A good strategy for writing IELTS letters: the job application
Preparing to write or talk about your work skills and experiences is a very good use of your time if you are planning to sit for the IELTS test.
The General Training test includes two writing assignments. One is a 250-word essay and the other is a 150-word letter. The letters will require you to write to someone for a specific purpose and they deal with very common, everyday issues that we all have some experience with.
Here we will look at some key strategies for writing a job application letter, but you can apply most of what you will find here to any IELTS letter task. That’s because, if you want to do well, you need to understand how to:
- choose and use TONE
- address the bullet points completely and logically
- support ideas with relevant details
- organize your ideas into paragraphs
Look at this sample task and think about how you would approach it before you read the advice that follows. You should be asking yourself specific questions before you write.
Formal or informal?
Ask yourself who you are writing to. If you are told to begin a letter with “Dear Sir or Madam” this is a signal to be formal.
Also, you are writing to the hiring manager, not your boss or anyone you know so if you aren’t given “Sir or Madam”, begin with Dear Mr./Miss/Mrs./Ms Smith because you are not friends with the recipient.
In addition, the purpose of the letter is a serious one, so a more serious tone is correct.
To make your letter formal, 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.
What is the situation here?
Looks like you already work for this company, and you now want to work for them in a different location. Why would someone want to move to another country to work? What kind of work could you be doing now that would make you a good candidate to move? What special skills or experience could you have that would make you good for the job?
Pausing for a moment to analyze the task will help you build logical background stories so writing the letter will be easier.
Let’s imagine a couple of scenarios where this could happen:
Perhaps you are a French teacher working in Brussels and your school has many different locations around the world. You would like to travel with your family to work at the school in Korea and gain some valuable cultural experiences. Your husband has family there and you speak Korean as well.
Maybe you work as a product manager with a company and you are very familiar with the product that is launching in this other part of the world. You would also like to travel abroad with your family for the experience and you have all the skills and success stories that would make you the best person to launch the product somewhere else. You also speak the mother tongue of that country or perhaps you are fluent in English which is the business language there.
See how much fun creating the story is?
Now notice that the task specifically asks you to do three things in three bullets:
- Say why you are applying for this international position
- Describe the job you are currently doing for the company that would make you a good choice
- Tell him/her why you think you will be good at the job in another country
I have added the highlighted words to help you see how the situation informs this task’s requirements. By taking the time to come up with a good story, you can better interpret the task and create details that clearly and logically support your points.
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.
Remember that 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.
Why international position?
What about your current job makes you a good candidate?
Why best candidate for the job in that country?
When you write your answers, be sure to give examples that support your ideas. Look at the difference: I am a good candidate for this job because I have a proven success record and my husband is Korean.
I am a good candidate for this job because I have a proven success record with this organization. I have won teacher of the year for the past two years for outstanding curriculum development in the languages department. In addition, my husband is Korean and having family already in Korea will make it easy for my family to adapt so that I can devote myself to the students and the school.
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.
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.
Writing letters can be fun if you take the time to create a logical back story. Imagination makes it easier. Then remember to use the correct tone, extend your points with interesting and relevant examples and organize these into separate paragraphs as indicated above.
Keeping all of this in mind will make it more likely you get the score you need and maybe the job you always wanted.