The Application Process

Slides from the session

Learning Goals

  • Reconnect your job search strategy to your career vision
  • Share your professional story
  • Analyze a job posting in order to understand how approach a cover letter for it
  • Understand and apply best practices for writing cover letters

This Week’s Career Journal

  • Find a position to write a cover letter for
  • Participate in peer review on cover letter
  • Consider how to customize your resume for the position

Overview

Last mod, we discussed lots of tools for building your job search strategy, such as searching by:

  • Specific companies
  • Culture
  • Tech stack
  • Networking groups
  • Job listings
  • Recruiter sites

You can find all this information synthesized here in the Resources page on Finding Opportunities.

We also looked at this chart to understand the components of the job search process:

Job Search Strategy Chart

Today, we’re going to spend more time diving into the 4th step on what goes into the actual application.

Application Process

The actual application refers to 3 things:

  • Analyzing the job posting
  • Customizing your resume
  • Customizing your cover letter

However, it’s important to note that application materials can only get you so far. It’s crucial that you’re building relationships at the company. Why? Employee referral candidates are up to 4x as likely to be hired as non-referral candidates.

That said, your application materials do matter! Common mistakes we see from job seekers include not thoroughly reading the job posting and not customizing resumes and/or cover letters. So, once again, you should always customize your application materials. Not doing so hurts your chances at the company. Let’s take a look at these steps more closely.

Step #1: Analyze the Job Posting

In any job posting, pay attention to the keywords that are used. Words that are used more than once are very important, and these are the words you want to make sure to incorporate into your resume and cover letter. Highlight the words and phrases in the posting that speak to specific skills or experience that you have as well as specific skills or experience that are similar to what you have done in the past.

  • What projects have you done that showcase these skills?
  • What transferable skills do you have from previous experiences?
  • What new skills can you start to learn?

Step #2: Customize Your Resume

The skills you have listed on your resume should match the skills that the company is looking for based on the job posting. Note: that doesn’t mean you should lie – ever. If you don’t have a skill, don’t put it on your resume. Your projects and experience descriptions should also demonstrate what the company is looking for. Reword these descriptions to showcase the skills and mindsets that the company is looking for.

JobScan is a great tool that allows you to upload a job posting and your resume to see how they match up to optimize your chances.

Step #3: Cover Letters

Cover letters can seem daunting, but they don’t have to be. It’s important to understand their importance in order to know how to write them well. A common misconception is that a cover letter should be all about you as the candidate. However, your cover letter is actually a space to demonstrate your understanding of the company. Another common misconception is that a cover letter should regurgitate everything on your resume. It should actually complement your resume; your resume is a space to tell about you, your cover letter allows you to show much more.

Start with this frame in your mind – the cover letter is a love letter to the company. How? Again, start by demonstrating your understanding of the company.

  • What research have you done?
  • Who from the company have you talked to?
  • Go back to the job posting – what are they looking for? What needs do they have based on this posting?
  • What problem is this company trying to solve?
  • What is exciting about this company?

Then, talk about yourself, but remember – this still isn’t really about you. Talk about yourself in relation to the company. First, provide an introductory hook. Show what you know about the company and why you’re interested in the position. Then, show why you’re qualified for the job. A great way to template out your story is by a quick summary: “Merging my background in X and Y, I now help [industry] improve [these outcomes].” You can also break your story into parts:

    1. Here’s what I did in the previous phase of my career + what I learned from that…
    1. And here’s what I can do for you based on what I’ve learned….

Now, create a connection between you and the company:

  • What can we do together?
  • It’s not about what you can get from them; it’s about what you can give to them

Do’s and Don’ts on Cover Letters

There is no one-size-fits-all way to write a cover letter; there are multiple ways to write an effective cover letter. However, there are some general rules to follow:

  • Any time you mention yourself connect it explicitly to the job/company
  • Keep it concise (no more than a page; half a page is ideal)
  • If you’ve met someone at the company, drop their name!
  • State the position you’re applying for in the first line

If you find yourself with:

  • Very long/wordy cover letters, try reading it out loud to find extraneous details. Cut those to make easily skimmable, shorter paragraphs
  • A cover letter that is all about you, try reframing sentences about you by starting the sentence talking about the company and seguing into how you can provide value to them based on your experiences and skills
  • Grammar and spelling errors, try Grammarly or the Hemingway App. Reading cover letters aloud or having a peer proofread will also help you catch a lot of those mistakes.

Cover Letter Activity

Look through the cover letters of alumni listed here and consider:

Synthesis

As you work on your cover letter this week, here are additional resources to help you.