Business Letter Writing - Application For Position

( Originally Published 1918 )

Stationery. Very often, about the first business letter a young man writes is one applying for a position. It is his first attempt to break into the game of business, and there are certain rules of the game that he should know and observe. The first is the kind of stationery he should use.

Usually one of the most disagreeable tasks a business man has to do is to wade through a mass of answers to his advertisement for help wanted. The letters are all too frequently written on what appears to be a scrap of paper, a sheet from some available pad or even a post card under a one cent stamp. As the stationery of a business house oft proclaims the character of the house itself, so the first impressions gained by a business man from the kind of stationery used by an applicant, stamp the applicant as either possibly desirable or positively not to be considered.

Therefore in answering advertisements for a position, or in making application where there has been no advertisement, use neat note paper or a sheet of plain letter paper of the regular size of 8% by 11 inches.

Form of the Letter. Observe the arrangement as already noted, beginning the date line about an inch and a half from the top, and placing there the name of the city and state and the date. It is bet-ter not to give the address to which a reply should be sent at the top, but to let it follow the name at the bottom, as the person receiving the letter 'does not have to look to some other part of the sheet to find out where to address such reply.

If the letter is in response to a blind or "keyed" advertisement in care of the newspaper, the salutation shoud be "X Y 345, Chicago Tribune :" without "Dear sir :" or "Gentlemen:", following with the body of the letter beginning on the next line below, and with about a half-inch paragraph indentation.

If the letter is to a firm whose name and ad-dress are given, then both should be given in the salutation followed by "Gentlemen" and the body of the letter as in the former case.

Where the applicant is a young person and the position is a clerical one, where the quality of penmanship. may play an important part, the letter of application should always be in the hand-writing of the applicant. In fact, most advertisements for clerical assistance specify that the reply shall be in the applicant's own handwriting. Where an older person is applying and for a more responsible position, such as an executive or managerial position or as a salesman, where penmanship does not so largely enter into the qualifications, the letter might more properly be type-written, especially as letters in application for such positions generally call for recitals at some length of the applicant's business experience covering a number of years. Where typewritten, the same formation should be followed as where writ-ten in the handwriting of the applicant.

The complimentary closing may either be "Respectfully yours" or "Very truly yours" as may be preferred, followed, on the line below, with the name, always written by pen and never type-written. Below the signature should be the ad-dress f the applicant or that where the reply is to be sent.

Body of the Letter. Remember that the letter applying for a position is essentially a sales letter, as the writer is trying to sell his services. He must remember that the concern having the position to be filled is concerned in him only as he can be profitably used in their business. Business men like facts clearly, concisely and orderly stated. They care very little for anything else. They want to be able to form a mental picture of the applicant and prefer to see that picture as of an aggressive, eager and alert individual, with a determination to forge ahead, and not 'one who is uncertain of his next step and who would not dare to make a move unless it were all diagramed and mapped out for him. The business man of today is looking for those with courage and de-termination and who are not afraid to do things on their own initiative. They would rather have an employee who dared to go ahead and do things, even if a mistake were made now and then, than one who hesitated and hung back when some decision had to be made and waited for definite instructions.

So, in letters applying for a position, let them show aggressiveness, but not to the extent of appearing too bold, and self-confident, but not to the extent of appearing conceited, coupled with a desire to take up the kind of work indicated.

Follow Requirements of Advertisement.-Most advertisements for help wanted, irrespective f the kind of a position to be filled, call for the applicant to state certain things in his reply. These should be complied with most rigidly. To fail to observe these requirements is most generally to consign one's letter to the waste basket without the slightest consideration. If one applying for a position will not comply with a prospective employer's directions as to what shall be stated in the application, what assurance can be given, that if he be employed, he would subsequently be governed or controlled by other directions or instructions.

