We've spent a lot of time reviewing job applications in the last couple of years at Beutler Ink. That means we've seen some amazing applications, but also some downright shameful ones. Here's our no-nonsense guide on how to make your next job application bring a huge grin to the face of hiring managers:
1. Spell + grammar check. Don't rely on autocorrect. Read through your application, the cover letter, cover email and your resume four times before you send. Each time focus on a different thing: Does it make sense? Are there any typos? Is your grammar and punctuation correct? Did you spell everyone's names correctly? [Pro tip: If you spell the company or hiring manager's name wrong on your application, it's pretty much an automatic "no".]
2. Read the instructions for the application! Make sure you're including everything that you've been asked for and in the format that has been requested. If you can't follow instructions for the application, it tells hiring managers that you'd likely not be any good at following their instructions in day-to-day work.
3. Know your audience. Do a bit of digging, find out what the company—or even the hiring manager, if you know who it will be—is like and tailor your application. If they seem buttoned-up and formal, write formally. If they're super casual and laid back, use a more conversational style (although always use correct spelling and grammar -- it's not optional!). Mention work they've done that you like. Mention shared interests, if it seems appropriate.
4. Back up your claims. If you're writing a cover letter to say you're an amazing writer, that letter had better be really well written. If you say you've got stellar organization skills, put together a really well organized application (bullet points, numbered enclosures). If you're a designer, use a beautifully designed resumé.
5. Show your best you. When a company asks you to include materials with your application they expect you to cherry pick your absolute best work; they want to know what you look like when you're on point, doing an awesome job. So, for the love of dog, please don't include anything that wasn't the most amazing thing you've ever done. Don't share a piece of writing that has a factual error in it, don't share design work that has some shaky elements. Take the opportunity to look back and review past work to make sure your materials are really solid. Better yet, get someone else to critique you. If your sample materials with your application aren't good, the person reviewing is going to assume it only gets worse…
6. Professionalism trumps personality. It's a really fine line to walk between showing that you're a fun and interesting person, who'd be a great culture fit, and making sure that your application is polished, clear to read and shows that you know how to be professional. If you're not careful, a witty, fun application can read as flippant and disrespectful. Sometimes, it's better to steer on the side of more professional in your written application. After all, you can dazzle with your personality in the interview!
7. Make a list (and check it twice). Basically, everything above bears repeating for the number of times we see folks making these avoidable mistakes. So, when you're putting together an application, make yourself a list and check it off as you go. Did you include everything that was asked for? Did you show that you know who you're writing to? Did you demonstrate your skills? Did you choose your best example work? Did you spell and grammar check literally *everything*?