Applying for a Job: A Complete Guide (Tips and Examples)

Learn how to complete a job application — and land your dream job.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

How to apply for a job

If you’ve found a job you’re interested in, you’ll most likely have to fill out a job application in order to be considered as a candidate for the role. But what exactly is a job application and, most importantly, how can you be sure that your application stands out from the crowd?

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about applying for a job so that you can have the best chance of success with your job search.

What is a job application?

A job application is a form that employers require candidates to complete in order to be considered for a role within their organization.

Since applications are often the first touch point that the company has with the candidate, they determine whether the candidate gets invited to a job interview. Therefore, it’s important for candidates to make a good impression on their application and demonstrate their suitability for the role.

Job applications can be either paper-based or online. However, most applications nowadays are accessed through the organization’s website, or candidates are asked to send their applications via email.

Depending on the company and role, job applications vary in terms of form fields and information required. That said, most require candidates to state their work history, education and contact information, like your email address and phone number. Many job applications also require that candidates include a cover letter and résumé as part of their application package.

Where to look for jobs

Although it’s still possible to find job advertisements in local newspapers and on community noticeboards, most jobs nowadays are advertised online. One of the most effective ways to find a job is through online job boards and job search apps, such as LinkedIn, Indeed and Glassdoor.

However, you shouldn’t limit your search to only popular job boards, since not all companies advertise their vacancies externally. It’s a good idea to also periodically check for job postings directly on the websites of the companies you’re interested in.

It’s also important to not overlook the hidden job market, which refers to job openings that are not advertised publicly. Indeed, according to a Jobvite’s “Job Seeker Nation Report”, nearly 50% of job seekers learn about jobs through word of mouth. Therefore, it pays off to inform people in your network that you’re looking for a job. It could be the case that your professor, uncle or friend’s mom knows of an opening and can provide a referral.

When to apply for jobs

While you may not have the flexibility to wait until a particular time of year to apply for a job, you may find that you’re more successful during certain months. This is because companies tend to do a higher amount of hiring during certain times of the year. For example, January, February, September and October are all months when there’s often an uptick in job vacancies.

But it’s not only particular times of the year that can be more fortuitous for jobseekers, but also days and times. According to research by SmartRecruiters, Tuesday is the most common day that companies post jobs, while 11am is the most common time.

Knowing when most jobs are posted is important to keep in mind so you can apply as soon as a job is advertised. While some companies choose to wait until the closing date to review applications, some review applications and hire on a rolling basis. This means that if you wait, you risk the chance of being overlooked for the role.

How to apply for a job

Now that we’ve covered what a job application is, and where and when to apply for jobs, let’s dive into how you can start applying. Below are five basic steps you can follow to ensure you’re ticking the boxes when it comes to effectively applying for a job.

Step 1: Search for jobs

The first step in applying for a job is to search for jobs that you would be interested in doing. When searching for jobs, it’s important to consider your experience, strengths and interests, but also which jobs are available. This way, you can find a match between your skills and where there is a demand in the market.

You’ll also want to keep in mind that not all jobs are available in all regions. So, before starting your job search, make sure to consider if you would be willing to relocate or work remotely. This will then help you narrow down your search to jobs that are available in areas that you’re willing to live.

Step 2: Research companies

Once you’ve found some jobs that you’re interested in applying for, you’ll want to do some research on each company, which will help you determine if they would be a good fit. Make sure to not only read through the company website, but also check if there are any recent news articles on the company.

But determining whether the company would be a suitable employer is not the only reason you’ll want to do some research before applying. Another reason is because it can help you write your cover letter. Understanding the company’s values, culture and products will help you write a more tailored letter — and increase your chances of making a good impression.

Step 3: Craft a winning résumé

Your résumé will be an important factor in ensuring you stand out from the competition. So, one of the most important steps when applying for a job is to make sure your resume is updated and optimized.

Start by choosing a format that is most appropriate for your career level and field. For example, if you’re a recent graduate with no work experience, it may be better to put your education at the top of your résumé. However, if you’re an experienced professional, then it’s best to highlight your employment history at the top.

There are many factors that go into writing a résumé, which you’ll need to consider. For example, some information you may want to include is relevant coursework, certifications, achievements, voluntary roles or club memberships. However, it’s important to also be targeted and not throw in everything but the kitchen sink. So, make sure to be strategic and consider what would impress the hiring manager on your résumé.

Step 4: Write a tailored cover letter

Although it’s a time-consuming step, writing a tailored cover letter for each job will ensure your application is seriously considered. After all, hiring managers can easily identify if you’re sending the same generic cover letter to each prospective employer. So, make sure to write a unique cover letter for each application — and don’t just repeat the information on your résumé.

