. Go.

Examine the following examples to see if they can meet the expectation of the employers for the cover letter.

Example 1

(Computer Science student applying for the position of programmer)

My work experience has allowed me to improve my programming skills. It has also developed my ability to handle difficult situations and resolve problems. You can see from my personal history that I am not only a hardworking and responsible person, but also have the drive to achieve the goals set and to derive satisfaction from it. Furthermore, I have developed my team skills and communication skills as I worked in a group for my final year project.

Example 2

(IEEM student applying for the position of Shipping Trainee in a multinational transportation company)

I will graduate from the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology with a degree in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management in June. Many courses in this programme are relevant for this post, for example, Logistics Planning, Routing Management and Operation Research, etc. I had the chance to apply informational technology to assist supply chain and distribution management. Furthermore, participation in projects like the Park'n Shop Simulation also helped me to appreciate the importance of understanding customers' needs in a service industry.


Body: "Me" Approach and "You" Approach [top of page]

To some extent, the cover letter is about how best to present yourself. However, that is only half of the story. To be more accurate, the cover letter is about how best to present yourself to fit a certain position in a company. This means no matter how well qualified you are, you must start writing your letter by thinking like your prospective employers: what do they want to see in the person who fills this position. Using the "You" approach will help you to make your letter more meaningful to your readers, i.e. the employers.

Examine the following examples to see if they have sufficiently addressed the concerns of the employers.

Example 1

(Engineering student applying for the position of quality assurance executive)

I have studied courses in engineering, humanities and business. I have acquired a broad base of knowledge from these courses.

In the summer of 1995, I worked as a temporary clerk in Apple Communications. I assisted the manager to update client information. I also answered customer queries on the phone.

Last year, I joined the university Exchange Student Scheme and studied one year in the University of Buffalo in Texas. I learned a lot from the experience. I subsequently helped our department to prepare students for similar schemes. I found this a most meaningful experience.

Example 2

(Business student applying for the position of management trainee in a hotel)

Although I do not possess any experience in the hotel industry, my previous work experience has required me to provide satisfaction to customers. I have been a Sales Representative for Theme for two consecutive summers. By working in the front line, I learned that customer satisfaction is the key to success in the service industry. I believe I can apply the skills obtained from my previous jobs to this position.

Apart from academic studies, I also participate actively in extra-curricular activities. I was the Vice-Chairperson and Publication Secretary of the Astronomy Club in my first and second years of study. I also joined a study tour to Japan organized by AIESEC. Through participation in different activities, I have acquired interpersonal, leadership and communication skills. My horizons have also been broadened by these activities.

Example 3

(Biochemistry major applying for the position of management trainee in a hotel)

I have always looked out for opportunities to enhance my leadership skills. For example, I often volunteered to lead academic projects. At the moment, I am working on my final year project in a team of three. Since success of our project depends on co-operation, dedication and diligence of all members, I have taken special care to coordinate work and motivate my groupmates towards completion of the project. I have also taken up secretarial duties of setting agendas and recording minutes on my initiative.

Other activities have given me the chance to sharpen my leadership skills further. I have been a leader of the "Big Brother and Sister" project of the Western District Youth Center since 1991. I need to be both creative and realistic in my approach, as I strive to meet the needs of my clients with the limited resources provided by the Center. I found this not only a meaningful activity in its own right, but has provided me with the best training for my problem-solving skills.


Body: Strength of your claims [top of page]

You should appear confident in your letter, but you must not make excessive claims. In other words, you must not appear too boastful if your knowledge and experience do not support the claims. You should also consider the prevalent culture acceptable in the field or in the company. In many business settings, confidence is highly valued. In some professions, such as civil engineering, however, it is thought that one should be prudent, and should be aware of one's limitation.

Examine the following examples to see if the student has made appropriate claims about his/her abilities or skills.

Example 1

(Science student applying for the position of technician in an industrial laboratory)

Last summer, I worked as an office assistant in the Chemical Bank where I was responsible for delivering documents within and among the branches. This experience has trained me to work under pressure. It also gave me the chance to work with the other staff in the bank. I am confident that my interpersonal skills have been greatly enhanced, and I am confident that I can handle any personnel situations required by this position.

Example 2

(Electronic and electrical engineering major apply to be a programmer with a computer games developer)

I am personally very interested in programming. My final year project is related to developing a remote control unit for the Internet. Apart from gaining more knowledge about network programming, I have learned how to work in teams. I hope I could make a valuable contribution to your company.


Ending [top of page]

The ending of the cover letter can be fairly standard in content. You usually request an interview, and indicate how the company can get in touch with you. Even though the content is straightforward, you should be careful with the tone, as the other parts of the letter.

Read the following examples to see if they are appropriate endings for a cover letter. Compare your ideas with the given comments.

Example 1

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with you how I might contribute to your company in fulfilling its present goals. I will be available for appointment from 1st of July. You can reach me at the above address or by phone at 23457890.

