How to Apply for a Job in 7 Steps

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Apply for a Job in 7 Steps

Getting hired is often a job in itself, but taking your job search one step at a time can make the process more manageable. Before we dive into the details, here’s an overview:

  1. Search for job opportunities
  2. Create or update your resume
  3. Write a cover letter
  4. Ask for references
  5. Complete and submit the application
  6. Follow up with the employer
  7. Interview

1. Search for job opportunities

Job search engines, such as Indeed and Glassdoor, are a great way to begin finding opportunities, but you should also look beyond the internet. Only 37% of recruiters find high-quality candidates through online job boards, and 78% find them through referrals, according to a 2015 survey by Jobvite, a recruiting software company.

Start telling people in your personal and professional networks about your career interests and ambitions. If you’re interested in a specific company, connect with someone who works there. LinkedIn can help you identify people you might know at the place where you’d like to work.

» MORE: 7 tips for getting a job in 2017

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2. Create or update your resume

You should have a resume that reflects your most recent work experience and is tailored to the job you want. Sixty-three percent of human resources managers say they’re more likely to pay attention to a resume that’s been customized for their open position, according to a 2016 survey by CareerBuilder, which offers services to help employers hire.

Generally, resumes should include the following information:

  • Name and contact information
  • Work experience
  • Relevant skills
  • Education
  • Volunteer work (optional)
  • Personal interests (optional)

Proofread your resume carefully. Consider printing a copy; reading it on paper might help you catch mistakes you wouldn’t notice otherwise. It’s also a good idea to ask a trusted mentor in your field — not just a friend — review your resume and cover letter, says Paul McDonald, a senior executive director at the staffing firm Robert Half. Ideally, this person will be “someone who has been there and can take the hiring manager’s point of view,” McDonald says.

» MORE: 4 simple resume tweaks that will get you noticed

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3. Write a cover letter

Some employers don’t require a cover letter, but including one lets you communicate information that your resume doesn’t — for instance, why you’re interested in the job or company and why you’re the best person for the job.

Here’s one way to structure the cover letter:

    • Header: Your contact information, including your name, address, phone number and email address.
    • Opening: Introduce yourself and state the position you want.
    • Paragraph 1: Explain why you’re interested in the job, using specific details to show that you’ve researched the company. Include a few key words and phrases from the job description to help it get through the software many companies use to sift through applications, but also insert your own thoughts to help it stand out.
    • Paragraph 2: Make the case for why the company should hire you, including why your skills, experience and interests make you uniquely qualified for the job.
    • Conclusion: Thank the reader and say when you’ll follow up.

Tailor each cover letter to the specific position and company to which you’re applying. Keep it to one page and use business letter formatting. Before you send it, have at least one other person edit it.

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4. Ask for references

Many employers request a list of references they can call before they hire you. A reference is someone who can vouch for the quality of your work. Ideally, they’ll be people you’ve worked with professionally, including former bosses, colleagues and clients. You could use mentors and teachers, too.

Ask before you send anyone’s name to a prospective employer. Once everyone agrees, make sure you have their contact information to pass along.

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5. Complete and submit the application

This part will be relatively straightforward once you’ve created your resume, written the cover letter and identified references. Depending on the job, you’ll submit the application online, via email or in person. As with resumes and cover letters, proofread your application first.

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6. Follow up with the employer

Here, you want to strike a balance between crickets and incessant phone calls. Wait a week before following up as a general rule, but take a cue from the employer. For instance, if recruiters tell you they’ll be in touch in two weeks, wait that long before following up. If the job description says, “No phone calls, please,” respect that.

If and when you do reach out, send an email or call. If you don’t hear back within a few days, reach out using the opposite form of communication. If you call and leave a message but don’t hear back from the hiring manager, email to ensure he or she received your message.

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7. Interview

It’s normal not to interview for every job you apply for. When you’re invited to interview, either in person or on the phone, prepare by researching the company and the individuals who’ll be interviewing you. Practice answers to common interview questions and plan a few questions that you can ask the interviewers. This will highlight your interest in the company and how your thought patterns work.

After the interview, send a handwritten note or email to each of your interviewers. Then it’s time to wait or start from step one. You might need to repeat these steps several times, but with patience and persistence, you’ll land a position you’re excited about.

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Teddy is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. Her work has been featured by The Associated Press, USA Today and Reuters.