Your initial orientation to the job search is personal.
- Will you like it?
- Will this job give you the skills and experience you need to move forward in your career?
- Will it pay enough? And so on …
Once you’ve decided to apply, your perspective needs to change. As with any writing or presentation, you need to consider the audience. The person doing the hiring doesn’t really care about any of the things listed above.
What can you do for this employer?
Luckily, you have considerable information about what the employer does care about.
- You’ve read the job description.
- You’ve done some information interviews.
- You’ve done a bit of research on the website.
You know what tasks you need to perform, what the work environment is like, and how this position fits into the organization. Now you need to write about your knowledge, skills and experience in ways that speak to those employer needs. Before you try to write the specific standard pieces of the job application, it can help to collect and organize the information according to the employer’s needs.
Why do you think you could do this job?
Start by making notes: List the requirements and the information you have about what the job involves. Then write down the things you have done or courses you have taken that make you think you could do that particular task.
Write short stories about previous experiences that are similar to situations you will face in this job. Don’t worry too much about the back story. Focus on what you did, specifically, and what the outcome was. The criteria for whether to write about it is, “Does this contribute to my belief that I can do this job? How?”
Don’t worry about whether these fit those standard forms or whether you are “allowed” to talk about volunteer work, work in another industry, or whatever. Just get as much information down as you can.
You will have much more information than will fit in the initial application materials. That’s okay. By writing it all down, you will be more confident. The tone of your application will benefit from that confidence.
Select the best evidence
When you start to put together the job application materials, using whatever standard formats are appropriate to this position, select information that speaks best to the employer’s needs.
You decide whether including volunteer experience (or other non-standard evidence) at this stage strengthens your application. You might reasonably decide to focus on the kinds of evidence the employer is expecting, knowing this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The goal of the initial application is to secure an interview. When preparing for an interview go back to those notes, select the best stories for particular interview questions and refine them.
Your needs – for professional development, challenge, and salary – will remain secondary until you are in actual negotiations about an offer. At that point you can ensure that you are suitably compensated for what you contribute.