Tips for a Job Application Refresh

Tips for a Job Application Refresh was originally published on Idealist Careers.

Stuck at home due to the pandemic (or for any other reason)? Especially if you’re between jobs, this could be the perfect opportunity to hit reset and take a fresh approach to your job applications. If you’re looking to say goodbye to your go-to cover letter, rethink your communication style, or revamp your resume and website, here’s how you can get started.

Start each cover letter fresh

When you’re firing out lots of cover letters, it can be tempting to rely on a handy template that you tweak, just a bit, for every job. But even when you think you’re tailoring each letter, it’s probably not as targeted as you may think.

If you’d like to truly refresh your cover letter, here are a few things to try:

  • Try starting a cover letter from scratch without referring to your template. Does what you came up with sound more relevant and authentic? You may also find that your new letter is shorter and more to the point.
  • According to Idealist’s 2019 Hiring Insights, the top two most important aspects of cover letters are: “Examples of how a candidate’s experience relates to a position” and “Indication that a candidate has a sense of the organization’s mission.” Make sure that you specifically relate your achievements to the role for which you’re applying and demonstrate your passion for the organization’s mission.
  • Avoid taking too many cues from sample cover letters found online. You may be following outdated styles, often suited to the wrong industry.

Find the appropriate tone for the organization

It’s important to communicate with potential employers using the appropriate tone and terminology. The type of organization as well as the location often affect the level of formality required in your communications with them.

  • Research the organization and get a sense of their voice from their website, social media pages, and press coverage. You should also try asking ask around—people in your network may be familiar with the organization and have some good insider tips to offer.
  • Some clues are in the job application itself. If the instructions say to “send all applications and references to Ms. Garcia” then that’s a clue you might want to be a little more formal. If it says, “email Sara at “ then you can probably be a little more casual in your communications.
  • This is also the case with follow-up emails. If the person at the organization is emailing you and addressing you by your first name, you should do the same. One-way formality is awkward for both of you, so be sure to mirror the tone of whoever it is you’re emailing.

Regularly update your resume and online presence

It’s important to remember that resume guidelines change over time. Make sure that your resume is current in both content and style. Similarly, if you have a professional website or other online presence, be sure to keep that updated as well.

  • The resume advice your college career services office gave you as a student may have been applicable at that time; as your career progresses, however, your resume can be longer and should focus less on the education section and more on your professional achievements.
  • If your career path has changed or you want to stress certain aspects of your resume more than others, consider alternatives to a chronological resume. The most recent work you did isn’t necessarily what you want to stand out.
  • Now is also a good time to think about and refine your digital identity. Is your goal to attract traffic to your blog or professional website, build community on social media, or something else? Plan to create or share content that will support your goal, and remember to keep your sites and profiles fresh with active links and current contact information.

It’s easy to get stuck in old habits and routines, and that can also be the case with the job application process. You may find that taking a fresh approach not only makes the process less tedious, but results in a better response as well.


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