Applying for a Job (and Landing) - A Complete Guide

Do you get puzzled whenever you apply for a job? Don't worry we have put together a guide to successfully applying for jobs.

Job Application

Applying for a job can be an extremely stressful, often humiliating, experience but it doesn’t really have to be the chore we’ve all come to know and fear.

This comprehensive guide includes information on how to fill out job application forms, write application letters, reapply for jobs, as well as follow up. Read on to learn more about what you need to do for a successful job search!

Getting Started

Where can you look for jobs that match your interests and career goals? And when should you apply for a job that takes your fancy?

Where to Look

There are many job search strategies to put in place for exploring suitable vacancies, including:

When to Apply

There’s really no particular day of the week that’s scientifically considered to be the best in terms of applying for a job, although a US survey found that the majority of candidates tend to apply to jobs on Tuesday.

That being said, the earlier you apply, the better your chances of getting hired. And that’s because the first applications received for an opening will set up who the competition is. In other words, if you see a job go up on Monday, don’t wait until Friday – or worse, the weekend – to apply. Your résumé will only get buried!

Filling out an Application Form

Some employers will require you to fill out a form.

Typical sections of an application form include:

  • Personal information: This includes things like your full name, address, telephone number and email address.
  • Educational background: Make sure you list your qualifications in reverse chronological order, along with the grades and dates awarded.
  • Employment history: Previous employers, job titles and employment dates. You might also be asked to briefly list your job responsibilities. Like your qualifications, your work experience should be listed in order, with your most recent job first.
  • Competency-based questions: These can include questions like ‘Describe a time when you worked in a team’. Make sure you read these questions carefully and use real-life examples to describe your skills.
  • Other questions: You may also come across other, general (or sometimes trickier) questions like ‘What do you think are the most important qualities for this role?’
  • Personal statement: This section is used to describe your reasons for applying for the job, how your strengths are relevant to the position, as well as how you fit the role and the company.
  • References: These should ideally be people who know you in a professional capacity, although personal references (for example, a friend who can vouch for your character) are also sometimes acceptable. Make sure you check with them first before you list them as references!

Note that there are certain anti-discrimination laws in place which regulate what employers can and cannot ask you in the recruitment process. For example, they can only ask you for your date of birth if you must be a certain age to do the job (eg: sell alcohol). The GOV.UK website has further information about what employers can ask applicants during recruitment.

Writing a Letter of Application

A letter of application, or application letter, and a cover letter are essentially the same thing, with some subtle differences. A cover letter is generally used to accompany any collection of documents or media to describe the reasons for sending them, while an application letter is specifically used to apply for a job, for admission to a school, etc.

In general, it should include:

  • Your contact information (this is not necessary if you’re submitting your letter via email)
  • A polite greeting/salutation
  • An introductory paragraph stating your interest in the job (include the title of the job you’re applying for)
  • Two to three paragraphs highlighting your skills, achievements and qualifications, and how they make you a good fit for the role
  • A closing paragraph reiterating your interest in the role, offering to provide more information and thanking the employer for their time and consideration
  • A complimentary close (e.g., ‘Kind regards’)
  • Your signature followed by your typed name

When writing your job application letter, make sure you take presentation and appearance into account:

  • Length: Your letter should be no longer than one page.
  • Font: Use a simple, clean and easy-to-read font like Arial, Calibri, Helvetica or Times New Roman. Whatever you do, don’t use Comic Sans! Remember to stick to one style and that the font size should be between 10 and 12 points.
  • Page margins: There should be a gap of at least 2cm on the top, bottom, left and right of the page.

Below, you’ll find a couple example letters which you can use for inspiration when writing your own:

Professional Letter Example

Basic cover letter applying for jobReed

School Leaver Letter Example

School leaver cover letter applying for jobReed

Applying for an Existing Job

One of the first things you should do before applying for an existing job is to call the employer for further details about the position. Any specific information that you’re able to obtain from this phone call (that hasn’t already been highlighted in the job ad) can be included in your application. This will, effectively, give you an edge over the competition who never bothered to learn more about the job before applying for it.

Make sure that you address any selection criteria mentioned in the job ad and that you apply within the specified timeframe.

Sending a Speculative Résumé

If you want to work for a particular company but they don’t currently have any suitable vacancies for you, there’s no harm in sending a speculative application. Remember that it should be written around the company and their needs, and don’t forget to provide examples and measure the results of your efforts where possible.

When signing of your letter, avoid saying things like: ‘I can’t wait to meet you and discuss my new role at your company’. It makes you sound pushy, arrogant and desperate.

