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Resources for Preparing a Job Application

Present yourself in a professional manner when applying for new jobs. Our customizable templates ensure your resume and cover letters are clear and effective.

Essential templates for your job search

These templates can help you apply for and secure a job. If you are switching jobs, we can even help you create a Resignation Letter.

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Resignation Letter

A Resignation Letter provides legal notice to your employer of your departure from the company.

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Cover Letter

A Cover Letter is used to inform potential employers of the position you are applying for and why your application is worth consideration.

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A Resume Builder is a tool that generates a custom, formatted resume based on the information you enter about your past work experience, skills, educa...

Last Updated May 10, 2023

If there’s one thing nearly everyone’s life has in common, it’s the exercise of trying to find a job. Regardless of who you are, you’ll eventually find yourself at the mercy of a hiring manager judging you based on a point-form list of all the skills and achievements you can fit on a single piece of paper.

However, the process can get frustrating when you’ve applied for countless positions without receiving a response and don’t know what you’re doing wrong.

This guide provides helpful tips for creating a job application that gives you the best chance at landing any position you set your sights on.

Applying for jobs can feel like trying to hit a moving target while blindfolded. You’ll go to a job board website and find multiple postings for the same type of position, but they’ll have slightly different skill requirements, and you won’t know which of those listed skills they value more than others.

Then you send them the generic resume and cover letter you send to every other company you apply for and wait for a response that never comes.

The trick is to customize your job application every time you apply to a different posting.

What is a job application?

A job application is a document or package of documents a person sends to a hiring employer to apply for a job. The application should contain details regarding the person's experience, skills, and qualifications.

A job application usually includes a combination of documents, such as a resume, cover letter, a completed questionnaire, and samples of previous work.

Some essential documents that you’ll want to have ready to send an employer include:

  • Resume: Outlines professional qualifications, such as education, skills, and job experience.
  • Cover Letter: Expands on the qualifications listed in your resume. It also allows you to explain why you're the most suitable candidate for a job position.
  • Letter of Recommendation: Written by someone who knows you well and can give an accurate account of your character as an employee. It usually highlights your accomplishments and competency.
  • Reference List: A list of the people who can attest to your character, skills, and achievements. An employer will likely call your references before giving you a job offer.

Is it illegal to lie on your job application?

With many fields having competitive job markets, you might find it tempting to stretch the truth to give yourself a leg up on the other candidates. Although it isn't technically illegal to lie on a job application because a cover letter and resume aren't legal documents, falsifying documents like educational certificates and diplomas is illegal.

What to avoid doing on a job application

A job application is where you'll make your first impression on an employer, and some seemingly minor mistakes can cost you in the long run.

Don’t be wordy or make spelling errors

Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can quickly destroy your credibility. You can’t say you pay close attention to detail on your resume and then mix up “there, their, and they’re” in your cover letter. It looks unprofessional, so remember to proofread anything you intend to send to an employer.

You also want to be concise. An employer will not read a three-page cover letter, so try to say as much as you can in as few words as possible.

Don’t apply if you’re over or under qualified

It's also a good idea to avoid applying for jobs if you're over or underqualified for them. An employer might make a couple of assumptions about you if you seem heavily overqualified for a position.

First, they might assume you don't plan on being with the company very long and are looking for something temporary while you wait for a better opportunity to come along. They also might question why you're applying for a job that's below your skill set and wonder what went wrong with your previous employers.

On the other hand, applying for a job you're underqualified for wastes your time and the hiring manager's time. There's a saying that a person should fake it until they make it. However, just because you cashed out your till at your grocery store job faster than any of your coworkers, that doesn't mean you're qualified to work at an accounting firm.

Make sure you follow instructions

Another way to get your job application denied is to not follow the instructions in the job posting. This means submitting the application after the deadline, forgetting to attach requested files (e.g., work samples), or failing to provide specific information.

A hiring manager wouldn't put in these stipulations if they didn't have a reason. If you don't give them the information they need from you, they'll move on to a candidate that did provide them with the information.

Finding job opportunities

Finding a job isn’t how it used to be, and that’s a good thing. Back in the day, you had to check your local newspaper daily for job ads and then hit the pavement to deliver your resume in person. If you wanted to be fancy about it and take advantage of the latest technology, you might have tracked down a fax machine and sent your resume that way.

Today, online job boards and social media make the process much more convenient.

Websites like Indeed and Glassdoor have countless job postings and allow you to filter your search so you can find exactly what you're looking for. Companies will also often share job opportunities on their website and social media accounts. Rather than apply in person, you can simply email all the necessary documents to the hiring manager.

LinkedIn is a great place to find job opportunities because it’s the social media platform where you present the most professional version of yourself. In fact, 84% of LinkedIn users are on it to increase their professional network.

