Applying for a Job

21 Before you Apply for a Job

Employment materials are some of the most important—and most challenging—pieces of writing you will ever undertake.

The aim of the this chapter is to ease your mind and demystify the job application process by giving you some core principles to follow. With these principles, you can create a job package that will make you a more desirable candidate to potential employers.

Whether you are applying to be an administrative assistant or an engineer, a web developer or a caregiver, many of the strategies are the same.  As you read through this chapter, keep the following principles in mind:

  • The more customized your materials are, the more successful they will be; generic materials are unlikely to capture an employer’s attention.
  • Your materials should not demonstrate why this job would benefit you. Instead, they should show how you, as a unique candidate, can benefit your potential employer.
  • Your materials should not simply list every job you’ve ever held, but instead emphasize transferable skills, making an argument for how your past accomplishments prepare you for the job you are applying for.

Tailoring your materials to a specific audience is to work smarter, rather than harder. In fact, tailoring is one of the core principles of professional writing. Imagine yourself in the position of a hiring manager.  Would you be more likely to hire a candidate whose generic résumé looks like it has been sent to dozens of similar employers? Or would you be more likely to hire a candidate who has researched your business and understands what the job entails?

The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it?

Finding a job

Photo #1: Making a plan

Finding a suitable job opening itself can be a time-consuming process. Here are a few resources to get you started:

  • Job boards: for entry-level jobs and corporate jobs, sites such as IndeedCareerBuilderGlassdoor and Monster are very accessible, high volume sources of job postings.
  • Industry-specific lists: look for lists of jobs in specific industries, such as non-profits (Charity Village), municipal government (CivicInfoBC), or media (MediaBistro).
  • Profession-specific lists: if you have a clear career path and specific credentials or experience, a profession-specific job board may be best for you, such as the Partnerships Job Board for libraries or the association for Chartered Professional Accountants. With the latter, there’s a catch; you need to be a member (or at least a student member) of the organization to see the job postings. That’s a required qualification, so it’s behind a password-protected page. However, for folks in accounting, that’s probably the very best place to look. Regardless of your field, you can probably find a profession-specific job board if you look.
  • Company, organization, and government websites: visit the employment section on websites of companies you admire; search federal, provincial, regional, and city websites for job postings.
  • Professional recruiters: Some companies outsource the preliminary stages of the hiring process to recruitment firms (sometimes known as “headhunters”). In Canada, major recruitment firms include Randstad, Robert Half, Hays, Angusone, and McNeill Nakamoto. There are dozens of others, too. Their websites all list specific jobs they’re recruiting for, but you won’t know who their client is at least until you are picked for an interview.
  • Your own network: talk to classmates, friends, past employers, and professors or visit LinkedIn to search for openings at companies in your network.
  • Your educational institution: visit your college or university placement office/career center and attend job fairs. Many students end up working for their post-secondary institutions and those institutions often employ thousands of people in a wide range of occupations (not only instructors).

Many job seekers also use Craigslist or Kijiji to look for work; just be aware that these postings often lack detail and may come from headhunters or placement agencies, rather than from the direct employer.

Once you have found a job, make sure to print and/or save a copy of the job posting or job description. You will use this document to help you tailor your application materials and prepare for your interview. Because companies often delete the job posting once they have received sufficient applicants, you need to save your own copy. Keep a folder with all job postings you’ve applied for. You’ll want to review the posting again if you are contacted for an interview. If you didn’t save the posting, you won’t have it later and other applicants will have an obvious advantage if they did save a copy.

Conducting a self-inventory

Know what you have to offer as a potential employee. As you work on your résumé, you may worry that you have nothing valuable to include or you may worry that you are “bragging.” One way to get over these hurdles is to allocate time to a self-inventory.

Brainstorm your skills, accomplishments, and knowledge by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What did you accomplish at a past or current work, school, or volunteer position?
  • What transferable skills have you learned?
  • What would you tell a friend or family member you were proud of having achieved there?

Start writing down skills and action verbs that describe your experiences and accomplishments, and don’t worry about putting them into a résumé format yet.

Some students believe they have no job experience, but that’s virtually never true. If anybody has ever paid you to perform a task, even if only a few dollars (or other currency), that’s job experience. If you’re taking a post-secondary course, that means you have education.

The challenge is professionalizing the language to communicate the value you bring to the workforce.

Exercise: Self-Inventory

Let’s take a moment to brainstorm some skills and action verbs that you can use in your job package assignment for this course. The best way to do this is to browse a skill list such as the one below.