A prominent Chicago business man, at the head of a leading corporation, recently advertised for an executive to fill a very responsible position. In the advertisement the applicants were directed to state their education fully, and to give in chronological order, their business experience from the close f their scholastic period down to the present time, their nationality, religious affiliations, if any, whether married or single and whether they owned their own home or not. There were over two hundred and fifty replies received, and out of the entire number less than twenty complied with the directions contained in the advertisement, and the selection was made from that number, all of the other replies going direct to the waste basket. The replies were first sorted by a clerk who threw out all that did not comply with the requirements, so that only those who did comply even had their letters reach the man who had the decision. This illustration is given to show the absolute importance f observing every requirement stated in an advertisement. Business today is organized on army lines very largely. Orders are issued and they are to be obeyed; instructions must be followed. Discipline has its place in business and those who are not willing to submit to it, may find their place on the outside.

Reference to Salary. If the advertisement that is to be answered calls for a statement as to salary expected or required, comply. Such a requirement often places the applicant in an embarrassing position. He wants the position, badly, but he does not know how much the advertiser will pay nor what figures may be named by some of the others who will answer the same advertisement. Hence he is tempted to name a figure much lower than he would like to, and lower often than he knows his services would justify. In such cases it is well to make some inquiries as to what is being paid for the kind of a position advertised, while those who are skilled in given lines of work know, within narrow limits, what another position would be apt to pay.

A young man from the country went to New York City to seek employment. He read an advertisement for help wanted that he knew he could fill, but it required the applicant to state the salary wanted. He did not know what sum he should ask, so he covered it this way :

"As to salary, naturally I want what I am worth to you. Neither of us knows what that is. But I know I can do the work required. I find lunches, car fare, etc., with $20 per week. I am willing to work for you at that figure until you can determine my real value. If I am worth more, pay me more. If I am not worth any more, tell me so and I'll resign."

That young man landed the position and in a few years held the highest salaried position with the house.

If the advertisement does not refer to salary, it is better to make no mention of a fixed amount, but refer to it in some such way as this:

"As to salary, that can be taken up at such time as I may be accorded an interview."

Stating Previous Experience. Whether the advertisement calls for it or not, all letters applying for a position should state the previous experience of the applicant. If one wanted to buy a machine to do a certain work, he would most certainly want to know all about the specifications, how the machine was built, its strength, its speed, its peculiar advantages, and as convincing as anything else, what those in similar lines who had used it, had to say about it.

So in applying for a position, bear in mind that you are selling service; that the employer wants to know all about the specifications of the new employe. If you have worked for others, so state, and give the kind of business, the work performed and the length of time employed.

Coupled with that, show that you are more or less familiar with the kind of work required to be done in the advertised position, as the case may be, and are desirous doing that very thing and doing it well.

References. If you have been given references by any of your former employers or others who vouch for your character and ability, keep them. Do not send them with your letter of application. Either they will be lost or not re-turned, or if you are not employed or even inter-viewed, it makes necessary their return. Da not place that burden upon a prospective employer. It is enough to state that those for whom you have worked, and who have been named in your letter, may be freely consulted as to your character and ability, or that you have such references and will be pleased to submit same should you be accorded an interview.

Telephone Address. With the telephone in so many homes, it simplifies prompt communication. If you have a phone at home, or are at an address where there is one, give the number, and state that you may be reached there and will gladly keep any appointment that may be made for you. When positions are vacant that means that work is piling up and the orderly conduct of affairs is more or less interrupted, anything that will shorten the vacancy is desirable. As between two applicants of equal qualifications, where one gives a telephone number and the other only a mail address, it is safe to say that the one who can be quickly reached by phone will be the first one to be interviewed, and if that interview is satisfactory, the position may be considered filled and the one with the mail address has suffered. The telephone is a necessary adjunct of modern business. Therefore use it in making it possible for a prospective employer to reach you quickly.

