When you think job applications, you usually jump straight to thinking about your CV and cover letter. Don’t you worry, we’re going to be tackling those two beasts later. But for now, we need to go back to basics, as Christina Aguilera once said.
This is Debut’s official guide to tackling job applications. Essentially, we’re giving you the building blocks to sussing and planning a job application from the ground up. We’re going to explore job descriptions, the initial application, the dreaded interview stage and how to see a job application through to the very end. Ready? Let’s go.
Back to all guides
Tackling job applications
To complete a successful job application, you need to have a plan of attack. It’s not just about creating a one-size-fits-all CV, or a customisable cover letter with an insertable ‘name’ field for different recruiters. We wish it were that simple! However, if you approach your job applications in an organised way, you’ll be able to keep on top of things no problem.
You should have one place where you keep all of the application materials. It could be a big Google Doc, it could be an old-school physical notebook, or you could set up a folder on your computer.
Before you do anything else, we recommend setting up a personal filing system. It could be a big Google Doc you can use as a masterfile, it could be an old-school physical notebook you fill with print-outs; or, if you like, you could set up a folder on your computer. No matter what you choose, you should have one place where you keep all of the application materials and resources you come across.
Useful things you can keep in your job applications folder
- A spreadsheet of all of the jobs you’ve applied to. Here’s an example of what this can look like.
- Your ‘master’ CV. Every CV you send out needs to be customised for the role you’re applying to. Why? It shows an attention to detail and genuine care your future employer will look out for. To make this easier for you, create a really long version of your CV you can customise instead of starting from scratch every time.
- Your ‘master’ cover letter. This is a similar concept to your master CV – but we’d advise you not to take it as literally.
- Cover letters will probably take up the bulk of time spent on a traditional job application. Each cover letter should be expertly tailored to a new role. It is an exercise that will help you reflect on why you’d be perfect for the role, and should also fit the tone of voice for the company you’re applying to. Instead, your master cover letter could contain anecdotes and examples of your experience.
- A sub-folder of your customised CVs.
- A sub-folder of your cover letters.
After that, the timeline for your job application plan of attack should look like this:
- Research new roles and put them in your job tracker spreadsheet.
- Dissect each job description.
- Edit your master CV to create a copy for each specific role.
- Write a new cover letter.
- Send the job application and update your job tracker spreadsheet.
Dissecting a job description
Just putting this out there: not all job descriptions are made equal. There will be plenty of undecipherable, dull, lacking-in-detail JDs out there. Don’t let that put you off; being able to crack the job description code is key to making an informed, relevant job application.
The job title is just the start, trust us. It’s amazing just how much you have to pick apart in a job description to get to the truth. There are often differences in tone and differences in content – heck some may have a clear indication of salary and some may skip over any mention of pay entirely. But this doesn’t mean one is better than the other; what we’re trying to say is not all job descriptions are made equal.
There will be plenty of undecipherable, dull, lacking-in-detail JDs out there – but don’t let that put you off.
There are a few key components to great job descriptions:
The job application process is what it is, a process. Like we once said in the Debut Guide to Interview Etiquette, an interview starts the moment you begin initial communication with the employer. You won’t stop selling yourself and your skills from the get go. When it comes to salary though, be realistic. Don’t go ridiculously high, but don’t sell yourself short either.
The dynamic duo
We’re going to preface this section with this: not every job can/should be acquired using the traditional CV and cover letter combo. However, it is certainly the most common application method. Nailing this could lead to a fantastic first job.
The CV and cover letter utilises two very different mediums to not only highlight an individual’s skills, but who they are as an employee.
There is a reason why this dynamic duo has persisted as the most widely used application process for recruiters. The CV and cover letter utilises two very different mediums to not only highlight an individual’s skills, but who they are as an employee.
If you’re looking for an in-depth guide to all things CV-related, head on over to our ultimate guide to creating a CV that will blow recruiters’ minds.
If you’re looking for an in-depth guide to all things cover letter related, head on over to our ultimate guide to writing compelling cover letters.
Cold job application emails
So, you really want to work for a company. There’s only one small problem – they don’t have any available job roles on their website. You could choose to move on, and find opportunities that are currently available. Or… you could still go for it.
Sending a cold job application email could be your ticket to working for the company of your dreams. You might have to accept you’ll be starting at the absolute bottom rung of the ladder – doing admin, crunching numbers, and getting coffee orders. However, you’d be surprised at how many companies need that kind of help. We’ve written an article on perfecting the lost art of the job-hunting email we think could help you get on that radar.
Keeping it real here as we always do, we didn’t want to sugarcoat this. There will be employers out there who will ghost you. There will be employers who won’t give you feedback. You might wait weeks and not hear back about the application you worked so hard to put together.
If you haven’t heard back, check to see if the role has a deadline. If it has passed, it’s probably alright to send a brief follow-up email just to check if they’ve received your application. There are a few loose guidelines to doing this:
- Wait two-three working days after the deadline to email, if there is one. Often employers will be inundated with applications, and may not have had the time to get to your application.
- Keep it short and sweet. If they haven’t sent any kind of acknowledgement of your application, ask politely if it was the right email address/location of application and offer to re-send it for their convenience.
- Following up once is probably enough. If you still don’t hear back, it’s probably best you move on to the next opportunity. There could be a variety of reasons why they haven’t responded, but your career can’t wait for just one company.
Accepting job offers
Congratulations, you’ve been offered a job! After you’re done doing a happy dance at your desk, it’s time to read through the job offer carefully. Signing on the dotted line isn’t something you can take back easily. Now that the hard part for you is over, it’s time to pick apart what is essentially the company’s job application to you.
Make sure you check off all these important things before you accept the job offer:
- Read the job offer. Then print it out, and read it again, this time with a highlighter pen. Sometimes your job offer will include a contract, sometimes it won’t. If it does, repeat the steps.
- There will undoubtedly be things you’d want to clarify. Do you have any upcoming holidays? Make sure your probation period allows for them. Will there be an appraisal after six months to evaluate your salary? If this is a priority for you and isn’t in the contract, you could ask. Write down a list of questions after evaluating the offer.
- Don’t have any immediate questions? Great! It’s time for you to evaluate the job offer and how it fits you. Ask yourself: is the salary sufficient? We chatted about this earlier, of course, but if it’s grossly under what you expect, it might be something to bring up. Will the commute be bearable? What is their stance on flexible working? A company has to fit you just as much as you have to fit them.
- Send the company a response. If you have questions, this is the time for you to ask them prior to formally accepting the offer. If you don’t, and you’re happy enough to accept, make sure you clearly do it in the composition of the email.
There you have it! Job applications, tackled. Good luck Debutants, and let us know how it goes on our Twitter @DebutCareers.
Download the free app today
Debut is available to download in the iOS App Store & Google Play Store