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So, how many of you love applying for jobs?  Combing through hundreds of job posts, finding ones you like, and trying to make yourself sound like the perfect fit?

That’s what I thought. Probably zero.

Now, how many of you have adult English students who need the skills to get work in their industry as newcomers or immigrants to your country? I’ll bet they could use some help as well. Well, today’s post is a short explanation of my favourite way to set up cover letters (or covering letters if you happen to prefer British English!)

Applying for a job can be such a headache, can’t it?  Actually, sometimes applying for job after job can seem so monotonous that you wonder if you’re even customizing at all.  Sound familiar? Don’t worry! I’m here to help.

What Is A Cover Letter?

So, a cover letter (or, covering letter) is simply a short, one page letter that explains why you are the best candidate for the job, and why you’d like to work for the company. Now, isn’t that what my killer resume is for, you ask?   Of course, you need that too, and you can check out some of my top tips on resume (CV) writing.     

However, the cover letter is the first chance you have to make a great impression, so be sure to do it right! Today, I’m going to share a method I learned way back in business school. In fact, I was part of the “co-op” program (a program where you worked at companies in between semesters of school). Not only was it great pay for a student, but we had the opportunity to attend many career seminars and workshops that have been so useful in helping my students apply for jobs.

The Hook

Now, what’s a hook, you ask? Remember that the hiring manager is only going to take a minute or two to read your cover letter, so that first sentence better not be boring!  This Forbes article by a hiring manager reiterates that your opening line must be great!

For example, you could use a brief personal statement about why you are so interested in the career, job, or company you are applying to. Remember that you need to stand out – so be sure it’s interesting! Have an honest, reliable, friend read it over, too.

The STAR Method


Star Method Cover Letters

So, here’s what the star method entails.  It’s four simple steps for constructing each “example” paragraph of your cover letter.

Before you do this though, be sure you have a short, concise introductory paragraph that explains why you are an excellent match to the job in question (see the section above!).

Remember, employers don’t only care about your “hard” skills  (those they can train you for on the job). Actually, soft skills are much more important in my opinion.  People want to work with good people, so show them that you have characteristics they want – like team building, leadership, and initiative.

The STAR Method is a quick mnemonic to check if your example paragraphs are on track. I’m going to use an example that has worked for me in the past, when applying to a marketing job at a large company.

I managed major sponsorship accounts and ensured promotional activities aligned with our brand strategy. In addition,

I coordinated and lead promotional incentive trip programs to reward sales managers for high sales. I also created marketing documents to promote sales team participation for sales rallies and events.


What is the context of your example? Briefly show the problem that exists in a situation you faced. Try to use examples that may also occur at the type of job you are applying to. Problem solving skills are valuable!

E.g.  While working as Position Name Here at Company X, 


Within this context, what task were you assigned? Be brief here

E.g. our team  needed to ensure promotional activities aligned with our brand strategy 


Next, what action did you take to solve the problem? Be specific!  Show that you took initiative

E.g. I coordinated and lead promotional incentive trip programs to reward sales managers for high sales. I also created marketing documents to promote sales team participation for sales rallies and events.


E.g. This resulted in successful corporate events attended by our sales dealers, staff and clients, and increased attendance rates over the previous year.

Remember to end your cover letter on a strong note, too!  There is no need to reiterate your contact information (they have it already). Simply state why you’d like to work for them and reiterate your enthusiasm.


Cover Letter Editing Tips (for ESL Students, too!)

Of course, writing in your second language is always tougher than your native tongue. So, how can you (and your students) be sure you’ve got everything on track? Here are my top 4 tips for editing before you send:

1.  Ensure there are NO spelling or grammatical errors.   – In fact, this goes for native speakers, too.  A mistake on paper looks sloppy, especially since it could have easily been corrected beforehand.

2.  Have a native speaker or English teacher read it over, every time.   Even if you’re a native speaker yourself, be sure to have at least one other person edit your letter. In fact, I do this myself for any letter I feel is important to my future.

3.   Start EARLY.    So, I know that procrastination and time pressure can help get the job done, BUT, in this case I’d start early. In fact, I attribute some of my successful application letter to the University of Oxford to FIVE of my good friends. Over the course of two weeks, they helped me revise and edit, edit, edit!

4. Always print a copy before you send it – Why? Well, printers simply don’t always portray writing as nicely as the screen does! Usually, the reader is going to print it out. So, to double check your alignment, margins, and how it looks on the page, print it!


Do you have more cover letter tips that have worked for you, or your English students? Have questions about cover letters? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!


Happy Teaching!




P.S. Photography fans, the photo for today’s post is one I took in Bordeaux, France in the summer of 2015.

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