Specimen Letters of Application

Letters to "Keyed" Advertisements. In response to blind or "keyed" advertisements, the following may be taken as a type:

April 19, 1921. X Y 345, Chicago Tribune :

I apply for the position of city salesman to call on the retail grocery trade as advertised in the Chicago Tribune of today's date.

I am 32 years of age, married, and have had the following sales experience calling upon the retail grocery trade:

For 5 years I was city salesman for one of the large St. Louis wholesale grocery houses.

Coming to Chicago, I introduced a now well-known breakfast cereal to the retail grocery trade here.

Since then I have sold a prominent line of canned meats, while for the past 3 years have been and still am employed as city salesman by the Jones-Burdett Grocery Company.

My standing with the trade is such that I am in a position to produce satisfactory results with any meritorious article in the grocery line, and the concerns by whom I have been employed may be freely consulted as to my record with them.

I may be reached by phone at Central 543 or by mail at my residence, and will keep such appointment as you may care to make.

1635 N. Harmony Avenue, Chicago, Ill.

Notes-(1) The address of the applicant, instead of being at the top above the date line, is at the close of the letter following the signature, and the telephone number in the paragraph just above. This grouping of name, ad-dress and telephone number instead of scattering, is a convenience that will be appreciated by the person reading the replies and arranging for the interviews.

(2) No salutation of "Gentlemen: is required, although it would not be out of place to include it.

(3) The letter begins with a straightforward statement that the writer applies for the position. That is what he does, and it should be so stated, simply.

(4) The next statement in order is the age of the applicant and whether he is married or single. Nothing is to be gained by concealing what may be a material fact. Many concerns prefer married men for local positions, while on the other hand, they prefer single men for traveling. If the position involves travel, and the applicant is married, it would be well to state that being married will not interfere with such traveling as may be required.

(5) There should be a clear, concise statement of previous employment, showing how past experience has given the necessary qualifications for the duties to be performed.

(6) The statement that the applicant is confident of producing satisfactory results is the logical conclusion from the detailed experience. Doubt or uncertainty will never lead to employment.

(7) Offer the fullest inquiry of former employers as to previous business record wherever possible. If any former employment has been terminated by action of the house, be ready to give a frank account of it at the interview that may be accorded. Don't send testimonials with the letter. Business men hold them of relatively small value, and prefer to make their own inquiries.

(8) Give a phone number wherever feasible. Place yourself at the advertiser's call for purposes of an interview.

(9) In response to a "keyed" advertisement, no complimentary closing, as "Respectfully yours," is necessary. Like the salutation, it is not out of place to use it if one prefers.

Letters to Open Advertisements. Where the name and address of the advertiser are given the letter of application need embody only the following changes :

(1) The name, address and salutation should be in the following form:

123 W. Ohio Street,
Chicago, Ill.


(2) One of the various forms of complimentary closing should be used, as "Respectfully yours," "Very truly yours," or "Yours truly."

(3) It is considered better form not to use any hackneyed phrase such as "Trusting that my application will receive your careful attention" at the close of the letter and just preceding the complimentary close. It is entirely superfluous. Of course, you trust your application will receive careful attention and result in your employment. That's why you answered the advertisement. Such a statement adds nothing to the letter. but rather weakens it. Give the advertiser all the facts that will enable him to determine whether you are the person best qualified for the position and then stop.

Where Advised of Vacancy. A very large number of positions are filled without the em ployer ever advertising. In fact, most employers prefer to engage one who has been personally recommended than to go through the mass of correspondence and spend the time incident to advertising, not to mention the loss of time the most important factor in the case in many instances.

Usually some one connected with the house advises a friend or acquaintance of the vacancy and suggests an application. The letter should open substantially as follows :

May 15, 19...
Townsend Manufacturing Co.,
Decatur, Ill.

Attention: Mr. J. H. Townsend. Gentlemen :

Your Mr. Williams has advised me that you will have a vacancy in your accounting department June 1, and suggested that I make application for the position, which I hereby do.

