A couple years ago, as I wrapped up my undergraduate degree, I started applying for jobs with local companies. I quickly realized that many of the jobs I was interested in required different résumés, some required cover letters, and nearly all had a unique application process. Soon I found myself with a dozen copies of my résumé, a half-dozen cover letters, and a version control nightmare on my hands.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way for you! Applying for a job can be stressful enough as it is, right? I went through the fire and learned the lessons, so I’ll share the top tips I have for submitting job applications to any company.
First, Get Organized
If you’re applying for a lot of jobs and have a folder with different versions of your résumé and various cover letters, it’s going to be hard to keep track of which is which. That’s why the first thing you need to do is to create a folder hierarchy.
I suggest creating a folder in your Documents folder titled “Job Applications” or something similar. Pick a title that you’ll remember best—one you won’t have to go hunting for.
Within that folder, create a subfolder for each company you’re applying at. For example, you might have a folder titled “Apple” and one titled “Google”. (Shoot for the moon, right?)
Finally, within each company folder, create yet another folder for each job you’re applying for at the company. You could have “UX Developer” and “Test Engineer” within the “Google” folder.
Within each job folder is where you’ll store the résumé, cover letter, and any other documents or information you will submit in the application. This hierarchical structure makes it easy to navigate to the exact documents you need when editing or uploading. You don’t want to upload your Apple cover letter to your Google job application—that would not be too good.
Get Your Documents in Order
Once you have your folder hierarchy created, you can start working on your documents. If you already have a résumé, CV, or cover letter, copy it into the specific job folder and get to work. If not, start working on a new file and make sure to save it in the folder for the specific job you’re applying for.
When you save a file, your computer automatically updates the date information for the file. This makes it easy to sort by date and see when you last edited the file—which is very handy if you have multiple copies of the same file, or different versions.
To make it even easier to identify, I suggest appending the date information to the end of the filename, like this: “Matthew_Baker_Resume_08-19-19.docx”. When you make updates to the file, update the filename too.
Since I mentioned filenames, I’ll give you my tips on how to name your files. First, name your file what you want the recipient to see when he or she downloads it. This is pretty obvious—but make the filenames look as professional as the documents themselves do. To me, and probably to most hiring managers, a filename capitalized like a title looks more professional than all lowercase (“Matthew Baker Resume” vs. “matthew baker resume”).
Second, keep it simple. Don’t use “Matthew Baker Quality Engineer Associate Resume”. That’s overkill. The hiring manager knows which job you’re applying for, and your résumé should reflect that. Plus, you’ve created a folder hierarchy, so you don’t have to be this specific with the filename because the file itself sits inside the job folder.
Third, I recommend using underscores instead of spaces. Some computer systems don’t play well with filenames that have spaces in them. This is becoming less and less common, but since this is a job you’re applying for, I suggest you play it safe. Use “Matthew_Baker_Resume” instead of “Matthew Baker Resume”.
Whether you’re using Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, Google Docs, or another word processor to create your documents, you need to submit final copies in PDF format. I cannot emphasize this enough. A PDF (Portable Document Format) file preserves all your formatting so that what the recipient sees is 99.99% guaranteed to match what you see.
Generating a PDF file is easy. All you need to do is click the File button in your word processor’s menu and look for an option like “Save As…”, “Export”, or “Export to PDF”. Double-check that the file will be in the .pdf format. If you mess up, that’s fine. Just go through the steps again and make sure you’ve selected the right format. If you need help, do a Google search for “How to export a PDF file in [your word processor]”.
If you submit a Word document or other a file in another word processor file format, there’s no guarantee that the recipient will see what you do. I’ve opened Word documents that probably looked great on the creator’s screen but looked hideous on mine: messed-up formatting, missing fonts, and more. Sometimes, the recipient may not even be able to open the file format you send!
Hopefully I’ve driven this point home. Even if the company’s job submittal tool accepts files in formats like .doc and .docx, send a PDF (.pdf). It comes across as more professional (to me, sending a Word document is like sending a draft), and you can rest assured that what the hiring manager sees is what you saw when you created it.
Submitting All the Stuff
All right, you’ve got your folders in order, and your files ready to go! Now all that’s left is to submit all the documents and turn in that application!
Before starting the online application, make sure you have all the information you need in order to complete it in one sitting. Many companies offer the ability for you to save an application in process, but in my experience this doesn’t always work. If it’s an incredibly long and thorough application, you may have no choice but to save your work and come back later.
