How to Apply for a Job in 2021 (Step-By-Step Process)

By Mike Simpson

How to apply for a job; it seems like such a simple question to answer. In reality, application processes can be surprisingly complex. This is especially true while COVID-19 is still a factor, preventing some standard approaches from being an option.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t land a new position in 2021. You just need to adjust your approach to the current climate. If you do, you could be well on your way to professional success.

So, if you are wondering how to apply for a job this year, including how to apply for a job online, here’s everything you need to know.

Applying for a Job

Today, applying for a job can be a little bit different. COVID-19 took certain options off of the table. At least for a while, you aren’t going to see job fairs where dozens or hundreds of people gather in tight spaces to find work. In some cases, it’s because that approach is too risky. In others, it’s outright banned until coronavirus numbers drop.

Luckily, most of the other options are still in play and largely unaffected by the current landscape. Sure, you may be doing a video interview instead of an in-person one, but those two approaches have a ton in common.

But it is important to consider what applying for a job is like, particularly today. Higher unemployment means more competition. Plus, you do have to adjust your expectations based on the impact of the coronavirus.

For example, some companies may favor temporary positions over permanent ones, mainly because they don’t know what the future may hold. More jobs may be remote, which could be a good or bad thing depending on the state of your home office, internet connection, and home life.

Plus, while applying for a job is always exciting, it can also be ridiculously stressful. Yes, it can all be worth it when you land a sweet new gig, but it can be hard to stomach while you’re in the middle of it.

It also takes dedication. You need to be ready to follow various best practices, ensuring you can stand out from the pack. If you aren’t motivated to land something new, that can be hard to muster.

But if you’re really enthusiastic about moving your career forward, any of the difficulties won’t matter much. You’ll have your eye on the prize, and that makes a difference. Let your goal of a new job light a fire in you, ensuring you’re excited to put in the work so that you can snag your dream position.

What Are the Different Ways to Apply for a Job?

Candidates actually have a slew of options if they want to apply for a new position. Each one offers something different, both to you and the employer. By understanding what they bring to the table, including the pros and cons of each method, you can focus on the best approach for you.

In today’s technology-driven world, applying for a job online is the norm, by far. In fact, 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies make use of an applicant tracking system (ATS), and many smaller companies do, too. With most ATS solutions, companies can easily accept resumes and applications online.

But that’s not all. When it comes to finding quality hires, 46 percent of companies turn to third-party websites and online job boards. That’s just another sign that online is usually the way to go. In fact, some organizations only take online job applications, so it can actually be a must.

Generally, the biggest pro to going with the online route is that it’s the current standard. However, there’s more to it than that. It’s also convenient for both companies and job seekers. You can send your information in at any time using a standardized process. The employer gets the exact kind of details it needs in the proper format, and you can tackle the work in your pajamas. It’s a win-win.

Does applying online have drawbacks? Sure, all options do. Usually, the biggest one with online applications is simply competition, particularly if you go the job board route.

Companies may be overrun with applicants, including a surprising number that aren’t remotely qualified. In some cases, your application might not get as much initial attention as you’d hope. Plus, you might have to get past an automated screening round, which, without the right strategy, can be difficult.

Now, there are other approaches for how to apply for a job, too. Tapping your network can be a great choice. When you go this way, your goal is to snag a referral. If you do, you can get your resume sent directly to the hiring manager thanks to the kindness of someone you know.

Whether using your network for referrals will work depends on the strength of your connections. If you’ve been nurturing relevant relationships, you could be golden. If you haven’t kept in touch, then you’ll need to reconnect before you ask for any help.

In some cases, you can apply for a job via email. While this is technically an option for how to apply for a job online, it’s a bit different. It’s more correspondence-based, relying on the same kind of strategy as you’d use to apply through snail mail.

In some cases, applying over email can work in your favor. You can use the body of the email to present an initial value proposition. When done well, the hiring manager might give your attached resume more than a quick skim.

However, it also has drawbacks. One of the major ones is that your application will get lost in a sea of emails. On average, American professionals get 120 emails per day, so yours might get buried incidentally.

Mailing in an application would be… unconventional. Sure, this could make you stand out, but it may be considered a bit too old school in some cases. Plus, if the company relies on an ATS, that paper resume and cover letter could be a burden. They’d have to upload your information to the system, and there’s no guarantee that will actually happen.

Finally, applying in person is technically on the table, too, though maybe a bit less so due to COVID-19. This approach is the standard for open interviews, as you’ll get to meet with a hiring manager or recruiter on the same day usually.

However, outside of that, it’s usually not ideal. Again, you’re typically dealing with paper resumes and cover letters, which may not work if the company relies on an ATS or other technologies.

The only exception tends to be employers who have hiring kiosks, which you may still find at your local Walmart or similar companies. With those, you fill out the same kind of application as you’d see if you applied online; you just complete it using a kiosk or other on-site computer.

Whether kiosks are open during COVID-19 may vary. Still, it’s something you can try if it might work best for you.

What You Need to Have Before Applying for a Job

Alright, one of the biggest parts of how to apply for a job is to get your ducks in a row. Which ducks matter? Well, it can depend a bit on your approach. However, certain ducks are musts.

First, even if you’ll need to fill out a job application, get a resume ready. Many standard application processes ask you to attach a resume, and some let you use a resume alone.