I understand you require the services of an accountant experienced in cost work covering all the processes of your manufacturing and who is able to install all necessary systems to bring and keep your records in a high degree of completeness.

I am a graduate C. P. A., and my experience has covered 14 years, all of it with large manufacturing concerns, among them Burbank & Co., Johnson & Smith, and for the past 5 years I have been in charge of the accounting department f The Webster Manufacturing Co. of St. Louis. For them I had charge of all the auditing and accountant work connected with their recent re-organization.

I am thoroughly familiar with Income Tax matters, having had charge of that work in my present position, while serving other concerns in an advisory capacity.

I am married, 35 years of age and in a position to come to Decatur with my family.

I am assuming that the salary will be commensurate with the importance of the work and its volume.


I can meet you either in Decatur or Chicago for an interview at your convenience.

Very truly yours,

Ralph W. Farnsworth,
6135 Homecrest Avenue,
Chicago, Ill.

Notes—(1) There is no indentation from the margin for the city and state in the address. This form is preferred by business men as well as stenographers as it makes for speed in transcribing notes.

(2) The letter is addressed for the attention of a particular person, this form being used in all such cases. Many concerns state on their stationery that all communications should be addressed to the company and not to individuals. When a particular person is to be reached follow the above form. The same applies to different departments of a company or to invoice or file numbers as ready reference. It helps the mail clerk to make a prompt and accurate sorting of the mail.

(3) The letter states the source of information as to the coming vacancy, thus explaining the application.

(4) The applicant shows familiarity with the requirements of the position, and then

(5) Proceeds to enumerate his qualifications, both by training and actual experience, furnishing the names of the concerns by whom he has been employed and in the last instance, the character of the special work involved.

(6) He shows that he understands the very close connection between accountancy and Income Tax work and gives his experience in that regard.

(7) The company being in another city, he states he is in a position to come to that city with his family.

(8) He dismisses the question of salary by an assumption that it will be adequate to the importance of the position, thus leaving that open for future consideration.

(9) He simplifies the desired interview by stating he will come to the company's offices if that be more convenient. He does NOT intimate that he wants his expenses paid. He knows that in all probability any such reference would eliminate him from consideration. The question of payment of traveling expenses is a matter to be brought up by the prospective employer, and usually is, where one is asked to keep such an appointment in another city.

(10) The closing is dignified, without expressing any well-understood hopes as to the result.

Where Applicant Is Without Experience. Everything is new to everybody at some period in their career. Every employer knows and understands this. Many prefer to take those without previous experience and train them in the work. It is held that such have no methods to change or viewpoints to modify, but more readily adopt the methods and practices of the house than others who have to abandon former methods.

Therefore lack of experience should not deter one from applying for a position, provided the work is of a kind to which can be given the best that is in one.

In the letter of application for such a position it should be frankly stated that the applicant is without experience in that particular line, but should show such a foundation in education or other work as to lead an employer to recognize adaptability for position.

Take the case f a high school graduate seeking a position as bookkeeper as an illustration. His letter might properly be as follows:

June 5, 19...

Mr. James Harris, 78 E. Main St.,
Evansville, Ind.

Dear Sir:

I am desirous of obtaining the position of book-keeper in your store as advertised in tonight's Evening Dispatch.

I am just completing the Commerce Course in the Evansville High School, which includes, as you probably know, a very thorough training in bookkeeping and the elementary branches of accountancy. I am glad to say that I have stood among the first three in my classes the entire course.

While I have had no actual business experience in bookkeeping, I have worked during vacations in my uncle's store on Front Street, taking charge of his books while his bookkeeper was on his vacation, and had no trouble in carrying on the work satisfactorily. He conducts the Evansville branch of the Agricultural Implement Company.

In addition, I am taking a correspondence course in accountancy and am desirous of becoming a certified public accountant.

I believe I could do your work satisfactorily and am anxious to be given an opportunity to make good.