Complete the following steps:

  1. Scan the groupings of skills (communication skills, creative skills, financial skills, etc.) for action verbs related to skills you have or work you have done.
  2. Write down the categories of skills you have (again, communication skills, creative skills, financial skills, and so on) and the action verbs that describe skills you have or work you have done (e.g., analyzed, performed, calculated, advocated).

For example, you probably have done quite a few team projects in school already. You could probably pick “communication skills” and “collaborated.”

Communication/ People Skills Creative Skills Management/ Leadership Skills Helping Skills Organizational Skills
Collaborated Combined Assigned Aided Arranged
Communicated Created Coordinated Arranged Categorized
Developed Developed Decided Assisted Distributed
Edited Drew Improved Contributed Organized
Incorporated Illustrated Led Cooperated Recorded
Proposed Planned Managed Encouraged Responded
Suggested Revised Oversaw Helped Updated
Synthesized Shaped Recommended Motivated Tracked
Translated Crafted Reviewed Supported Monitored
Facilitated Conceived Supervised Prepared Synthesized
Mediated Established Delegated Bolstered Adapted

Adapted from Creating Resumes I by Roads to Success, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

For an additional list of action words for your job package, check out your college’s or university’s career center.

As you gather information about your work history and skills, double check that your information is accurate and current. Gather dates of employment, dates of trainings, lists of activities you have been involved in, academic awards, achievements, and special projects. If you’re having trouble remembering the information, ask former coworkers or managers about your significant workplace contributions.

Researching your potential employer

Photo #2: Looking for work

As we’ve already discussed, you must adapt your job package materials to your potential employer. Of course, to know your audience means you will need to first take the time to do a little research. Research your potential employer as well as the job for which you’re applying. The easiest way to research a potential employer is to visit the company’s website.

Look for an “About Us” page or a “Mission Statement” and observe how the company describes its goals and values.

Try to answer the following questions about the company or organization:

  • Who does this company serve?
  • Who are this company’s partners or competitors?
  • What technologies would I use at this company?
  • What is the tone of this company’s materials (formal, conservative, humorous, “cutting edge”)?
  • How would you describe this company’s brand?

Here are a few more ways to research a company:

  • Search for its name on LinkedIn and other social media sites.
  • Browse for news articles about the company or press releases written by the company.
  • Speak with friends or colleagues who work for the company.
  • Call the company to request an informational interview.

This may seem like extra work, but this research can help you analyze the needs of your audience and, as a result, better market yourself as a solution to those needs.

As you research, look for ways to connect with the company:

  • What do you admire about the company?
  • Where do your values and interests overlap with those of the company?
  • What makes this company a good fit for you and you a good fit for them?

Try to summarize your connection to the company in one sentence.

Researching the potential job

To research the job itself, take advantage of the job posting you found. The job posting is your secret weapon; in this document, you are told what the employer is looking for in a candidate.

Exercise: Researching the Job

The job posting will give you insight into the company’s needs. Obviously, the solution is you! The best way to figure out how you can solve that problem is by scouring the job posting and making connections to the words in it.

You want to get into a conversation with the document as you go over it, so you will need a way to annotate the posting. Either print it out or copy and paste it in a document editor, such as Microsoft Word. Once you have the document ready, take the following steps:

  1. Highlight or underline any qualifications that you hold—any skills you have, technologies you’ve used, and so on.
  2. Make note of any past achievements that relate to any of the preferred qualifications. For example, if the job description seeks a candidate who can diagnose and solve technical problems, write down an example of a specific time in which you did so in a professional or academic setting.
  3. Circle any keywords you might use in your own materials. Using the same terms as a potential employer demonstrates to that employer that you are able to “speak their language.”
  4. Note any questions/uncertainties and any qualifications you do not have in order to decide what to highlight and what to downplay in your materials (as well as what you need to learn more about).

Any content you find through this process can be discussed in your application materials. You may not end up using all of the content you generate, but you want options when trying to appeal to your prospective employer.


This chapter was adapted from Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach by Rebekah Bennetch, Corey Owen, and Zachary Keesey, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Bennetch, Owen, and Keesey adapted their chapter from “Technical Writing” by Allison Gross, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva (on Open Oregon). It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Photo #1 by Firmbee on Unsplash

Photo #2 by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Professional Writing Today Copyright © 2022 by Sam Schechter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book