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If a job application is required, 5 tips for doing it right

CareerBuilder | February 22, 2021

Job application form

Avoid these common mistakes when you apply for jobs using a traditional employment application form. Plus, 7 resume writing tips to boost your application.

Most employers have an application form that candidates must fill out and submit along with their resume and cover letter. Here are some simple rules to follow when filling in that employment application:

1. Apply only if you meet the minimum qualifications.
You’re not going to possess every skill listed in a job announcement — and employers don’t expect that — but don’t waste time if, for example, you’re a recent college graduate applying for a position that requires four years of professional experience, or someone with a GED applying for a job that requires a college degree.

2. Prepare in advance.
Job applications typically require information involving one’s work history and references, which may require some archival digging and research on your part. Having that information on hand before you begin filling out the application will help the process go more smoothly — and quickly.

3. Follow the directions.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you could be eliminated at the preliminary screening phase simply by not following formatting requirements or signing the application if it requires a signature.

4. Re-read your application for spelling, punctuation or grammar mistakes.
Some find that reading it out loud is also helpful, as the ear can often make the best editor. Don’t rely solely on spell check if it's an online employment application.

5. Don’t substitute your resume for the requested job application form.
Yes, applications can be time-consuming and tedious to fill out. That’s because they generally ask for information not found on resumes — detailed information specific to the position and company you’re applying to.

Cover letter blunders

Even if it’s not requested, include a cover letter with your job application. Failing to include this would be a missed opportunity. Here are some do's and don’ts:

  • Don’t address your cover letter “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Doing so indicates a lack of effort on your part to find out the name of the person you’re contacting (much less his or her gender) and is likely to earn your application a place in the circular file. If in the unlikely event the name or gender of the contact person is impossible to locate, then a “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear [name of department] Director” may suffice in lieu of a real name.
  • Don’t be a comedian. Your friends may appreciate your puns, wit and thinly veiled sarcasm, but the person reading your letter wants to know why you’ve applied for the job. Leave the stand-up for your Facebook posts.
  • Do talk about what you can bring to the company, not just how excited you are for the opportunity. How will you be able to make your new boss’s life easier, for instance? Make your cover letter work for you by explicating your specific skills, experience, and accomplishments.
  • Do include your phone number, along with all other pertinent contact information, in your cover letter. Even if this information already appears on your resume, you’ll want to also include it in your cover letter in case the two get separated.

Resume fails

Finally, the resume — the most important document in your job search toolkit. According to a CareerBuilder survey, employers cited the following as the most common resume mistakes that could result in a candidate’s automatic dismissal in the application process:

1. Typos.
Correct punctuation and grammar are also important.

2. Generic resumes.
Resumes should be written for the specific job — you’ll need to highlight those skills you have that match the job description and downplay those that don’t.

3. Light on skills.
Employers will want to easily see what it is that you’ve been doing at your previous jobs.

5. Cut and paste the job posting.
Yes, you want to personalize your resume for the job advertised, but don’t just transfer the job description verbatim or use all of the ad’s keywords.

6. Wrong email address.
Nothing will frustrate a potential employer more than having an email returned undeliverable due to “address unknown.” And, not all employers want (or have the time) to pick up the phone to call you.

7. Exact dates of employment not included.
Not including the actual dates you were employed at a specific company could be a red flag and a cause for suspicion on the employer’s part. If your resume has gaps in employment, it’s likely that you’ll have the opportunity to address this at the appropriate time.

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