Example 2

AIC is undoubtedly the most progressive and innovative marketing company in the world and I would be proud to be associated with it. I would appreciate it if you would call me at 23456789 or write to me at the above address to arrange an interview and to discuss the possibility of employment with your fine company.

Example 3

I enclose my resume, which details my extra-curricular activities and work experience. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you. Leave me a message at my home number 23456789 or page me on 54531234. I look forward to meeting you.

Example 4

My background and other technical skills are too extensive to be listed here. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss my credentials at your earliest convenience. I can be reached on 23456789. I look forward to hearing from you.


Language Focus: Preposition [top of page]

This exercise requires you to fill in the correct prepositions in a cover letter. Go.


Language Focus: Tense [top of page]

This exercise requires you to fill in the correct form of the verb in a cover letter. Go.


Language Focus: Common Mistakes [top of page]

In this exercise, you will identify and correct the mistake in each sentence. Go.


Sample Letters to Learn From

We are including 4 sample letters here for your reference. Please note that these are not model letters. It is most important that you read the comments that accompany each letter, to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of each. When you write your own cover letter, you need to think very carefully about the position you are applying for and what you have to offer. NEVER adapt a sample for your own letter.


Format and layout of business letters

Your address

Put your own address here, starting with the smallest unit in your address. Do NOT include your name as the first line.

Correct

Incorrect

Room 320, Kwai Ching House
Kwai Fong Estate
Kwai Chung, NT

Mr Jerry Ng
Kwai Fong Estate
Room 320, Kwai Ching House
Kwai Chung, NT

The date

This should be written in one of the two ways: 8 May 2000 or May 8 2000. Do not write an abbreviated form, such as 8.5.00, as this can be confusing. It is unclear here if the writer is referring to 8 May 2000 or 5 August 2000. Do not abbreviate the month, for example, by writing Jan instead of January.

Your reader's address

If you are only given the company name, you can start with it as the first line, followed by the full address.

Sometimes, you are only given a P.O. Box number. In that case, you can start with The Recruiter, followed in the next line by the P.O. Box number.

It is also possible to use an attention line to direct the letter to a person in the company. This means officially the letter is addressed to the company, not the individual. Place the attention line two spaces below the last line of the inside address and two spaces above the salutation. (However, using a person's name in the first line is usually preferred over using an attention line.)

Use an attention line

You can always start with the
recipient's name instead

CA Insurance
CA Tower
12 Des Voeux Road W
Hong Kong

ATTENTION: Miss Catherine Lo

Miss Catherine Lo
CA Insurance
CA Tower
12 Des Voeux Road W
Hong Kong

The salutation (greeting)

The typical business letter will begin with one of the following salutatios:

  • Dear Mr / Ms Lam (if you know the family name of the person)

  • Dear Sir or Madam (if you do not know the name of the person you are writing to)

Do NOT make the following mistakes:

  • Dear Miss Elsie Lam

  • Dear Elsie Lam

  • Dear Miss Elsie

  • Dear Sir (i.e. assuming that the reader is a man)

The subject line (heading)

In business letters, the purpose of the subject line is to give the reader an idea of what the letter is about at first glance. In the case of a cover letter, you can simply put the position you are applying to as the subject.

The message

Leave a line between paragraphs.

Closing phrase

Yours sincerely is used with the salutation Dear Mr / Ms Smith, while Yours faithfully is used with the salutation Dear Sir or Madam. US style differs from UK style. It is acceptable to use Yours truly, and Sincerely yours, in American English, but these closing phrases are not generally used in British English.

The signature

It is a must that you sign your letter. Your signature should include your whole name.

If your name is Wong Tak Ming, you should sign the letter with the full name, not just "Ming" or "Wong" using the alphabet, not Chinese characters.

The hand-written signature should be followed by a word-processed version.

Style

You may consider using one of the following styles:

Full-block format

The full-block format is becoming very popular in business letters. Start all the lines from the left margin. Click here to see an example of a letter formatted in the full-block format.

Semi-block format with block paragraphs

In this style, four elements of the letter are aligned to the right margin. These are:

  • Your own address
  • Date
  • Closing phrase
  • Signature
The paragraphs are not indented. Click here to see an example of a letter formatted in the semi-block format with block paragraphs.

Semi-block format with indented paragraphs

This is similar to the above. The only difference is the first line of every paragraph is indented by 5 spaces to the right. Please click here to see an example of a letter formatted in the semi-block format with indented paragraphs.

Punctuation

The two styles of punctuation commonly used in business letters are mixed and open.

The most popular style is mixed punctuation. Mixed punctuation requires a colon after the saluation and a comma after the closing phrase. Click here to see a letter using mixed punctuation.

Letters using open punctuation omit the comma after the salutation and the closing phrase. Open punctuation is becoming more accepted but is still less popular than mixed punctuation. Click here to see a letter using open punctuation.