Basically I have been blessed to be close to people who work in hiring and were very, very willing to pass along their knowledge and tips and since a lot of people I know on here seem mystified by these things, I will share my vast wealth of knowledge with you*
*Some of this knowledge might be contradicted by specifics from your own field. If you’re a chemical engineer some of these things might not apply and that’s fine. This is just ~*widely applicable*~ stuff.
Cover letters are the stupidest part of a job application. The cover letter is really only there to show two things: 1) That you have a command of language that is both accurate and appropriate; 2) you read the job listing.
Your cover letter should be short. The hirer has likely read hundreds that day, and by read, I mean “skimmed over lightly.” You don’t need to fill up an entire page.
It should only contain pertinent information. Do not try to be cutesy or “creative” unless the job listing SPECIFICALLY asks for that. Trust me, I’ve had to hire people. Those people’s letters got passed around for mocking. DO NOT BE THAT PERSON.
It should speak to the job listing, but only enough that it shows that you read it. If the job listing emphasizes that they’re looking for somebody who is willing to work odd hours, throw in a line that in your past experience you have been noted for being flexible with time. It doesn’t need a Faulkner-length explanation.
If you know the name of the person to whom the letter is addressed, address it to them. If you it is a blind application, you don’t need to put “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam;” just don’t say anything.
Your resume should be ONE page. Just one. Not two or more.
You can’t lie on your resume; you can learn how to make things sound more impressive. If you worked at a hair salon cleaning up, don’t say “Swept floors.” Instead write, “Contributed to the efficiency and cleanliness of the salon by sweeping floors.” It sounds like bullshit to you, but to a prospective employer, it sounds like you’re happy being part of a team. Try to describe what you did in at least 7 words.
You can divide your resume if you want to highlight certain experiences over others. Making two sections such as “Relevant Experience” and “Other Experience” breaks it up, allows the reader to skip around, and let’s you highlight what you want to highlight.
Learn to weed things out. Unless you can make it look like it taught you something huge, don’t waste the space. At the same time, if a job sucked but you can make it appear like it really impacted you, use it. This is not the truth about how you felt about that last job. This is you advertising yourself. You’re trying to get a job, not a Nobel Prize for emotional honesty.
Now, what about the Skills section? You should have one, but as one friend said, “Nobody gives a shit if you went to France and had a great time. What we care about is if you’re proficient in French.” That should be your metric for things:
Only list experiences that would aid you in this job or a similar one—not things that were “cool.” This is the place for things that you’ve learned but perhaps can’t tie to a job. Examples: foreign language skills, clerical training, courses/certifications, etc.
List all of the software that you know. Even if it doesn’t seem relevant to that job, weird things happen. List any MS Office/equivalent software, if you are familiar with both Mac and PC, any graphics editing software you know…
SOCIAL MEDIA IS A THING THAT YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY MAKE KNOWN. To people ~30 and under, social media seems like a given. But to many employers, it’s a mystical world filled with equal amounts of marketing opportunities and terror. Make it clear what social networking sites you know how to use—obviously Facebook and Twitter, but also LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.
Applying to Jobs/Interviewing
Unfortunately, I can give you less specific advice here because we are not likely working in the same field—but here are just some general things to file away:
If there’s a job listing that you feel qualified for but the listing says it wants more years of experience than you have, apply anyway. Those employers are unlikely to find that unicorn that has 4+ years of experience and is willing to work basically minimum wage. While more experience is a plus, they really just want somebody who can do the job. When it comes to applying to jobs, you really have nothing to lose by applying to anything that tickles your fancy.
Interviewing is an entire post unto itself, but I’ll give you the tips that I’ve been given by my people: be calm, be on time, and ask good questions. Always have some questions lined up, even if you already know the answer. “What are you looking for in the right candidate?” is a good example, or “Are there opportunities for growth within the company?” etc.
Accepting a Job
So you got a job offer; exciting! Before you immediately accept, really vet the place to make sure it’s somewhere you’d like to work. Months of unemployment make you desperate, but sometimes jumping at the first opportunity it isn’t worth it. THIS HAPPENED TO ME, LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES.
Things you should think about:
Do I know ALL things about the job, including: what I will be paid/how often, if there are benefits and when I get them, what hours I am working, how overtime is handled, how sick time is handled, etc. These are all incredibly important to know and if your employer is legitimate they will welcome you asking them.
Is the distance commutable, or is it too far from home? (Think about how transit/gasoline will cut into your paycheck.)
Does the job give me the time necessary to do other important things?
Does the office environment seem like one I can spend at least six months in? (Every month at a bad job feels like an eternity—if you have bad feelings, trust them.)
Does the job offer me anything besides a paycheck? Will I be learning any skills at this job or making important connections that can help me down the road?
IMPORTANT: If an employer tries to give you a W-9 tax form upon your hiring and you are NOT a freelancer (independent contractor), RUN. This is tax fraud and is very messy and is entirely there to screw you. Become familiar with the legal definition of a freelancer so you know if you’re walking into a shady place. It happens more than you’d think, and it sucks, and is weird.
If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message or whatever, I’ll gladly answer to the best of my ability! GO GET ‘EM.