How much time should I spend preparing a job application?

 In Job Search Tips

Over the years, I have often heard clients mention the long hours they put into editing their resumes and cover letters.

I propose spending 1-1.5 hours per target role.

Be selective about the jobs you apply for, look for jobs strategically, and take time to learn about each company. Apply only when you have a high level of interest; this will give you an opportunity to follow up within 5 business days or so and reiterate your availability.

Your resume is only one part of the career development process. To be able to send job applications quickly, research your industry first:

  • Have as much clarity about your goals as possible at this moment in your career.
  • Create a list of carefully selected 20-50 target employers.
  • Identify your most useful industry associations and resources.

When you are ready to apply, consider these 4 steps with suggested time frames:

Job description analysis: 10 minutes

Print out the job description, read it with a highlighter, mark the top 3-4 requirements, and note all other important keywords.

Use these notes to review your resume.

Resume tweak: 15-30 minutes

Check if the top part of your resume reflects the requirements of the target role in full.

Update your career summary (a paragraph describing your top differentiators). Edit your areas of expertise to add 2-3 requirements specific to the role(s) you are targeting at the moment. Remove information that is no longer relevant.

You can also edit your target role title to reflect the desired role(s). The target role title can be specific (Regional Sales Manager) or general (Sales & Operations Leader).

When updating your resume, you are mostly changing the top part (illustrated above). The achievements in the rest of your resume are transferable, provided that you quantified and phrased them with clarity.

Cover letter: 30 minutes

Write a one-page cover letter from scratch, focusing on 3-4 requirements from the target role description.

Once you identify the key requirements in order of priority, use them as paragraph openers in your letter. For the sake of clarity, you can use the exact terms from the job description. This strategy makes your cover letter easy to read; it shows the hiring manager that you understood and addressed the main requirements.

An extra round of proofreading: 10 minutes

If the deadline permits, leave your job application for a day and proofread it again the next day, preferably from paper.

Now you’re ready to submit your documents.


About the author:

Tanya Mykhaylychenko provides resume writing and career strategy services for executives. Connect with her on LinkedIn for networking tips and ideas on career development.

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