All About Applications

Once you have identified a potential employer or position that appeals to you, you need to focus on writing an application that highlights your skills and experiences and ultimately markets you as a legitimate candidate for the job.

Job applications are crucial in the selection process of all organisations, as they allow comparisons to be made between candidates. Whether applying for volunteer, vacation or graduate positions, the quality of your job application is critical.

An application is usually the first point of contact between you and the potential employer, so it’s essential you get it right – it’s a strategic marketing tool that, if of a high standard, will maximise your chance of being selected for an interview.

Elements of job applications

Job applications usually consist of some or all of the following:

  • cover letter
  • résumé
  • reference list or referees
  • statement addressing the selection criteria outlined in the job description.

Some organisations also require you to complete an application form.

Treat each application individually; it should be professional in both presentation and tone and personalised to the specific role. Countless candidates have quickly eliminated themselves for simple mistakes such as poor grammar, addressing letters to the wrong company or spelling names incorrectly. Be alert – in times of high competition, employers use many means to trim and cull the pool of applicants.

Online applications

Online applications are now very common. You can often upload your cover letter, résumé and other documents. Online applications must often be completed in one sitting – you may not have the option to save and return to it later. Be prepared with all your documentation and ensure you have plenty of time to complete and check the application. If possible, print a hard copy of the form and write a draft before completing the final copy online. Some online forms allow applicants to go back to previous fields and change information throughout the process.

Cover letters

A successful job application begins with your cover letter. This is a formal business letter addressed professionally to an individual or company that briefly introduces yourself and addresses the key skills listed in the advertisement, demonstrating that you have gained these through your various work, study and voluntary experiences.

Cover letters should:

  • be written individually for each application
  • be no longer than one page
  • use a formal business letter format
  • provide your address and contact details followed by the employer’s details
  • use an appropriate salutation (e.g. Dear Mr Smith). 

Résumé/Curriculum vitae (CV)

A résumé or CV is a summary document of your key skills attained through your education, relevant work experience (including full or part time, casual or voluntary), professional development and leisure activities. You may use a standard set of information for each résumé, but it should be targeted to a specific position description, highlighting skills, competencies and attributes relevant to that job.

A résumé should:

  • contain concise, dynamic content
  • be tailored to show you have the experience to match key skills required
  • utilise bullets and headings to keep information organised, pointed and punchy
  • feature a clear, professional font
  • be no longer than three pages. 

Résumés are usually presented in chronological or functional formats (or a combination of the two).

  • A chronological résumé presents key information under a series of headings commencing with contact details, education and skills. Dates are prominent, with the most recent event listed first. It’s important to highlight relevant industry experience.
  • A functional or skills-based résumé focuses on skills rather than a sequential career history. This may be preferred if you have long gaps in your employment history. Work experience can be organised under job or work headings (e.g. project administration or hospitality) rather than by dates. This avoids repetition of job duties while highlighting your skills.

A résumé should always include: 

  • your name
  • your address and contact details
  • your educational history (tertiary-focused)
  • any educational awards, GPA, training or research
  • relevant experience to the job
  • skills acquired
  • extracurricular activities and interests.

 You don’t need to include personal details such as date of birth or marital status.

Most important aspects of a CV/résumé according to graduate employers
  1. Employment history
  2. Academic achievements (results/qualifications)
  3. Summary of key skills and personal attributes

(Source: Graduate Outlook Survey, 2009 GCA.)

Application tips 

  • Always check your résumé for grammar and spelling.
  • Seek the assistance of your university career service. Staff can help refine your application to ensure you don’t repeat information, exaggerate qualities or undersell skills.
  • If you send a hard copy, print in high quality and post it in an A4 envelope.
  • Some applicants follow up their application with a phone call to demonstrate their enthusiasm.
  • As part of the screening process, résumés and cover letters are often scanned for key words from the selection criteria. Applications that contain these terms are more likely to proceed.

Selection criteria

Employers use selection criteria to quickly and effectively shortlist candidates according to the specific needs of the job. Applicants are rated on how closely they meet key criteria. Criteria vary between jobs, but key employability skills, such as communication abilities and teamwork, apply for most graduate positions. These are generally included in the job description.

Your statement addressing selection criteria should be presented in a separate document attached to your application. Address all items in the selection criteria and provide individual responses for each. The key is to demonstrate what skills you have and where you gained them. Don’t exaggerate, as you may have to discuss these further in an interview.


A reference list contains names and contact details of professional acquaintances (such as former employers or supervisors, volunteer coordinators, professors, coaches, etc.) who can provide an employer with background information on an applicant and attest to their character, personality and attributes.

Before adding a contact to your reference list, confirm your reference is willing to participate and inform them of any applications you are submitting.

A reference list should include:

  • two or preferably three referees
  • name, position title, company and contact information
  • your relationship with the referee.

Reference letters are less preferred at the initial application stage, but they may be supplied as a substitute if the referee is not available for contact. You may be asked to provide reference letters later in the application process.

Don’t be surprised if your referee asks you to write your own reference letter for them to review and sign – while it may seem like they are simply too busy or are avoiding the task, it’s also a reflection of their trust that you will represent yourself in an appropriate manner that also reflects their own views of you!

(Adapted from an article by Yvonne Giltinan, Careers Educator, Department of Student Career Development, Portfolio of Learning for Work and Community, Victoria University, that previously appeared in Graduate Opportunities 2009 and 2010.)