How to Actually Apply for a Job Right Now

“How do I get a job?” Six one-syllable words, laden with so much frustration, hope, fear, excitement, and potential for existential despair. And that was before 2020 lobbed a grenade into all of our plans. Whether you’re a new grad—or just newly laid off—lining up your next gig is a daunting (and time-consuming) task and, with great respect to our Grade 10 career studies teacher, nobody really prepared us for. (But we do know our Meyers-Briggs type so…)
That’s why we’ve assembled a trio of professional job-getters, armed with tips, tricks—and even a few hacks—to keep you from falling into the Job Board Pit of Despair. Start planning your first-day outfits, friends: We’re going to get you a job—even in This Economy!

Do not apply to ALL the jobs

This can be tempting, we get it, especially when auto-fill and one-click applications make it so easy. Resist! “This is the last thing you want to do,” cautions Brandesha Sinclair, a career coach at Working Millennial. “It’s just not effective.” For one thing? Many companies use “applicant tracking systems” to scan your resume for relevant information and terms, and, if it doesn’t pick up on them, immediately throws you onto the (virtual) rejection pile. Basically, you’re wasting your time—and being indiscriminate in what you apply for can also expose you to some dodgy stuff. “You can end up applying to questionable jobs that might raise flags if you did your research,” says Sinclair, pointing straight at scammers like “bogus door-to-door commission only” jobs.

Instead, have a “target” job

This doesn’t necessarily have to be your dream job, btw, but it should be something you’ve clearly defined. Otherwise, “it’s like driving your car without a destination in mind,” explains Kamara Toffolo, a resume writer and job search strategist. “It’s aimless, and you’re wasting a lot of gas in the process.” If you have a target job—assistant buyer, software developer, carpenter, whatever—and even a target field—green energy, the arts, financial services—you can begin to tailor your resume, LinkedIn profile and even potential interview answers to land that. If you have a few different directions you’d like to explore, Sinclair encourages developing a few different resumes, strategically designed to appeal to the various avenues you’re going down.

Ditch the fancy resume template

According to Toffolo, those templates from Canva, Pinterest or Etsy might look cute, but they could be holding you back. “They’re all looks, no substance,” she explains, saying they’re not “optimized” for job searching in a digital age. The text boxes they often use, for example, can’t be read by those applicant tracking systems. Instead, make friends with Mr. Paperclip and draft up your resume in Word, or a similar text application. At the same time, she says, remember that “humans make hiring decisions.” This means designing a resume that is easy to read (no huge blocks of text!), and, most importantly, is relevant to your specific potential employer, and the role you’re applying for. Not sure where to start? Look at the job description and, using your own words, parrot back the attributes or skills they’re looking for that you have.

Do not be part of the 80%

According to Ali Breen, a career coach who works mainly with millennials and Gen Zs, there is a “hidden job market.” Think: The ones that get filled by word-of-mouth, or just posted in a store window, or on the hiring manager’s Twitter. These account for *80%* of the jobs out there. The remaining 20? The ones posted on popular job boards like Indeed, Glassdoor or Workopolis. And yet: “Eighty percent of people are applying for that 20 percent of jobs,” she says, comparing “clicking apply” on those sites to a “dopamine hit” that can fool you into feeling like you’ve done something meaningful. (Getting boatloads of applicants for a role is how those companies make their money. Just sayin’.)
That’s not to say you shouldn’t apply for roles you see on those sites, she says, but that shouldn’t be the extent of your job search. And at the very least, see if you know someone who knows someone at the company you’ve just applied for, and ask them to make a connection for you. Pro tip: LinkedIn has a feature that can show if you have any shared connections with someone.

Hunt for the hidden jobs

So what can you be doing that’s actually constructive? You can start by “reverse engineering,” as Ali Breen calls it. “There’s lots of stuff out there about how employers can attract the best talent,” she explains. “Find out what they’re doing to attract you, and go to those places.” For instance, many companies create “recruitment videos” that they post on social media. If a company you’re into has one, make an HR person’s day and comment on it. “Ask a question,” suggest Breen, “or say, ‘This part of the video gave me chills. I’d love to talk to someone more about that part.’” And while you’re at it, make sure you “show up virtually,” adds Breen. This can mean commenting on their every post or be as simple as making sure all of your social bios say “I am passionate/curious about…” and then list three things that align with your dream employer’s values or clientele.

And yes, you should be networking

Because “networking” has become a gross word, reframe it as “building connections,” which feels so much less transactional, and so much more like something a real human might do. For Sinclair, this can be as simple as reaching out to people you’re already connected with and checking in on them. (Another network you may not have considered? Your retail or service job that you might be overlooking. “See if there are any internal opportunities for growth,” says Sinclair. “Take on a supervisor or a trainer role.”)
Don’t know anyone in your target field? Considering joining a relevant professional association, suggests Breen, and just cold-emailing them to say “I’m looking to make a connection with someone in your association because I’m a new grad.” And once you’ve managed to make a connection, always ask them to connect you with three more relevant people. “You’re saving yourself time and energy,” she says. “If you find someone who’s epic, they’re probably going to know epic people too.” Other places to look for potential connections? Alumni associations, local chambers of commerce, community groups. And don’t just limit yourself to people local to you! With the rise of remote work, anything is possible, and a global perspective will never be a bad thing.