Preparing the perfect job application

Hint: It’s not just having a hipster MacBook setup


Now that you’ve decided which job you want — let’s get it.

This post will outline the following important steps to prepare for a winning job application:

  • Figuring out why the employer is posting the job
  • How to position yourself for the job
  • Preparing a winning resume and cover letter

90% of job applicants follow none of the advice this post conveys — Keep reading if you want to move into the top 10%.


What does the employer want?

You know what job you want. Now stop thinking about yourself.

Employers don’t care about you.

They care about their problems, and how this new hire will solve them.

This is why they are posting a job. The only question that matters is:

Who does the company want to hire?

The company has in mind the ideal candidate. You need to become that person. Pick a job that you really want, and do the following 3 exercises to figure out exactly what a company is looking for.

Exercise 1: Study the job description.

The job description will tell you at minimum the skills and experience necessary for the job. Dig deeper, and look for what they are really looking for. Decide what problems the company is trying to solve.

The organization isn’t really looking for “email marketing experience,” but for someone who can increase customer engagement and revenue.

Currently I’m hiring for a resume writer and support role — the job description says I want people with SaaS customer service experience. But really I want someone who can make my customers really happy while saving me from hours of answering emails per day.

Write down the #1 problem they need to solve.

Exercise 2: Extensively research the company.

Your biggest advantage is information, and almost everything you need to know about a company can be found online. Write down answers to the following questions:

  • What does the company do?
  • Why do they exist?
  • Who are the key people at the company?
  • What are those people like?
  • What recent milestones has the company surpassed?
  • What is their culture like?
  • What kind of people do they typically hire?
  • How am I connected to the company?
  • Do I know anyone who works there?

Now that you have the information — let’s turn it into a story.

Exercise 3: Describe their ideal hire

Write a paragraph that describes the exact person this company wants to hire. Include the following:

  • The problems the company wants to solve
  • The skills and experience they’re looking for
  • The personality of the ideal candidate

This is the person you need to become in order to get the job.

Here’s an example:

A company that builds time tracking software for government organizations is struggling with acquiring new customers — they’re growing slowly via Word of mouth, but want to start using content marketing and search engine optimization to increase their client base. They have been around for 10 years and have a strong sales team, but have no experience with these new user acquisition methods.
Kyle is a creative marketer who graduated with a marketing degree from UCLA in 2011. He’s worked for three years in the digital agency world in LA, learning content marketing, SEO, and SEM.
Skills include Photoshop, indesign, and basic HTML. He’s written blog posts that have been published in popular publications like Mashable and the Huffington Post, and saved Fortune 500 companies over 50% on their Facebook Ad spend by optimizing for more targeted user demographics.
Kyle dresses in a classic navy business suit — but with bright socks and a colorful tie. He pays attention to the details and is a responsible (sometimes too serious) worker — but also has a lot of creative ideas and loves to contribute to overall business strategy.

It seems a bit silly, but trust me — this exercise is worth it. You are creating a “customer persona” which will be your blueprint for the remainder of the job application.


Become their ideal hire

You know who this company’s ideal hire is, now you need to position yourself as that person.

Positioning is which relates to how marketers attempt to create a distinct impression in a customer’s mind. This impression happens instantly.

Your first impression is the difference between a new career or your resume being shredded. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Do not communicate with your target employer until you are ready.

Here are the two things you need to make the best first impression. Create both of them for your selected job posting.

1. A completely original cover letter

This is where all your research comes in handy. You must write an original cover letter that shows you’re a skilled communicator who is passionate about the company.

Adapt your generic cover letter completely to fit the companies’ needs and style. Here are 2 cover letters that got people hired at Crew from Mikael Cho’s article. Notice how the tone and the vibe matches the company.

Sample Introductory email
Short and sweet cover letter introduction

2. A custom resume

Most people send the same generic resume to every employer. This is a huge miss. Every employer has different needs that you need to fill. You need to think like a marketer — and send the recruiter to a custom landing page targeted to meeting their needs.

Include keywords from the job description in your targeted resume to make it really obvious you are a perfect fit for the job.

Initially, recruiters are simply pattern matching your resume to the job description. They’re looking for the fastest way to find the best fit for the job. If your application doesn’t match, they’ll take any excuse to eliminate a resume. Include relevant keywords from the job description in both your resume and cover letter.

For more information on how to build your resume, VisualCV’s Ultimate Resume Guide is your answer.

Bonus: Beef up your online brand

This will be the subject of another post, but here are some things you can do to increase your marketplace value.

LinkedIn. Update your LinkedIn with relevant work experience, your summary, and your brand. Add at least 50 people to your network.

Twitter. Write a good description of yourself, follow influencers in the industry, and share relevant content using a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite.

An online portfolio. Once you get past the initial resume screen, it’s important to have a place to display your relevant work experiences. Work samples are the best predictor of job success, and employers love to see past projects you’ve impacted.

According to our data, recruiters spend 3 minutes and 55 seconds on average viewing an online portfolio. Which means that if you can get them to your online resume — your chances increase exponentially.


There is no traffic on the extra mile

Every other job seeker follows this process.

  1. Finds a job posting that looks good
  2. Makes a few changes to their cover letter
  3. Sends their standard resume

This is good news. Because you’re not every other job seeker. If you follow this process for each job application you will be miles ahead of the competition. It might take an extra hour — isn’t that extra hour worth improving the next 40 years of your career?

Get to work preparing your resume and cover letter, because my next post will show you how to get it in front of the right people — and guarantee you the interview.

BONUS: Email the following to James at VisualCV.com with the subject: Get Me HIRED!

  1. A link to the job you want
  2. Your cover letter
  3. Your resume

I will personally review your application to help you get the interview.


This is the third in a series of posts about how to land a job you’ll love. Please hit recommend below if you found it useful. The next topics are:

  • Reverse engineering the application process to guarantee an interview
  • How to nail the job interview

☞ Get updates on new posts and no-bullshit career advice by subscribing to my weekly newsletter here. Create a stunning resume or portfolio at VisualCV.com.


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