Instead of regurgitating your résumé, use the cover letter as an opportunity to show your personality and how you fit to this specific role. You could highlight achievements or share your passion for the industry or company. Your letter should provide context and paint a more complete picture of you as a candidate.

Step 5: Submit your application

For many online applications, you’ll need to manually submit information about your work history and education in addition to submitting your résumé and cover letter. Since many employers use applicant tracking systems, you’ll want to be sure you input your experience thoroughly so that your application doesn’t get overlooked by the system.

Unless you’re explicitly advised not to include a cover letter, you should always submit a tailored cover letter with your application. In addition to your letter and résumé, some companies may also require additional application documents, such as proof of qualifications. Therefore, be sure to read the small print and not overlook any required application documents.

Example application letters

To help you craft a winning application letter, below are some samples you can use to inspire your own letter.

Recent graduate

As a recent graduate from Northwestern University, I believe I would be the perfect fit for the Trainee Accountant role advertised on your website. Both my education along with my enthusiasm for accounting would enable me to be successful in the role.

While completing my BSc in Accounting, I completed a summer internship at River City Credit Union. My responsibilities included filing, data entry and maintaining financial records. In addition to this experience, I served as Treasurer in my university’s Future Accountants Club. In this role, I was responsible for ledger management, budgeting and general club finances oversight.

I am passionate about Green Tree Bank’s commitment to sustainable finance and believe my education and skill set would allow me to greatly contribute in the role.

Thank you for taking the time to review my application. I look forward to speaking further about this opportunity.

Job changer

As a Sales Development Representative with 3+ years’ experience working in the software industry, I am very interested in the Sales Development Consultant role at Techforce.

In my current role as Sales Development Representative at Servcorp, I am responsible for generating new leads, maintaining client relationships and exceeding sales goals. Last year, I achieved 150% over my personal sales quota, and was given the Servcorp Star Award for this achievement.

I am seeking an opportunity to continue advancing my sales career at a renowned software company, like Techforce. I am confident my determination and relationship building skills will be an asset in this role.

Thank you for taking the time to review my application. I am available at your convenience for an interview, and hope to hear from you soon.

Career changer

I am writing to apply for the Health Educator role at Blue Circle Health. As a Nurse with 10+ years’ experience, I am seeking to transition from nursing into health education. I believe my passion for health and my transferable skillset would be a benefit in the role.

While working in the ICU at Liberty Hospital, I was responsible for providing patient support and administering treatment. I was also responsible for educating patients on how to maintain their health following hospital discharge. These experiences made me particularly interested in a career transition into health education.

I am impressed by Blue Circle Health’s commitment to providing health and wellness programs to members, and believe my passion and health knowledge would make me successful in the role.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to the opportunity to further discuss how I can bring value to your organization.

Tips for applicants

In order to have the highest chance of success when applying for jobs, there are some tried and tested tips you can follow. Below are five tips to help you succeed with your job search and stand out from the crowd.

  • Even if you only have 50% of the requirements, you may still be considered for the role.
  • Leverage your social network to discover potential job opportunities.
  • Sell yourself in your application by promoting your achievements.
  • Always thoroughly proofread your application documents.
  • Optimize your résumé and cover letter by using keywords from the job description.

When to follow up on a job application

A good rule of thumb is that you should follow up on a job application two weeks after applying. This timeframe ensures that you don’t come off as too pushy or impatient but rather enthusiastic and excited about the role.

However, some jobseekers like to send a note to the recruiter or hiring manager on LinkedIn directly after applying to bring attention to their application and LinkedIn profile. Although this isn’t a follow-up message, it could be an effective way to show initiative and reiterate your enthusiasm for the role.

Key takeaways

In most cases, applying for a job is the first step to gaining employment. However, particularly for recent graduates or career changers, applying for a job can be a daunting and confusing experience. So, to ensure you have the best success when applying for a job, remember to:

  • Use your network to your advantage, since many people learn about jobs through word of mouth.
  • Write a tailored cover letter for each job application to show that you’ve done your research and you’re enthusiastic.
  • Thoroughly proofread your application documents. Nothing is worse than having your application rejected because of a typo.
  • Highlight your strengths and achievements in both your résumé and cover letter. This will help you stand out from the crowd.
  • Follow up on your application approximately two weeks after applying to demonstrate your interest in the role.

Applying for jobs is a skill that must be learned by doing. But by following the above guide, you’re well on your way towards writing winning job applications that catch the eye of the hiring manager.

Got a question? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published on August 8, 2017.