Ideally, you want to target your resume to the position. However, if you’re just starting your job search, create a master resume instead. Then, you can simply pare it down and rearrange your bullet points based on the exact role. Easy peasy, right?

MIKE'S TIP: Even if the job application doesn’t ask for a resume, you can use it as a guide when you complete the forms. It’ll be a handy-dandy cheat sheet, allowing you to go through the process faster. Plus, you can easily review a resume for spelling and grammar errors thanks to built-in checkers, which is a bonus.

Beyond your resume, you may need to get some extra details about your work history. While asking about a candidate’s past salary history is falling out of vogue, some employers can (and still do) ask for it. You might also need precise starting and ending dates for each job, including the day, month, and year.

Additionally, get the contact details for your past employers. Usually, this means a mailing address and a phone number.

You may want to create a basic cover letter, too. Again, cover letters should usually be tailored, but getting a framework ready in advance doesn’t hurt.

It’s usually smart to brush up your social media profiles, too, especially on LinkedIn. That way, you can list the link on your resume.

However, if any of your social media profiles are public, give them a once over. If they contain something you wouldn’t want a hiring manager to see, either delete it or set the account to private.

In some cases, you may need to submit a list of references with your job application. Reach out to a few people before you start applying, ensuring you have current contact details ready (as well as their permission to list them).

You may also need your ID card, driver’s license, Social Security card, or similar forms of identification. Some online applications request ID or Social Security numbers. If you don’t know them by heart, make sure you have the information available.

Otherwise, what you need can vary by role. For some creative positions, you may need to prepare a portfolio, for example. If the job involves driving, you may need a driving abstract.

Usually, if any extras are necessary, it will say so in the job description. So, make sure you review the information carefully. That way, you can provide all of the necessary details.

Step-by-Step Method for Applying for a Job

Exactly how you apply for a job can vary depending on the approach you take. However, since applying for a job online is the most common one in today’s digital (and socially distanced) world, that’s what we’re going to focus on here.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to apply for a job online:

1. Identify a Great Position

As with any job search, your first step is to find a position. Choose keywords that help you narrow down your choices. For example, you may want to try ones based on key skills that align with your ideal role or specific job titles.

Focus on the results where you genuinely meet the requirements, and that also match your career goals. That way, you’ll be excited to apply.

2. Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter

Once you find a role, spend a little time tailoring your resume and cover letter. Make sure any keywords in the must-have skills list are in your application materials and that any achievements you showcase align with the job description.

Then, save copies of your resume and cover letter using smart file names. You may want to include part of your name, the position title, the company name, and the type of document. For example, “JDoe-AdminAsst-XYZCo-Resume” could work well for John Doe’s resume for an administrative assistant position at XYC Company.

3. Gather Additional Information

As mentioned above, you might need details off of your identification, a reference list, employer contact details, or other items to apply for a position. Get them all together before you start the application, ensuring you can handle each part of the process.

4. Access a Copy of the Job Description

Not all online applications list the job description once you start applying. Either print out a copy before you start or open it again in a second window, ensuring you can reference it if needed.

5. Create Your Account

Some company websites or job boards (but not all) require you to have an account. Typically, you need to list your name and email address, as well as choose a password. Make sure you use a professional sounding email and can access it, if needed, to confirm your account.

6. Read the Directions Twice

Once you get to the job application, read all of the directions before you do one more thing. You want to make sure that you follow the instructions. A single mistake could keep your application from going through or could lead a hiring manager to put your resume straight into the discard file.

After you read them all the first time, read them again. That way, you’re less likely to overlook something important.

7. Upload Your Resume and Cover Letter, Fill Out the Application, or Both

Depending on the system, all you may need to do is upload your resume and cover letter (and may some supporting documentation) and hit submit. However, you may need to do that and fill out an application, or fill out an application and copy and paste your resume into a field, or use a slightly different process.

If you’re filling out an application, use your resume and the job description as guides. Make sure you tap on all of the must-have’s keywords, increasing the odds you’ll look like a great match.

Follow the directions to the letter. With an application, just take it one field at a time. If it’s a simple upload, wait for confirmation that the documents are attached before moving forward.

8. Double-Check Your Work

Before you hit submit, review everything you’ve done. Check for spelling and grammar errors. Make sure the right files are attached. Don’t’ move on until you’ve at least double-checked everything.

9. Hit Submit

After you go through everything, it’s time to submit. If you followed our process, you’ve probably done your due diligence, so click that button with confidence.

Common Mistakes People Make When Applying for Jobs and How to Avoid Them

If you want to increase your odds of getting an interview, you need to avoid certain common mistakes. First, not following the directions is a big one, as it can cause your application to get rejected.

Second, not tailoring your resume or job application to the position is a major no-no. You want to make sure you look like an excellent match, so take the time to target your resume, cover letter, or job application responses.

Finally, aiming at jobs you can’t reasonably do or don’t actually want isn’t a smart move. Focus your job search on positions where you can shine and that you’d like to have; it makes a difference.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, if you were wondering how to apply for a job, you should have a great idea of what to do. Use the tips above to ensure you stand out for all of the right reasons. That way, you can be on your way to landing your perfect role.

Good luck!

About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.