Applying to jobs can be crazy nerve-wracking. Talk about sweaty palms, amiright?
A job is society’s first official step into ‘adulting,’ so even if you’ve held a job in the past or have taken a crash-course in job interviews, the whole process can still be a nail-biting experience.
I know a few recent grads who are applying to jobs full-time while also trying to get their hands on every succeed-in-the-workplace book, like secret insider knowledge might be their tickets to success.
I’m not arguing that it isn’t, but as a ‘newer’ adult who’s gone through three very different, intense interview processes since graduating college, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve for getting my foot in the door.
The following four ‘application essentials’ are the bare-minimum research I do for an application/job interview if I’m crunched for time. They’ll make your piece of paper stand out from the stack of other résumés.
- Don’t take the easy route.
- Tailor your cover letter.
- Have your elevator pitch ready.
Trust me, I know applying for jobs can be a draining, soul-crushing, time-consuming venture.
That makes it especially tempting to log into LinkedIn or a similar platform and hit “Easy Apply” on a bunch of postings and call it a day.
GET YOUR FINGER OFF THAT BUTTON.
The truth of the matter is you’re trying to stand out in the job market against other professionals. Those who take the easy way out do not stand out.
Chances are your résumé is probably similar to other professionals with your years of experience — what will make you stand out is how you apply yourself to your work, problem-solving, and follow-through.
Model those skills in the application process! Don’t do the ‘easy’ thing, that a hundred other applicants are bound to do. Fill out the full application.
If the company is posting jobs on LinkedIn, Monster, etc., the posting is almost always on the company’s website. Google the company’s name and ‘careers,’ to find that designated page, then follow the application process listed there.
The easy route on any job site like LinkedIn makes it highly likely that tons and tons of applicants will apply, since it’s just the click of a button. A company is much more likely to collect more information on an applicant through their native ‘careers’ page, so you’ll already be a cut above the rest of the slackers!
My humble opinion — cover letters are not optional. Even if the position never even mentions a cover letter. And even if the website only lets you upload one document to their portal.
Your résumé is a nicely skimmable list of your accomplishments, accolades, yadda yadda.
But your future co-workers aren’t going to be working with that list of milestones — they’re going to be socializing and communicating with the person behind them.
Your cover letter is the chance to show your future employer that you’re a real person, with a personality, that can actually add value to their team.
Your cover letter should do exactly that — go into a bit more depth about your past experience, but the most important part of a cover letter is tying that experience to the position for which you’re applying.
Take the position’s list of qualifications, figure out how to draw connections between what you’ve done in the past and why that sets you up for success with these job reqs, and throw some personality into your verbage!
But don’t fluff — make sure every sentence, every word, has a purpose (employers can see through bullsh*t, and they obviously don’t want you bullsh*ting on the job).
Bottom line: every job application requires a cover letter, and every cover letter needs to be different, since every job is different. Save your cover letters so you can use similar experiential evidence if job postings have similar reqs, but always tailor the letter to the new employer/job position.
People love hearing their own words, especially if this application is going through HR (they most likely wrote the job descriptions). When referencing the job’s qualifications, quote the posting.
And they likely created the actual title of the position, so make sure to cross your t’s and dot your i’s: include the job title in your opening line and double-check the exact spelling (hyphens, capitalization, etc. mirrored exactly) and the exact spelling/capitalization of the company’s name. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve saved my application from being thrown in the trash, because I took 2 extra minutes to make sure a company’s official name was one word with camel case, rather than two!
If you’ve got your foot in the door, you’re halfway there! Interviews are often to make sure (1) you didn’t lie about your knowledge/qualifications and (2) that you’re not deranged.
One of the most common ways a job interview kicks off is the dreaded request, “Tell me about yourself.”
It makes sense as an opener, because it’s an easy way into talking about your experiences and asking for a large overarching statement about yourself and, secretly, about why you’re great for the position.
Make sure to have your 30-second answer prepared, using the following checklist:
- Fresh out of school? Include when you graduated, from where, and what you majored in.
- Any applicable positions you held that make you qualified for this job position (including internships, service, or experiential classroom projects)? Use a sentence or two to talk about those experiences, and why you like and want to work in this field.
- Make the connection to the company and position to which you’re applying. Why this company and why this position? Don’t say why you ‘want’ it — instead speak to how you can add value to their team.
Before the interview, practice those answers aloud in one succinct paragraph. Create smooth transitions between each point — it definitely shouldn’t sound like a bulleted list!
Remember, this is likely the interviewer’s first impression of you, disregarding any small talk you had before the interview actually started. You want to come off cool, collected, and prepared.
You are the expert on yourself, plain and simple. So speak to that! Sit tall and speak confidently to why you’re great for this job.
Do your salary research ahead of time.
If you’re applying for a salaried job, be prepared to discuss numbers.
Very rarely does an interviewer bring up salary in the first interview, but it does happen.
First off, if the salary range is listed in the job posting, make note of that.
Job interviews usually begin once job postings close (and are taken down from job websites). When you’re applying to a job, save a PDF of the job posting in your files along with the cover letter for that job. That way, if they reach out to you for an interview after the posting has been taken down, you still have the reqs, official job title, and the listed salary handy to prepare for the interview.
There might be some wiggle room in a posted salary, but do your due diligence in research and don’t assume anything. The cost of living varies widely across the globe, and that affects salaries — so make sure you’re doing your research specific to the job’s location.
The lovely interwebs have a crazy amount of “salary” information. Take to Google and include the position’s job title + “salary” and “[your city, state]”. Your job title might be vastly different from what other companies call similar positions, so make note of any job titles that keep popping up that might be equivalent.
This search should tell you a few things: (1) the median salary for that position in your area and (2) the salary range in your area.
If a salary was posted with the job, compare. Are you overly qualified for the posting? Or are one or two responsibilities out of your current purview and will require some extra time learning the ropes? Take those questions into consideration in your comparison.
If no salary was posted, consider your professional experience, any extra years of schooling, and your value-add to the company to determine what you should ‘ask’ for, given the chance.
If asking for the higher end of or above your area’s range, make sure you have your justifications ready.
Bottom line: don’t be the one to bring up salary in the interviewing process. Granted, if you get to the end and they say, ‘you’re hired!’ please bring it up then!
By letting them take the lead on bringing up what can be a delicate topic, you stay away from (1) looking like you’re only interested in a paycheck and (2) making any false assumptions. If the interviewer brings it up, that person has more freedom to offer any unknown information and caveats before you can box yourself into a salary range that might be much smaller or bigger than the company would otherwise offer!
At the end of the day, interviews — even those that suck and become burned in your brain — are great practice, if nothing else. Take stock of your mistakes and learn from them, but don’t forget these essentials.