How to Teach Your ESL Students Job Application Skills: The Cover Letter
Identifying the job for which you would like to apply is only the beginning of the job search process, and when that search has to be conducted in a second language, confusion, frustration and discouragement are often the dish of the day. If you are teaching ESL students who plan to conduct a job search in English, walking them through the process step by step will garner them confidence and a sense of calm as they look for gainful employment. If your students have identified a job for which they might like to apply, you should now show them how to get the attention and the interview that they desire. The way to do this is through a cover letter.
How to Teach Your ESL Students Cover Letter Writing
What Is It?
The cover letter goes hand in hand with the resume when a person applies for a job. Since many potential employers will not take the time to read the resume of every applicant, the cover letter can ensure or destroy a person’s opportunity at a job. Therefore, the cover letter is very important and deserves some planning and thought from its writer.
A cover letter is similar to a formal letter. It will still follow the conventions and layout of a business letter. If you have already covered formal letters or business letters with your class, they will know that all sections of the letter should be left aligned. The letter should start with a return address and date and then follow with the addressee and his or her address. Skipping a line, the letter should start with the greeting.
Greeting: Get Positive Attention
The greeting in a cover letter is important. Though many jobs for which your students may apply may not give the name of the contact person, if possible, your students should identify the name of the person to whom the letter will be sent. When a person reads a letter addressed to him specifically, he is more likely to have a positive response than if the letter begins with “to whom it may concern”. Though it may push your students out of their comfort zone or their language abilities, each person should call the company and ask for the name of the person who will be receiving the letter. Make sure your students are certain of the spelling of the name and that they double check the address the letter and resume should be sent to.
Another aspect of getting the proper attention when applying for a job is to make sure the letter has visual appeal, but these standards may differ from one culture to another. For jobs in the U.S. the letter should be spaced well and have one inch margins on every side of the paper. In addition, the page should not be filled with text but should say what it needs to in as little space as possible using 12 point font. If a letter has too much writing on it, the reader may be more inclined to set it aside to read later and then never get back to it.
Because the cover letter is an appetizer to the interview, the writer should start the letter with his main selling point. It is important that this point comes from the needs and desires of the company and not from the desires of the applicant. To make this connection with the company, encourage your students to make this connection by stressing that they value the company’s product, by highlighting their knowledge of the company, or by pointing out that they are familiar with the goals of the company.
If your students still need some direction to determine this main selling point, have each student put himself in the position of the company. What is the company looking for? What need have they expressed in their ad? What are the goals of the company? Have your students make some notes as they think about each of these questions. They may also need to do further research about the company to which they are applying.
Sell Your Skills
With the next part of the cover letter, your students should logically present how their experience and qualifications fulfill the company’s need. The information in this section should be based on the job description that the company wrote. Using the information in the resume as a starting point, have each of your students pick out the most important pieces of information about themselves to bring to the cover letter. Point out that there is no need to rehash what they have already written in the resume but that they should highlight the items that are most likely to generate interest with the employer. Your students may stress courses that they have taken throughout their education, specific job experience that lines up with what the company is looking for, or knowledge that fits with the needs of the company. This section of the cover letter is where your students should paint themselves in the best possible light, for it is this section that will succeed in or fail to capture an interview.
A Call For Action
In the final section of the cover letter, your students should finish with a request for an interview. Encourage your students to start the close of their letters by stating again their interest in the position and then requesting that the reader schedule an interview at his or her convenience. This may cause some ESL students discomfort since some cultures find it in bad taste to express needs so directly. You may want to ask your students how they feel about this and talk about differences in cultural expectations.
Finally, though it may be easier to end with a cliche like “thank you for your time” or “I hope to hear from you soon”, challenge your students to, instead, tailor the ending of the letter to the position for which they are applying. They should then end the letter with a closing and signature as well as a printed name.
In general, the cover letter is an important piece of the job application process.
Encourage your students to reread their letter making sure there are no spelling mistakes (one small mistake could destroy their chances at their dream jobs) and that not every paragraph starts with “I”. In general, the writer should attempt to give the cover letter the same feel as the job for which it is written, so encourage your students to always keep the company’s point of view in mind. Only one step remains in the process of getting a job, and it can be the most difficult one of all!
This article is a part of our ‘How to Teach Your ESL Students Job Application Skills’ series. See other articles from this series here:
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