This is an ultimate and in-depth guide to sending an online job application. We go over how to thoroughly read a job description, cater your resume accordingly, identify a point of contact, properly research a target company, write a killer cover letter, and follow up appropriately.
So you've found a job (or three) that you really want. It's at an awesome company, the description matches your experience in every way that matters, and it's your ideal job title. It's in a great location, it's right for this stage of your career, and you're ready to wow this potential employer. Awesome!
Only downside -- you have to apply online, into a generic form, and you might not have someone at the company who can vouch for you.
No worries. While tons of career writers talk about how applying online is a waste of time, they're only able to say that because a majority of online applications from unconnected candidates suck. So, a majority of them get rejected. Don't be the majority. It's completely plausible to send an impressive application and beat out the competition without a prior connection to the company. If we only applied to jobs we were connected to, we'd severely limit our careers.
The "resume black hole," as everyone calls online application systems, are escapable. It involves a bit of hard work and a boatload of attention to detail. The effort is worth it. The potential to interview at and work in better jobs and companies is key to putting your career on the fast track. Spend the time to spruce up your application, edit your resume, and write a stunning cover letter when the opportunity deserves it.
Before you hit apply, add that job to your JobHero dashboard for safekeeping and read our guide below on how to present the best possible version of yourself to your future employer.
We'll go over how to properly read a job description, cater your resume to that description, identify the hiring manager or recruiter that will read your resume, research the company in question, write a killer cover letter, and follow up appropriately. Here we go!
Step one: Read carefully
That first glance you took at the job opening when you found is not enough to truly understand what an employer is looking for. Don't let your excitement to apply lead to silly mistakes. It's time to dig in.
Read the job description, word for word, sentence by sentence. Comb through and look for the important patterns and signs that the person who wrote it either intentionally or unintentionally left behind. Beyond the literal bullet points of requirements, there's a theme of what type of person is being looked for, and what type of organization is looking for them.
When "passion" is mentioned multiple times in a job description, you know they're looking for a user of their product or service. When most of the bullet points describe partnering or communicating with internal or external teams, it's a signal that you have to be a people person, even if the job title they use isn't typically an indicator of that requirement.
Take that information and the voice of the description with you to your resume and cover letter. For example, if it's short and technical, be brief and straight-forward in your messaging. Understanding the voice and the people behind it are crucial to relating to the readers of your resume.
Ever needed to go back to the job description only to find you've lost the URL or the page is down? Make sure you save all that information in JobHero and you'll be able to head right back into your dashboard to find all that information with a few clicks.
Step two: Edit your resume
Are you highlighting the appropriate accomplishments for this industry and role? Do you use tangible numbers rather than the generic chatter that's printed on most resumes? Does a glance at your resume give an impression that you're ambitious and qualified? Your goal before you hit apply is to answer yes to each of these questions.
Your resume simply won't go far if all you do is list the past. It's important to display the value you provided to past employers or in past projects and internships while also demonstrating that you've learned at each step along the way. Give the reader of your resume something that makes them confident in your ability to execute moving forward.
For example, if you're an email marketer, turn:
- Improved engagement with our email newsletter.
- Achieved 300% increase in email newsletter opens and clicks by successfully A/B testing subject lines and copy.
If your job doesn't involve literal numbers, that's okay. Use very straightforward comments on what you were responsible for, what you accomplished, and what you learned to give off a tangible way for the reader to measure you.
Struggling with how to customize your resume? Use the job description! Analyze the terms used and the voice of the writing to re-write your own sentences. If you're in business, you'll sometimes want to say "Led a sales team" and other times want to say "Led a partnership team" -- they might mean the same thing, but to two different prospective employers (looking for, let's say, a sales manager or a business development lead, respectively), those words might make all the difference in getting a recruiter to know you're qualified at first glance.
Step three: Identify the hiring manager
Want to make a really strong impression? Do your due diligence. The easiest way to stand out from the crowd of 100+ resumes a hiring manager has to sift through is to make your application relevant to them. To do this, you need to research who might be reading your resume and attempt to understand what drives and motivates them. Use that information to further cater the voice of your resume and cover letter and connect with the reader on a deeper level.
Finding out who the hiring manager or recruiter for any given role is either impossible or quite simple. It's impossible if you're talking about a very traditional company with the types of employees who don't have any sort of online presence. In that case, focus on the information you do have to drive your resume editing.
Otherwise, it's a relatively simple step to identify would-be bosses and recruiters. Are you applying for an inside sales associate position? The hiring manager is likely an inside sales manager. Are you applying to a small team of ten? The CEO or the head of product or business (depending on the role) is probably your target. Applying to a big company? You'll probably hit a recruiter first. Use simple, logical heuristics to guess at your hiring manager's likely title or look through employee titles on LinkedIn (or the company's own site) to identify your would-be boss.
Pro tip: Sometimes, the title of the correct hiring manager is listed right in the job description! Look for signals in the description, like "Working with the Supply Chain Operations Manager..."
After you determine who you're looking for, finding out more about them is a breeze. Follow these steps using LinkedIn's advanced search function:
1: Find the company's LinkedIn page with a simple Google search, such as "PepsiCo linkedin."
2: Once you find the right company profile, go to their list of employees.
3: Use LinkedIn's advanced search function to search that list for the job title of the person you want to find.
4: Here's what it looks like when you've found the right person:
Now it's time to look through their online presence (like they would yours) to learn more about them. Read through their work history on LinkedIn, find out what they're saying on Twitter, and what conversions they're involved in elsewhere on the web. If they're tech-savvy, they might be on communities like Quora, GitHub, Behance, or Hacker News.
