Improve Your Job Application: The Little Things You Can Do to Get Hired

Advice and tips for job applications

When applying for jobs, it's common to wonder what a new position can do for you: how the company culture may give you a fresh start or why a larger salary will improve your life outside of the office. But it's the applicants who ask what they can do for their new colleagues and bosses that gain employment. This is at the crux of the start of every job search. First, match your interest to the employer's. Second, match your skills to the job description. These two imperative steps are just the beginning, however. There are many important do's and don'ts when it comes to submitting your materials for that shiny new gig.

Before Submitting Your Application

Knowing exactly what you want will make it a lot easier to find it. Before submitting your application for a specific job, make sure that it's calling for you and your skills. To do this, read every word of the job description. Gain an understanding as to what's being asked of you. An actuary applicant will be asked for materials very dissimilar of those required of a registered nurse, for example. And it's OK if you fall short in the qualifications of the role, as you can explain these deficiencies later on. Your focus should be on fit. Moreover, research the hiring company from a broader perspective. Understand its mission, and decide if it's something you can believe in, get behind. To take it a step further, spend time ideating solutions that you suspect the company needs. Sharing them with the human resources manager can demonstrate right away that you're looking to add value.

If the answers to these questions are yes, the next step is more monotonous but momentous work. Aside from gathering the materials (resume, cover letter, references, et cetera) that you will be tailoring and submitting later on, make sure you get the human perspective on your potential employer. First of all, find out who's doing the hiring, and see if you have anything -- or anyone -- in common. Consider mentioning your interest in an email and offering to buy them a coffee. Secondly, learn more about what the job would be like, particularly if it will be new, foreign territory for you; if, for example, you want to be a public relations specialist in the music industry, read up on their experiences within the profession or ask to shadow one for the day. Oh, and Google your name to see if not-so-positive search results come up. Deleting or changing the settings of a particular social media account may be in order. The last thing you want to have happen is a thoroughly completed application be damned by a single Twitter salvo, blog post or holiday party picture.

While Submitting Your Application

OK, now we're at the stage where a blank application form is on your desktop. Read the instructions fully. Do not make a simple mistake that can annoy the reviewer. One such mistake is leaving a section blank. If you're asked for a piece of information that you're not ready to share (i.e. your desired salary or your employment status), either get ready, or put it off until the interview by writing in something along the lines of, "Will discuss in interview." This is better than leaving a question unanswered. (In the case of being asked to state your desired salary range, you may decide that it behooves you to be open and pick a dollar figure; this will stop you from receiving a call-back for a high-skill but minimum wage-paying job.) In the answers where you'll be more verbose, be specific not generic, and emphasize your qualifications but don't exaggerate them. On the flip side of the coin, do not provide any information that reflects poorly on you. It's too early in the process for that. If you're asked a challenging question, writing well and thoughtfully in response -- even if you don't address it head-on -- will score you points.

As for the form, use spell-check, proofread and make sure there are no inconsistencies in, say, your graduation year in different parts of your application. Importing your resume data (such as the months, years you've worked at past employers) from a social profile like LinkedIn can cause errors to be inputted into your application, so remember that it never hurts to double-check. The same goes for the materials you'll likely be asked to upload to your application: a resume, cover letter and a set of references, among others. While it's copacetic to have templates for these documents on your end, make sure that you tailor each to the position and company to where you're applying. To accomplish this, match the key words in the job description with the words you use in your writing samples. (Creating a word cloud online is a free, easy and fun way to see how you're doing in this respect.) Your cover letter specifically should convey your professional and personal lives, but it should also speak to your interest and desire to work for that specific employer. Last but not least, ensure that your email address and telephone number can be found in multiple locations of your application. If the HR department has no way of contacting you, all of this effort will be for naught.

After Submitting Your Application

You've hit the send button on your online form or email application. Now what? Well, the application process is far from over. Plan an appropriate follow-up and let common sense dictate who you reach out to, plus how and when you do it. Typically, thanking a HR specialist via email for reviewing your application within two to three weeks is an accepted practice. The one pitfall to avoid here is annoying the hiring team so much that they shuffle your resume to the bottom of the pile. You want to stand out strong, not stick out like a sore thumb. As long as you're contacting people related to your job search, remind your references that they could expect a call from the company you're applying to. Surprising them could force them to give a surprising answer during your background check.

Besides being patient, waiting for the job you really want, fill the time by preparing for a potential interview. To do this, you can come up with practice questions, or build a cheat sheet to remember your prepared answers. Also think about the questions you'll have for your interviewer. (For example, is Minneapolis really a great place for a young tech professional to be?) The application is really a one-sided affair and an interview would be your first chance to turn the tables around. Once that's done, ensure that you keep your LinkedIn account up to date and your online avatar elsewhere sparkling clean. The call will eventually come, whether it's on this application or your next one. If you receive a rejection email, it doesn't hurt to ask why you didn't get an interview. A response from the hiring team could further inform your application-submission process going forward.

Andrew is a former Associate Editor at ValuePenguin. He focused on an array of personal finance topics, from money management to career development.