Judging job applicants by their cover letters

James McCrostie


Too many job hunters focus on perfecting their resumes to the detriment of their cover letters. If you are one of those applicants sending off the same rushed generic cover letter to every job, stop and remember that recruiters will be looking carefully at the whole application package.

The cover letter should briefly describe yourself and tell the person in charge of hiring why you’re perfect for the position. There is no need to go longer than one page. There is less need to try turning one-and-a-half pages into one page through the magic of wider margins and 11-point-Garamond font.   

Include a person’s name and proper title after the salutation whenever possible, but if a job ad doesn’t list a contact person, please don’t pester office staff by phoning them for the name of the person in charge of hiring. If you don’t know the name of a specific person, a general Dear Search Committee will suffice.

Starting the body of your cover letter is easy: State the title of the job you are applying for and where you saw the position advertised. For the rest of the letter’s content the most important thing is, like writing resumes, to tailor your cover letter for each position. Writing to say you are interested in the position won’t suffice. You must show that you read the entire job ad and that you meet all the requirements it listed. If a job ad lists four qualifications, make sure your cover letter addresses all four.

Always include specific examples. Who would you bring in for an interview? The candidate who says, “I have students use a variety of online resources in my classroom” or one who explains, “For their final project students worked together to design a Visit Canada website with links to their own power point presentations, popular Canadian tourist destinations, and a virtual tour of Niagara Falls.”

Applicants must also make sure to give specific reasons why they want to work at a school and not just state how they are the apotheosis of language teaching. Explaining why you want to work at the school allows you to demonstrate that you’ve done some background research and that you aren’t just applying to every advertised job. This ensures you look better in the eyes of hiring managers who get shocked and appalled annually with how little many applicants know about their schools and students.

When applying for jobs by email you should put your cover letter in the body of the email as well as send it as an attachment. Some employers will print out a copy to attach with your resume and a properly formatted Microsoft Word document always looks better than a printed email. With any luck, the hiring manager will read your cover letter twice.

Finally, proofread your cover letter, proofread it again, and then have a friend proofread it.