Otherwise, if you have all the information on-hand, you can knock the application out in one sitting and save yourself the hassle of stopping to get more information, throw together another document, and come back later to wrap up. I realize not every company lists what they expect you to submit up-front, and that’s why this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. It just makes life easier if you can do it this way.
If the company has any browser requirements or recommendations for submitting online, follow them! If you use the wrong browser, it might crash mid-application and then you might have to start all over! Just download the right browser and do it the right way—at least then you’ll have reason to complain to the company’s IT department if something goes haywire.
If the company doesn’t list browser recommendations, go with Mozilla Firefox. In my experience, it’s the best all-around browser, and the large majority of sites work well with it.
You may also have to enable pop-ups in your browser when completing the application. If the company doesn’t provide instructions on how to do this, do a Google search for “How to enable pop-ups in [your browser]”. If possible, consult the browser’s official website.
Once you’ve got all your information together and you’ve got the right browser loaded up, go ahead and breeze through the application! Double-check all information you input into forms before you advance to the next page. Make sure you upload your résumé or CV in the correct place. (Don’t upload your résumé as your cover letter, or vice versa!)
If possible, at the end of the application, do a final check that all information you entered and uploaded is correct. Then fire that application off, sit back, and wait for that interview!
Bonus: General Job-Application Tips
Overdelivering (some might say overachieving) is something I pride myself on. If you’re reading this post because you need to apply for a job online, great. But why not stick around a bit longer for some general tips for job applications and interviews?
I’ve picked up a lot of tips along the way, sifted through them, and separated the wheat from the chaff. Here are some of the best ones.
For your résumé or CV:
- Use bullet points to highlight your talents, responsibilities, etc.
- For less-experienced applicants, stick to one page
- For applicants with 10+ years of experience and/or lots of past jobs, two pages is fine
- Use numbers when possible (e.g., “Supported 50 clients…”)
For your cover letter:
- Almost always stick to one page
- Less is more—talk about important stuff, but save some things for your interview
- Keep sentences short; this makes them easier to understand
- Keep paragraphs short; this makes them easier to read
- Address the letter to the hiring manager, if you know his or her name
- Include the job title and requisition number at the top of the page
For all documents:
- Use consistent design/formatting across documents (e.g. header, font choice, font size)
- Use two fonts maximum
- If using two fonts, opt for a sans-serif font for headers and a serif font for the main text body (e.g., pair Arial with Times New Roman)
- Use strong, action verbs (e.g., managed, performed, developed)
- Avoid weaker verbs (e.g., helped, assisted, aided)—be assertive and take credit for your accomplishments!
- Avoid passive voice (e.g., don’t use “Changes were made…”; use “I made changes…”)
- Use parallelism in writing (e.g., “I woke up, got out of bed, and dragged a comb across my head.” All the verbs are in the simple past tense. Bonus points if you catch the reference.)
For interviews (these tips came from a presentation I gave to high-school students interviewing for internships):
- When asked a question, don’t be afraid to ask for a minute to think before answering
- A good interviewer will realize that behavioral and experiential questions require thoughtSilence can be awkward, but only if you let it beA more thoughtful answer is a better answer!
- Whether in person or over the phone, smiling will reflect in your toneSmiling communicates interest and eagerness to the interviewer
- Speak at a “Goldilocks” speed
- Not too fast, not too slow, but just rightEnunciate your wordsThis prevents the interviewer from asking you to repeat yourselfIt also showcases your speaking skills!
- Eliminate filler words
- Um, uh, well, like, you know, I mean, okay, so, actually, basically
- This makes you sound smarter and appear more thoughtful!
- Maintain eye contact with your interviewer
- Don’t look away the whole time
- Don’t stare!
- This establishes rapport
- In a face-to-face interview, mirror your interviewer’s posture
- This establishes rapport
- When the interviewer asks if you have any questions, ask questions!
- Be prepared with two or three questions ready to ask
- Ask questions that you think of during the interview
- Asking questions shows interest in the company and the position
That’s a lot of info, right? Hopefully you find it useful, because applying for a job doesn’t have to be stressful or time-consuming. In fact, if you get your ducks in a row, you can easily knock out a handful of applications in an hour!
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to drop me a note below. And if you have any additional tips you think your fellow readers would benefit from, please feel free to share in the comments!
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