I can bring you a letter from Mr. Freeman, our principal, as to my work at school, and my uncle, Mr. Fred Bronson, will be glad to tell you about my work for him.

I can start work at any time.

Very truly yours,

Howard Bronson,
585 Second Street,
Evansville, Ind.

Notes—(1) This letter should be in the handwriting of the applicant. In bookkeeping it is important to write a clear, legible hand and make plain figures.

(2) The opening paragraph contains a dignified, yet earnest desire for the opportunity to obtain a business start. It is, if anything, stronger than the mere statement that he applies for the position.

(3) He shows that his school work has teen along the lines that would fit him for the position, and gives his high standing in his classes as evidence of his application to what he has to do.

(4) While he states that he has had no actual business experience in bookkeeping, yet he shows that he has been able to maintain a set of books during a bookkeeper's vacation.

(5) His reference to the course in accountancy shows that he is not willing to let his education rest solely on his school work, but has a definite aim in life and is applying himself to its attainment.

(6) There is also the confidence in his ability as the result of his training and an expressed desire to be given the chance to "make good" which always strikes a responsive chord with any business man who remembers the day when he made his start.

(7) He offers substantiation of his statements by reference to his Principal and his Uncle, and adds that he is ready to start work at any time. He wants the position, even if he must withdraw before graduation, as evidenced by the date of his letter.

(8) The letter is not too long. To omit any part would make the information needed by his prospective employer incomplete. Always state enough to enable another to form a clear opinion of fitness from the letter itself.

Inquiries and References

Inquiries of Former Employers. More and more business men are looking up the records of all applicants for positions. It is felt that the hazard is too great to take into one's business family a new member without knowing all there is to know about his past record. That is why it is so essential that the applicant shall afford full opportunity for such inquiry. Even if the inquiry be not made, the offer of the sources of information frequently passes as indicating that there is nothing to conceal nothing that could come out to the detriment of the applicant.

Form of Inquiry. Among the larger employers of labor a printed form is used, listing all f the questions to be answered, with space on which to write them. In many cases this form is on the reverse side of the form letter which is generally used, depending, of course, upon the position sought to be filled. If the inquiry is regarding one in an important executive or sales position, the printed form is dispensed with and a special letter of inquiry written to meet the requirements of the case. Where the printed form is not used the following is the usual form :

[Firm Letter Head]

May 23, 192...

Jones Manufacturing Co.,
Peoria, Ill.

Attention: Mr. W. P. Jones. Gentlemen:

Mr. Willis H. Freeman has applied to us for the position of Superintendent of our machine shop.

He states that he held a similar position with you covering a period of four years, ending on December 31st last.

Will you be good enough to advise us in confidence as to the character f his services, his efficiency, his personal habits and any other facts that will enable us to intelligently pass upon his application.

If we can reciprocate at any time, command us. Stamped and addressed return envelope is enclosed.

Very truly yours,

Brown Machine Works,
J. H. Meyers, Gen'l Mgr.

He was Superintendent of our machine shop for a little more than four years, in full charge of both men and production.

We found him particularly successful in his handling of his men, being well liked by them, and at the same time requiring of them and securing an honest day's work a difficult thing to accomplish during the past few years. This was no doubt made possible because he is an expert machinist himself, capable of doing any man's work in the shop and doing it better.

He was very efficient in getting the work through the shop without clogging any department.

He showed his ability in the installation of the new equipment which he made in our new addition which we completed some two years ago.

His personal habits are excellent; his honesty and truthfulness beyond question.

We regret his departure, caused by the death of his father in your city, and his removal there in order to care for his mother. He should make you a most valuable Superintendent.

Very truly yours,

Jones Manufacturing Co.,
W. P. Jones, Vice Pres.

Notes—(1) A comparison of the two letters shows clearly the difference in the contents. The open letter is general in its terms, while the personal letter is specific, giving the facts necessary to pass upon an application for a more or less technical position.

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