It also allows you to take tests that showcase your knowledge about specific fields. These tests are an easy way to show employers that you’re the real deal, and they will often search for candidates based on these test certificates. If a job posting includes the skills you’ve proven you have, LinkedIn will notify you of the posting. You could even find yourself having hiring managers coming to you.

However, it often comes down to who you know. Studies have found that 85% of job seekers land a job through networking, and more than 70% of jobs don't even get posted. That's why it's always a good idea to avoid burning bridges when leaving a job. You never know who will help you the next time you need a big break.

If you don't have an "in" with any companies, consider practicing your smile and handshake and heading to a job fair. There's a good chance the combination of your job application and winning personality will give you an advantage over candidates who apply online. When the time comes for a hiring manager to review job applications and call people for interviews, they'll be able to match a face and conversation to the name on the resume.

Creating a resume

A Resume is essentially a crash course on who you are as an employee for a hiring manager. It gives them a basic idea of whether you’re qualified for a position or not.

A hiring manager isn't going to spend a lot of time looking at your resume, so it's essential to be as efficient as possible with the information you provide. A resume should contain your:

  • Contact information
  • Career objectives
  • Education
  • Professional experience
  • Skills

Which skills to include in your resume

As previously mentioned, the best way to land a job is to customize your resume to align with each job posting that catches your eye. However, before you get to that point, it's an excellent time-saver to draft a generic resume that you can easily modify later on. LawDepot's Resume Builder can help you create a quality-looking resume that you can conveniently edit at any time.

Soft skills

Start by listing soft skills that you think most employers will find valuable in an employee. You’ll need to be a little self-analytical for this part.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, over 80% of employers value problem-solving skills, the ability to work as part of a team, and written communication skills. Some other common soft skills to include in your resume are:

  • Attention to detail
  • Creativity
  • Decision making
  • Empathy
  • Leadership
  • Multitasking
  • Organizational and time management skills
  • People skills
  • Quantitative/analytical skills
  • Verbal communication skills

Hard skills

Coming up with hard skills for your resume requires looking at your past work experience. Think back to courses and training you've taken or industry-specific skills you've mastered.

For example, if you've worked with computers, you probably have skills relating to Adobe, social media, Microsoft Office, JavaScript, or WordPress. Any of these attributes would look great on a resume.

How to list education on a resume

Education is one of the essential sections of a resume. A hiring manager can find it relevant because it shows you have the background to do the job. Even if you don't have a high school diploma, listing individual classes that directly relate to a job posting's requirements can be surprisingly helpful.

When listing your education, you’ll want to include details like:

  • The name of your school
  • Your field of study and when you completed the program
  • The type of degree you earned
  • Any significant achievements and academic recognitions

Try to keep the section as short as possible by only listing education that's relevant to the job post.

If you're someone with little work experience, you'll want to have your education section higher on the page because it's likely your most valuable asset at this point in your career. However, if you've been working in an industry for a handful of years, you'll put your education below your work experience.

Modifying your resume for specific employers

Once your resume is complete, you can begin modifying it based on individual job postings.

Companies tend to be pretty specific about the skills you'll need to succeed in their unique work environments. Single out listed requirements that are telling about the exact type of work they need completed and then think back to your previous experience and how you can apply it to this job.

For example, if you are a commercial electrician looking for work, you’re going to tailor your resume for commercial companies. However, Company A might be looking for someone to work on fire alarm systems, while Company B needs someone who knows a lot about HVAC systems. In this case, sending both companies the generic version of your resume might not give either of them the type of information they want from you.

Instead, it's better to make modifications. Draft one resume that showcases your fire alarm experience and a second one that focuses more on your HVAC experience. This might seem like a time-consuming hassle. However, it's better than wasting time sending two resumes that will ultimately be looked over because they don't do justice to your skills and knowledge.

The different types of resumes

In the last decade, job seekers have started getting more creative with their resumes as a way of making themselves stand out. Some make personal websites that contain online profiles with their resume and a portfolio of their work. Others show off their video editing skills with video resumes to present their skills and qualifications on camera. Even infographics have been used as resumes.

As creative and unique as these new methods are, they don't hold up to the traditional resume. According to a 2016 Robert Half survey, 78% of employers prefer a resume formatted as a Word document or PDF, and online profiles are a distant second with 14%. Just 3% of employers liked infographics or video resumes.

LawDepot's Resume Builder helps you create a traditional resume and gives you four templates to choose from: classic, creative, decorative, or modern. All four are designed to provide you with a resume that's easy on the eyes and logical in how it presents your information.

Creating a cover letter

A Cover Letter is a document you send as part of a job application to introduce yourself to an employer and expand on the information in your resume. Many job seekers treat cover letters like an afterthought, but that can be costly. According to Robert Half, 91% of executives value cover letters when evaluating applicants.

