Applying for a Job is Not for the Faint of Heart

Applying for a new job is intimidating.  You might be rejected. Someone you have never met is going to evaluate your qualifications based upon a document. You are expected to make a good impression, often with limited information.  

But if you are looking for a new job, you are going to have to put yourself out there.

When I worked with Dress for Success, a highly-respected Fortune 500 CEO met with a group of women who were unemployed and looking for work.  In our eyes, he was a Master of the Universe: highly educated, successful, extraordinary credentials, poised, impeccably dressed.  His first comment to the women was “nothing makes me more nervous than looking for a job, and I commend you.”  We appreciated his honesty.

There are many reasons folks start to look for a job.  It may be the desire for change, more money, better benefits, or advancement opportunities. Sometimes you are not looking but suddenly an opportunity comes across your desk or a colleague calls encouraging you to apply. Once you decide you are ready to make the leap, the next step is the hardest: you apply for the job.

Here are ten suggestions to help make you more successful when applying for a job:

  1. Read the job description carefully. Understand the position requirements and prerequisites.  Do you have the desired education and experience? Is the job in a location you would be willing to work? Does the work excite you?  Often the requirements might be a stretch, but you should at least be in the ballpark.
  2. Update your resume. One resume does not fit all positions.  Tweak your resume so it demonstrates your qualifications for this unique position. Your resume should reflect your current job and responsibilities. Describe how your experience mirrors desired qualifications from the description. Personalize your resume so it clearly summarizes your skills.  Volunteer experience is valuable and often demonstrates additional connections in the community.
  3. Clearly describe your experience and skillsets. Be concise and clear. This past year I reviewed hundreds of resumes for several positions. As a reviewer, I look for specific information about what the candidates have done, where they’ve worked, and for what length of time. Don’t ignore critical education and training that reflects knowledge the employer desires. Be careful not to include long narratives with inappropriate buzzwords. The reviewer should not have to dig to understand your background.
  4. Provide a carefully crafted cover letter. The cover letter provides an opportunity to describe, in the narrative format, who you are, why you are interested, what qualifies you for the position, and what sets you apart. This is an opportunity to show your style and personality. A personalized letter beats a standard cover letter every time.
  5. Make sure you have the correct job and salutation. It is surprising how often I receive an application for the wrong job addressed to the wrong person. I always send it back and ask them to reapply. Also, do a spell check before sending the application and cover letter. Mistakes reflect poorly on a candidate’s accuracy and attention to details.
  6. Answer the questions asked in the application. The employer wants to know the answers to the questions for a reason, so don’t ignore them. Provide a complete application. If the salary is not mentioned in the job description, it is important to list your salary range. Someone currently making $150,000 probably won’t be interested in a job with a top range of $80,000. If the person is qualified, the reviewer will ask these questions before advancing them to the next steps.
  7. Submit your application early in the process. Job openings are usually listed for a month. Often procrastinators wait until the closing date. Applications that arrive early in the process are usually given more consideration than those that arrive on the last day. I review every application the day it arrives. On the final days I am inundated with applicants and, unfortunately, they don’t receive as much quality time. There are always exceptions; one candidate who applied at 10:00 PM on the final day made it through the interview process and was offered the job.
  8. Make yourself available for an interview. It is not unusual for me to conduct personal interviews with the 25 top applicants. I always offer several times and dates to talk. If there is a delayed response to my request, it indicates to me a lack of interest. In the interview, be prepared with your elevator speech, describing your qualifications for the job ahead of time. Some applicants act as though that is a difficult question to answer.
  9. A deadline is a deadline.  If the cutoff is February 1, I don’t accept resumes after the deadline. Please don’t argue with me. I have a job to do. The field is competitive, and it is not unusual to have 150 qualified applicants who made the deadline.
  10. Provide good references. Check with your references before you list them to make sure they will give a good recommendation. I am often surprised when references cannot recommend a person for the job or don’t know anything about their qualifications. References are provided to potential employers and they take them quite seriously. It is always good to use your network. If you know someone who knows someone, use that advantage. I appreciate colleagues encouraging me to look at a candidate. It sets them apart from the crowd.

The market is competitive, especially for good jobs. Don’t take rejection personally. I always let a candidate know if they don’t get the job and share with them why. Candidates often call and I try to give them feedback when possible. Almost always, the successful candidates had more direct experience. Keep trying and don’t give up. Like winning the lottery, you won’t win if you don’t buy a ticket. You must apply to get in the game.  

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