The Secret to a Great Job Application

December 13, 2020

The secret to writing a great job application is not that secret at all. There’s no shortage of advice out there for job seekers on how to make their applications stand out but I can promise you, as a hiring manager who’s hired for multiple roles remotely (and in person), the vast majority of applications are nowhere near great. They’re pretty terrible actually, and you can definitely do a lot better. I’ll focus a little more on applying for remote positions but most of this advice will work equally as well, no matter what kind of position you’re looking for.

The main difference with remote jobs specifically is that they tend to be appealing in and of themselves. This makes sense: working remotely can give people much more flexibility and freedom in their day-to-day lives. The fewer the number of limitations (such as location) there are for a position, the higher the number of people who are even able to apply, since upending your life and moving somewhere for a job is a huge decision. One of the big advantages of remote hiring from the company side is being able to access a much larger talent pool from all over the world.

The simultaneously best and worst thing about remote hiring is that there’s rarely a shortage of applications. The volume of applications often reaches in the hundreds, sometimes in the thousands. Having such a high volume means great candidates can fall through the cracks very easily and it also means that job seekers feel like their chances of landing a job are slim. I know from my own experience what it’s like to be on the job seeker end.

It’s important to keep in mind that hiring managers are rooting for you. They want to have great applicants. Recruiters spend a lot of time searching for how to source the best talent. Hiring managers invest an unbelievable amount of time looking for the right fit. What you need to do is show them that you are the right fit. Here are some of the ways you can set yourself up for success when you’re applying for jobs, written from the hiring manager perspective.

1. Apply for the right job

What is the right job? It’s a job that you actually want to do. You’d be surprised at the number of people who apply for jobs they’re clearly not suited for or that they’re simply not motivated to do in the first place. The point of this isn’t to say that you need to fulfill the requirements of the position’s description 100% to apply. It’s rather to say: ask yourself honestly if you would be excited waking up every morning to do this job. You can’t sell your motivation if you aren’t motivated. It’s very obvious when someone is applying for a role because they think it’ll be easy, because it’s remote, or because they’re desperate and are applying for anything. None of this will help you get that job. Rather than sending out 100 lackluster applications, send ten great ones for jobs that genuinely excite you and that you can do well. An example I often encounter: if the position description is looking for specific language skills that you simply don’t have, that is not the right job for you.

2. Research the company and their product

Research here doesn’t mean look briefly through their website. If they offer a free trial or a freemium model, create an account and use the product. Spend some hours of your time understanding how the product works, who the target audience is. Look through their help articles or blog posts. Check out their social media. Read up on any interviews done by the company’s founders. This takes a lot of time and effort but it’s worth it. Nothing shows your motivation the way this will. It’s also an important step for yourself, to develop that genuine motivation in the first place. How else would you do that if you knew nothing about the company and the people and perspectives present at it? Your application should make it clear that you know the company you’re applying to. You’re applying for that specific company, to work on their product, and you can say why. This is really hard if you’re sending out applications based exclusively on the position description.

3. Tailor your cover letter and CV

The extent to which you do this depends a lot on the expectations and requirements of the company you’re applying to but the vast majority of companies still ask for a cover letter at the very least, even if they don’t judge based on CVs as much. What’s important to keep in mind is that both have to sell your abilities. The cover letter is your main opportunity to convince the hiring manager on the other end that you have the skills required to do the job well and that you have the right mentality and culture fit for the company. Take it seriously.

A good cover letter should touch on the main requirements mentioned in the job description and fundamentally answer the following questions: why you, why this job, and why this company. Your motivation should come through loud and clear. If your main motivation is “I’m looking for an easy remote job,” that’s never going to be good enough. A method that helped me a lot when it comes to writing cover letters is to figure out a basic structure and outline, then bullet point the main aspects I wanted to touch on. A simple list of things to cover can look like this:

  • Why you’re applying for this job
  • Why you believe you’re the best candidate – the experience and skills that you bring to the table that no one else can
  • What’s special about this company that makes you excited to work there

CVs might not be looked at in a ton of detail but it’s still important to highlight your relevant experience there, rather than share a lot of information that has nothing to do with the job you’re applying for. It’s important to make your CV back up your cover letter.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that no one reads cover letters anyway. Chances are, if you’re applying to a good company for a position that’s genuinely attractive to you, someone will take the time to read it. Make that a valuable use of their time.

4. Go the extra mile

This might sound extremely vague but remember, whatever you can do to make your application stand out will be a meaningful use of your time. Not only will it help you in your job search but it will also help you develop broader skills and deeper self-confidence. Start by putting real effort into the application process. Answer the questions that they ask for properly and with attention to detail. If they do some kind of challenge or project as part of the hiring process, make sure you read it, ideally multiple times. Use every opportunity to display an attention to detail and true commitment to that company. This is hard and it takes time but trust me, as a hiring manager, that effort will be noticed and eventually rewarded.

Anything else you can provide on top of that is great. Can you create a website that introduces you in more depth? Do you run a blog that shows what you can do? Can you show that you’ve engaged with the company’s product properly? Do you have any other professional or personal profiles that show more of who you are and what you’re interested in? Whatever it is you do, try to tailor it to the company you’re applying to. For example, if a company writes repeatedly about their focus on a text-based hiring process, don’t record a video for them. But if a company talks a lot about the value they place on face-to-face interactions as part of their hiring process, maybe consider recording a video. Think about what you can do to show this particular company that you’re a good fit for them.

It could be that you do all of this and still don’t get the job that you wanted. Don’t get discouraged. Sometimes hiring managers are looking for specific profiles or types of people at certain times. That’s an unavoidable part of hiring and of job seeking. You’ll still have written great applications for the places you applied to and that experience will always help you for the next applications you write. Maybe recruiters will even keep your data on file or try to connect with you at a later stage for a different position.

If you’re going to write an application, try and make it a great one.


applying, hiring

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