Advice for IELTS General Training Task One Letters: Writing a job application letter.

February 4, 2019 by Angela Rutherford Angela Rutherford

If you are writing the IELTS general training exam, chances are that you have or had a job in your home country and you now want to continue working in an English speaking country like Canada. How exciting!

As such, you’ve probably been using your English skills in your work environment to some degree, and that is going to come in handy on the speaking and writing sections of the test.

In fact, the speaking exam very often begins with questions directly related to your occupation, and the first writing task (a 150-word letter) is frequently some kind of business letter.

So, if you are reading this, you are in the right place because preparing for this subject is a good use of your time.

With that in mind, I have chosen to look at some key strategies for writing a job application letter, but you can apply most of what you will find here to any letter task. That’s because the basic principles and processes are the same - including how to:

  1. understand the task
  2. choose and use the correct tone
  3. organize your ideas into paragraphs
  4. support your ideas with relevant details

HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND THE TASK?

The most important thing to do before you begin writing your letter is to make sure you know what you are being asked to do, so let’s spend a little time looking at how.

It’s recommended that you use 20 minutes to write this letter because you will need the rest of the writing time to complete the essay assignment. Using a few of those minutes to read the question CAREFULLY is imperative and will pay off in the end. Miss one detail and you can drop your score.

Take this task as an example:

You worked part time for a company in the past and now see an advertisement for full time  work at the same company. You want to apply for the job.

Write a letter to the hiring manager. In your letter

Describe the part-time work you did
Explain why you want the full-time work
Tell him/her why you think you will be good at the job

Begin your letter as follows:

Dear Sir or Madam,


What is the situation here?


It looks like you once worked for this company but only part-time. You stopped working for them for some reason. Now they are looking for a full-time employee, and you want to apply for the job.

Let’s think about that for a minute. Can you imagine, more specifically, when this might happen in the real world?

Perhaps you were studying how to cook and occasionally worked at a restaurant but had to stop to focus on your studies. Now that you have graduated, you want a full-time position in this company because it’s a great place to develop your career path as a chef.

A different approach might be that you were a stay at home parent who was, at one time, working part-time as a teacher at a school and now that your youngest child is ready for daycare, you are able to take on more work.

Pausing for a moment to build logical background stories like these will make writing the rest of the letter easier.

Now notice that the task specifically asks you to do three things:

1. Describe what part-time work you did with the company before.
2. Explain why you want the full-time work at this company now.
3. Convince him/her that you are the best person for the job.

I have added the highlighted words to help you see how the situation informs these requirements. By putting yourself into a good story, you can better interpret the bullet points and easily create details that more than satisfy the requirements of the task.

Read and understand the situation carefully then imagine a good back story that will work with it. Use that story to interpret each of the bullet points in the task.


IS THIS A FORMAL OR AN INFORMAL LETTER?

Look at how you are supposed to address the receiver or think about your relationship with the person receiving the letter.

In this example, you're given the opening “Dear Sir or Madam” which implies you do not know the name of the manager. Therefore, it's a given that this letter will be formal.

If the assignment suggested you begin, “Dear . . . “, you could use Mr./Miss/Mrs./Ms Smith because you are not friends with the recipient. If you are not very familiar or friendly with the person, the letter is formal.

In a formal letter, you keep to the point, do not use contractions (can’t, don’t, won’t) or casual language and sign the letter “Yours Faithfully” followed by your full name.

Decide on the correct tone to use in the letter and know how to create it. Look HERE if you need to review how.

HOW MANY PARAGRAPHS SHOULD THIS LETTER BE?


The simple answer is as few as 5: A short one to begin. three longer ones in the middle and another short one to end.

For example:

Dear Sir or Madam:
Paragraph One begins:

My name is John Wilson and I am writing to express my interest in the position of assistant chef . . .

Paragraph Two begins:

In my previous part-time work at your restaurant, I gained some great experience . . .

Paragraph Three begins:

The reason why I am interested in this full-time position now is . . .

Paragraph Four begins:

I believe that I am an excellent candidate for two good reasons . . .

Paragraph Five begins:

Should you require further information, do not hesitate to contact me. Please find my CV attached.

Yours Faithfully,

John Wilson  

Notice how each of the three longer body paragraphs begin with a sentence that directly relates back to the bullets in the task. This is a great way to remind yourself what details to include in that paragraph. It will also make your letter easier to follow.

Also note that you do not have to limit yourself to one paragraph for each bullet point. if you have a lot to say about each or one of the 3 bullets. You can divide supporting details into separate paragraphs as long as you clearly indicate (using connecting words and/or indenting the next paragraph) when you have moved to the next detail or next main bullet point.

Include an opening and closing paragraph and then devote at least one paragraph to each bullet point from the assignment.

Clearly indicate the topic of each body paragraph (the first sentence is a logical place to do this).

HOW DO YOU SUPPORT AND EXTEND YOUR IDEAS?


Having a good back story makes it easier to elaborate. Let’s work with the “teacher” story outlined above.

The ultimate purpose of this letter is to GET THE JOB. Therefore, you should keep that in mind when choosing details to include in each bullet and come up with ideas to support that objective.

Previous PT work

• Ran after school tutoring club: tutored one-on-one a variety of students in math and science

• Designed individual study plans: regular meetings with teachers and students, writing and executing plans

Why FT now?

• Ready to return to work after taking time to be with family: Youngest child ready to go to school now.

• Just completed an additional qualification: Can now teach ESL as well as sciences and eager to use new skills.

Why best candidate?

• Know the school, the teachers and the curriculum: Previous part-time work means I am very familiar with the working environment.

• Have a proven success record: Attendance at the tutoring club grew when I was there, and teachers reported students improved their academics with my help.

Be careful to extend your answers. Look at the difference:

In my previous part-time work at your school I ran the after school tutoring club and wrote individual study plans. These were good experiences.

VS.

In my previous part-time work at your school I ran the after school tutoring club where I worked one-on-one with a variety of students struggling in math or science. I also designed individual study plans with the help of classroom teachers. We had regular meetings to collaborate on developing programs to help students overcome their personal challenges. These experiences helped me grow to understand the difficulties that some students have and to learn how to help them overcome these struggles.

If you have a good back story, you can easily address each of the bullets by adding ideas that fit and details that are relevant.

Be sure to extend your ideas keeping in mind the big picture or purpose of the letter.

If you take the time to clearly understand a job application letter writing task, choose and use the correct tone, clearly organize, develop and extend your ideas with relevant examples, you will be well on your way to getting the score you need and perhaps that job you’ve been hoping for. Good luck and have fun.



Angela Rutherford

Angela Rutherford is an experienced English teacher and exam preparation coach who lives and works in Toronto, Canada. After a career teaching in Ontario public and international private schools, she established her own tutoring business and enjoys working exclusively with IELTS candidates who want to do their best on the exam.

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