Applying in Person

Many, especially small, employers will advertise any vacancies on the shop window. These vacancies are often filled very quickly, so you need to be just as quick and apply for them straight away.

While you won’t be formally interviewed for the job, you’ll still be judged on your appearance and the way you carry yourself. It is, therefore, important to look the part – business casual is the general consensus

Don’t forget to take a relevant copy of your résumé with you to give employers. You should also have a list of your references on standby, as well as any additional information you may need to complete your application (e.g., copies of your qualifications).

Submitting Online

Most positions these days are advertised online, either on job boards or directly on the company’s website (or both). You’ll generally be invited to register an account to be able to begin applying for jobs, and it is absolutely crucial that you maintain online one candidate profile per website as multiple profiles may confuse the recruiter’s system.

Be careful when uploading documents, too. They should meet the system’s size and format requirements. Make sure you’ve given your document a good file name like ‘John Smith Résumé 2017.doc’ and avoid generic names like ‘My Résumé.doc’.

Finally, if you’re applying via email, it’s important to add a great subject to ensure employers open your application. Ideally, it should mention the job title you’re applying for and your name – for example: ‘Office Manager – Jane Smith’.

Using Traditional Mail

If you decided to take the more traditional route and mail your application, along with any supporting documents, to the employer, make sure you use a DL or A4 envelope. It’s important that you address the envelope to the right person, so call the company and ask them who will be receiving the envelope.

Remember to attach your business card. If you don’t have business cards, it’s a good idea to order some. They’re relatively inexpensive (you can get your own custom-printed cards from an online service like Moo or Vistaprint) and they’re an excellent way to stand out from the crowd.

Reapplying for a Job

Should you reapply for a job you were rejected the first time round but which has since been reposted? Well, you’ve really got nothing to lose (other than your time). Worst case scenario: you get rejected again.

It should be noted that your initial application was probably rejected for a very good reason – for example, perhaps the hiring manager decided you wouldn’t be a good fit or you simply didn’t have the right skills, knowledge and experience. That being said, though, it’s possible that your application – and not necessarily you – failed to make it through the applicant tracking system.

The problem here, in this case, is the materials you submitted with your application, so you might want to consider rewriting your résumé and cover letter to better highlight what you bring to the table and make better use of keywords. You might also want to consider using a different email address and telephone number, as many ATSs are designed to filter out duplicate candidates.

If you do decide to reapply for a job, make sure that you refer to your previous application in your cover letter, though this isn’t necessary if you weren’t interviewed for the position the first time round. Mention why you’re convinced you believe you’re an excellent fit for the company and the role.

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t really reapply until at least two months have passed from your initial application.

Following Up

It’s usually best to wait a week or two before you follow up – ideally, you’d have mentioned something in your cover letter about your plans to follow up if you do not hear back from them by a specific date. Also, if the employer explicitly told you when you can expect a reply and they have provided you with a specific date, make sure that you only make your enquiry after this date – never before.

There are many different ways to can follow up, with the most popular being via email or a LinkedIn message. Remember: it should be short, to the point and polite, while it should also reinforce your skills and reiterate your interest in the position. You could also give them a call or even follow up in person.

It’s important to note that if the job listing specifically tells candidates not to follow up, then don’t!

Tips and Warnings

Before you start sending your résumé left, right and centre, we’ve put together some final tips to help you make a successful application.

  • Proofread and edit: An application riddled with grammar and spelling mistakes will get you nowhere. Enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member to go over your application who may be able to spot a potentially embarrassing typo you missed.
  • Don’t regurgitate your résumé: Describe additional skills and achievements, and aim to offer something different from what the hiring manager can easily find on your résumé.
  • Keep your LinkedIn profile updated: Employers will check it out. Make sure all the information is current and try to post updates regularly.
  • Don’t apply if you’re not qualified: You’ll only end up wasting the recruiter’s time. Having said that, however, if you’re not totally under qualified and your skills and knowledge can help you bridge any gaps, you might still have a chance.
  • Research the company: It’s important that you understand what exactly it is that they do. This will allow you to emphasise your skills and experience in these areas.
  • Don’t leave sections incomplete: Even if they’re only optional fields, try to think of something to include that will help support your candidacy.
  • Submit all the required documents: Read the job description carefully and make sure you follow any specified instructions to a T.
  • Don’t submit your application to the wrong person: Assume it will never find its way to the right person. Make sure you check and double-check the recipient’s name and email address.
  • Have everything ready: Ensure your résumé is up-to-date and your references, certificates and any other documents you need are ready to go. Scrambling around at the very last minute to find an important document will only waste valuable time!

Do you have anything you’d like to add? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and job search experiences with us!