Anything you find will be extremely useful in learning more about the person, how you can best relate to their experience, and even understand what they might be looking for in a coworker. Cater your application to them. They're the key.
*Along the way, make sure you take copious notes! Having all that information recorded will be key when it's time for an interview. Use the Notes section in the appropriate job card you've created in JobHero.
Step four: Don't forget the company
The person you just found and researched is critically important to your process in applying for a job online. However, the company you're applying to is just as important to know a ton about. Cultural fit is huge in today's age. Companies and organizations are looking for employees that have a proper understanding of their operations, mission, and can easily integrate into the team's workflow. Just being a user or customer isn't enough. Understand the company from every angle, both internal and external.
Start by reading the company's careers page, if they have one. Figure out the language they're using to market themselves to candidates. They want to identify and hear from the right people, so they're probably sending huge signals as to what they're looking for. Do a YouTube search to see if there are interviews with the management team or current employees. You'll find out what they love about the company and what's important to the team.
Next, comb through a company's blog or other online presence. Read articles about what they've accomplished or scroll through their Instagram to find out what inspires them. Are they philanthropic? Do they spend time together outside work? What project recently hit it big? Has some part of their product or service recently flopped, and if so, how are they recovering? Understand what they're emphasizing and use it to focus on the parts of your cover letter and resume that relate.
Finally, use third party sources -- a simple Google search, other people's social media commentary, and sites like Glassdoor are your best friends for this. The outside perspective can be just as important a signal as the inside perspective in determining whether you want to work somewhere. Are there lots of Tweets from angry customers? Maybe the company isn't growing. Are there rave reviews on various sites in your Google search? Awesome, maybe it is.
And use Glassdoor to read through reviews from current and former employees. Remember, however, that unhappy employees are more likely to speak up on sites like Glassdoor. On the other side of the coin, several companies large and small are known for fabricating positive employee reviews. You have to consume all that information to see if there's a pattern, but definitely take it with a grain of salt.
Step five: Put it all together -- in the cover letter!
Nice -- you have everything you need to finish up your application. Change some words on your resume to relate with the company and hiring manager, assemble your research for the potential interview down the line, and get ready to fill out the online form -- after you've rebuilt your cover letter with your newly gained intel!
An effective cover letter has three components. Content, personality, and relevance.
Content: Your cover letter should include a greeting, two to three brief paragraphs, and a call to action. Your greeting is ideally directed at a specific person (the hiring manager or recruiter you've identified as likely to be your resume reader). Otherwise, keep it simple by addressing the letter with "To [company] team."
Your first paragraph should be about you. Don't restate your resume. Summarize how you fit into the role you're applying for with a concise wrap-up about your past experience and your passion for this potential new chapter in your career. Include a relevant accomplishment or a core competency that makes you qualified.
Your second paragraph should be about you and the company. What drew you toward them? Talk about your own purchasing of their product if that's what got you here. If you just found the company and the job appealing, don't try to fake love for a mission you understand. Instead, think a bit about the research you've done -- talk about the positive aspects of the team's growth, their track record in your industry, and how it all relates to your career goals. You don't need to be flowery.
Finally, insert a call to action. This is a sentence in which you politely set the next steps in the process. If you're reaching out to a person directly over email or InMail (especially if this is a follow up to a generic form application), simply state you look forward to speaking with them and offer a 2-3 availabilities over the next two weeks for a phone chat. If you're applying through an online application, indicate that you'll be following up via email to their department in a week -- and then do it!
Personality: You've done your research. Is this a serious company doing mostly professional consulting work? Write the cover letter in that same tone. Applying to a startup that seems to love hiring passionate people? Flair and style are not only acceptable, they're probably required. Either way, communicate to the employer (in their voice) what drives you and what you're passionate about. Whether written in a formal or informal tone, it's key to give them an impression of who you are.
Relevance: This part is only difficult if you haven't already done your research. Inject relevance into your cover letter in three ways: directly address some of the requirements in the description with your own qualifications, directly relate to the mission statement of the company and how it relates to your career growth, and directly relate your past experience and potential future to the reader's if you know who it is and how they got to where they are today.
The final product should be a well-written, mistake-free, compelling cover letter to go alongside a catered resume that effectively markets your skills. Read your work out loud. Have a few friends or family members provide a second set of eyes. After all that, you're good to go!
Step six: Hit apply, and you're done! Almost.
Whoa! You're not quite done yet. Good job on sending in the best possible presentation of yourself, but there's still more to do. Keep tracking your application in JobHero, noting when you sent it and any additional details you might want to remind yourself about later. Set the status to "applied" and set a due date for your next follow up, which you should do with every job you apply to.
Following through on your application shows you're determined and gives you the opportunity to remind someone who might be busy or forgetful on the other end that you exist. Even if your follow ups still result in rejections instead of interviews, at least you'll get the firm no instead of wondering if your resume has even been read. You can move on to the next one. Being proactive and getting the answers you need (or deciding that non-communication means you need to move on) keeps you healthy as a job seeker, engaging only with qualified opportunities.
The concept of presenting the best possible version of yourself to employers requires empathy and understanding on your part as a candidate. Recruiters and hiring managers read hundreds of resumes to look for the people that stand out. Standing out isn’t just about your resume, your education, or your accomplishments. It’s also in how you talk about the opportunity, how you relate to the hiring manager, how you show your passion for an organization, and how you demonstrate a desire to improve your career.
The first time you run through this entire process, it might seem like a lot. It'll get easier, faster, and simpler every time. You'll find the hiring manager more easily, you'll be better able to identify a company's core values, and -- trust us -- you'll wind up with more interviews. Keep iterating on the things that are working; don't send the same documents to a hundred companies. Put in the effort, stay organized, and you'll land your dream job in no time! Best of luck.