Ten Ideas for Job Applicants

by Jayna Watson, Spearfish, South Dakota

Having reviewed hundreds of applications, resumes and cover letters over the years, I want to share what I believe are key attributes from people that successfully land the job they are seeking. Although many of these ideas seem like common sense, I have seen many people with good qualifications commit unnecessary errors in the application process which then prevents them from advancing to an interview. Here’s my top ten list of things that one absolutely must do when applying for a job and hopefully become selected for the interview.

10. If the job posting says to fill out an application, do it.

Application + resume = good information. Application + resume + cover letter = excellent information. Resume or email without an application = non-consideration. Also, don’t send an email saying “I am interested in applying” or call the hiring manager to see if it’s “worth” applying. Nothing is less impressive than an applicant that does not follow the first instructions given. I once had a person send me a resume which made them the best qualified candidate; however, they failed to send in the application. Even if you decide not to pursue the job after you apply, it’s a courtesy to let the Human Resources department know and they will most likely keep your application in the right file as opposed to the circular one.

9. Be sure to fill out, and send in, the supplementary documents of the application.

This one reminds me of when my kids completed their homework without error, but never turned in the assignment. If the application requires other supporting documents such as a skills questionnaire, or a situational assessment, these are critical documents to turn in. It’s unwise to assume it is optional and equally unwise to call the Human Resources department asking if it needs to be turned in.

8. Type the application.

Nothing looks more unprofessional than an application filled with scratched out words, white-out with ink written through it, illegible handwriting, and misspelling. If you do not have access to a computer, hire someone or have a friend do it for you. It looks so much more professional.

7. Make sure you provide an accurate record of your work history.

Red flags wave at me when someone writes something like this on the application or resume: “2006 to 2007, Development Services Representative.” That could mean everything from one day of employment starting December 31 and ending January 1, or six months, or whatever. Providing the actual dates is not necessary but the month and year you started and ended your employment is. Also take the opportunity in the cover letter to explain gaps in employment.

6. Make a relevant cover letter for the application.

If the job description says the critical tasks are A, B, and C, your cover letter needs to include specific details on how these attributes have been achieved. If you don’t have any direct experience with the listed tasks, then highlight the personal skill set that enables the effective performance of them. Don’t repeat information already on the resume or application. The cover letter is a chance to promote what a great employee you will be and to highlight things that an employer does not know about you. Keep copies of all letters and notes from people that have thanked or praised you, and send them as an attachment with your cover letter.

5. “Overqualified?”

Use that to your advantage! Hiring managers always wonder ‘what’s a nice girl/guy like you applying for a job like this.’ Tell them why! Here are some examples: “I have worked in management positions before, however my best talents are applied when I am working one on one with the customer,” or “I have reached a point in my life where the enjoyment of my job is more important than the financial rewards and I believe this job would be very enjoyable for me, translating to happy customers for you.”

4. Be ethical in how you list and use your references.

Nothing sours your chances at the job faster than you deciding to call your friend who is on the Board of Directors at the place you hope to land the job, and asking them to tell the hiring manager how great you are before you’ve even been picked for an interview. Playing office politics before you’ve even arrived is a definite no-no. Your references should be from people that know your skills and work habits well enough to offer the reference you deserve. Always ask your references if they are willing to provide one for you before you list them.

3. When called for an interview, be accommodating and polite.

Most employers will offer a couple of times for your interview. Be absolutely certain your tone of voice and demeanor on the phone suggests you are excited about the interview. I’ve heard people that were asked to come in for an interview act as if it was an either an imposition on their schedule or they could care less. Instead of saying “well, I guess I could make that work,”say: “That time is perfect,” or, if you aren’t sure if that time works, say “May I please call you back? I need to change some other appointments that day and this interview is my priority.”

2. Plan ahead for the interview.

Look at your future employer’s website or do a web search for any hot topics pertaining to them. Think of possible interview questions such as tough situations you had to deal with, your greatest accomplishments, etc. You want to be able to tell your employer you’ve got some idea of what they do and what you can bring to the table. There are lots of interview preparation questions on the web. Ask a friend to pick 5 or 6 of them to help you rehearse and think on your toes.

1. At the interview, use your sixth sense, dress nicely, and relax.

The interview is your last chance to get your future employer to fall in love with your qualifications! Here are my personal favorites for how to give it your best shot.

  • Get to the interview a few minutes early, so you can make a quick swing into the restroom for last minute hair repairs, zipper check, or any other fix. 
  • Turn off your phone, come prepared with the job description, and have something to take notes with since you will need first and last names of everyone to write them each a thank you note after the interview. Don’t wear your baseball hat to the interview.
  • Arrive with a smile and look your best. Men, this means at minimum, a nice crisp dress shirt, tie, and dress pants. Women, either a dress/skirt (at or below the knee) or business suit. Both: too much skin showing is a complete turn off and even though you love your new tattoo, now’s not the time to reveal it unless you are applying for a job as a tattoo artist.
  • Take your time when answering the questions. As a manager, I appreciate a pause followed by a thoughtful answer versus any answer.
  • Pay attention to the interviewer’s body language. If the interview panel starts trading glances, be sure you are not needlessly rambling on. If they are intently listening, you have hit on the right points.
  • Provide direct, complete answers, and leave out irrelevant dramatics such as what you actually thought of the rude customer you dealt with last Monday.
  • Always use good grammar and don’t respond to questions starting with: “In all honesty,”or “To tell you the truth.” These statements make me wonder if what was said earlier was the truth.
  • Be careful about conveying any ‘over’ behavior – jokes, sarcasm, rigidness, etc. all can be well intended but also received the wrong way. Relax, be yourself, and treat the experience like you are meeting new friends for the first time.
  • Last, be a graceful competitor. If you receive a phone call saying you didn’t get the job (or the interview), be kind and polite. Thank them for the opportunity to apply. When you respond with negativity, you may affect your chances for the next open position.

In summary, job seeking is an emotionally draining experience. By following some basic guidelines, and using common sense, your rate of success can improve.


Jayna Watson is the City Planner for Spearfish, SD. She also serves on The Western Planner Editorial Board.


Published in the February/March 2014 Issue

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