Your cover letter should contain:

  • The company’s contact information
  • Your contact information: a phone number and email address
  • A greeting to the hiring manager
  • Which position you're applying for
  • Why you'd like to work for the company
  • A summary of your previous jobs with relevant experience to the position
  • Examples proving you possess the recommended skills
  • A closing statement thanking the reader for their time

A general format for cover letters is to have three paragraphs:

  • Paragraph #1: An introduction where you state the position you’re applying for and indicate enthusiasm about the job.
  • Paragraph #2: Sell your most valuable skills, accomplishments, and qualifications to the hiring manager.
  • Paragraph #3: Reiterate that you can bring value to the company. Then thank them for taking the time to read your letter and finish with a call to action that encourages them to follow up with you.

If you aren’t an overly confident writer and need help creating a cover letter, LawDepot’s Cover Letter template does the heavy lifting for you and guides you through the process.

Tips for writing a great cover letter

When thinking about what to say in your cover letter, focus on adding more context to the information you provided in your resume rather than repeating it. For example, if you have web design listed on your resume, your cover letter is where you can describe the types of websites you’ve created and why they were successful projects.

The tone of your cover letter is also important. You’ll want to show enthusiasm and explain why you really want the job. You also want to project confidence without seeming pretentious. However, don’t be too humble either. It’s okay to be proud of your accomplishments.

A nice touch for any cover letter is to do a bit of research and find the hiring manager’s name. Beginning your cover letter with “To whom it may concern” is perfectly acceptable, but addressing the hiring manager by name subtly shows you took the time to browse the company’s website and learn about it. A hiring manager might see this as a sign that you’re someone who cares and goes the extra mile.

How to get past screening software

Many companies use screening software to narrow down the pool of resumes they receive by filtering out the resumes that don't contain relevant information. The software does this by scanning cover letters and resumes for keywords and determining if an application meets the preferred qualifications based on what it finds.

Unfortunately, this can lead to skillful people not having their job applications read by a human because they weren't written strategically.

Similar to modifying a resume, you can get past screening software by including keywords and phrases from the job posting in your job application. Having the keywords tells the software that you’re a good match and possess the requirements the hiring manager is looking for.

Also, don’t send your cover letter and resume as a PDF unless the job posting says to do so. A screening program will view a PDF as a single image rather than a letter. Formatting the cover letter as a word document (.docx) ensures the program actually reads the words on the page.

Laws that protect job applicants

There is some vital legislation every job seeker should be aware of while going through the hiring process. By knowing your rights, you increase the likelihood of receiving equal opportunities.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces several federal statutes that prohibit job discrimination:

Waiting to hear from employers

Time can seem to crawl at a snail's pace when you're waiting for a response from an employer regarding a job position you have your heart set on. Luckily, you can complete some crucial tasks while passing the time.

Prepare a list of references

Many employers will call your former coworkers and managers to get a different perspective on who you are as an employee. Hiring managers will usually seek information about your accomplishments, skills, and character in the workplace.

Creating a Reference List before having a potential employer ask for one is an excellent approach to take. Doing so gives you time to think about who you want as a reference and then inform the person they might be getting a call from a hiring manager about you.

Employers will usually ask for two or three references. Try to use someone from a management position because they're more likely to be seen as a credible reference. If possible, use a direct supervisor because they're more likely to have a better grasp of your abilities and tendencies.

If you already have a Reference List made before you start applying for jobs, consider asking one of your references to write you a Letter of Recommendation. Including a Letter of Recommendation in your job application can go a long way in making a great first impression and establishing your credibility.

How long does it take to hear back from an employer?

The amount of time between applying for a job and getting a call for an interview will vary from company to company. Some companies move at a slower pace than others or might have to wait on other internal factors that delay them from getting to the interviewing stage.

A general rule is to expect it to take at least a week or two after the deadline for applicants to apply. However, don’t be too discouraged if you don’t hear anything after two weeks because it can sometimes even take six to eight weeks.

Following up on a job application

If the suspense of waiting for a response is too much for you to handle, you have the option of contacting the employer to follow up on your job application. Following up is generally considered acceptable if done politely and professionally. It might even make you stand out from the rest of the applicants.

The best way to do this is by phone or email. Showing up in person to ask why you haven’t received an interview yet could be perceived as pushy or intimidating. It might also set you up for an awkward moment if the employer has already passed on you as a candidate.

Be sure to wait at least two weeks before following up and be brief when you do it. The goal of the email or phone call should be to confirm your interest in the position and remind them of your qualifications.

However, you likely don't need to worry as long as you have a job application that you customized to the job posting. Trust that you gave yourself the best chance at landing a job interview.

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