5 Ways to ELEVATE Your Job Application to the Top of the Pile

October 21, 2019

At Elevate, we’re always looking for talented, motivated and collaborative people to join our team. We hire most of our positions on a rolling basis, which means we’re looking at cover letters, resumes, and work products on a weekly, if not daily basis.

Whether you’re applying for a position at Elevate, or another mission-driven organization, it’s important to put your best foot forward — which starts with your application materials.

From typos and poor formatting, to boilerplate resumes and cover letters that mention the wrong company name, there are plenty of chances to make a silly mistake and potentially cost yourself an interview!

To help, we’re sharing our best advice — compiled after reviewing hundreds of applications over the years. The five tips below will help you emphasize your strengths, avoid common pitfalls, and submit an application that increases your chances of standing out for the right reasons.

Tailor your materials to the organization and the position

As a grant writing firm,  tailoring standard grant language to each specific funder is key to a strong grant. Similarly, a cover letter that’s tailored to Elevate and the specific position to which you are applying is key to any applicant’s success. 

Your job as an applicant is to make the strongest possible case for why YOU are the ideal candidate for this specific position. As such, tailoring your materials to the specific role you are applying for is a must. Some hiring teams may place more emphasis on reading cover letters, while others focus more on resumes; you likely won’t know up front which type of company you are applying to, so it’s best to spend time customizing both.

The best candidates will highlight the direct experience that relates to the position, no matter how small. Make sure the reader knows that you understand the role and have experience that will translate into your new job.  For Elevate, we look for candidates at all levels with a strong writing background, as well as those with nonprofit experience – even volunteer or classwork can demonstrate the kind of relevant experience we like to see. Make sure you include it!

Make every word count

Words matter! That is particularly true if you’re applying for a job at Elevate, where we’re a team of professional writers. Keep these guidelines in mind, to ensure your materials are top-notch:

  • A job description is full of helpful hints to create a strong application. Look for the skills, duties, and requirements listed in the job posting, and make sure you align your skills and experiences to match.
  • Just like a grant proposal, your cover letter should tell a compelling story. Remember to be concise, and avoid getting too far into the weeds.
  • Focus on results, impact and outcomes. Don’t just list your job descriptions, activities, or extracurriculars; demonstrate how those experiences translate to this specific job, and why they make you uniquely qualified for the position.
  • Be selective about which software, platforms, and technical skills you include. For example, Elevate uses Salesforce heavily, so we’re always interested in knowing when candidates have Salesforce experience. On the other hand, unless it’s relevant to the position, you likely don’t need to include your social media handles, experience with Microsoft Office or Gmail, etc.
  • Enumerate! Use numbers and metrics to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your experience:
    • How many people did you manage?
    • How often did you deliver a report?
    • What were you the first to accomplish?
    • How large was the budget you managed?
    • How much have you won in grants?
  • Make sure your resume length is appropriate, given your tenure in the workforce. For example, a recent college graduate should not submit a multi-page resume.
  • Space is at a premium, so aim for maximum impact. Avoid repetition, passive voice, and long lists; instead, use action words and persuasive argumentation to demonstrate your value and accomplishments. There are plenty of online resources available to help with this!
Highlight what’s important

Use the hierarchy of a resume to your advantage to highlight the most pertinent information. For example, unless you’re still in school, your Professional Experience section should be listed above your Educational Experience. Also, unless your GPA is outstanding, or the company has asked for it, don’t bother including it. And if you’ve been out of school for a year or more, don’t list your GPA at all. 

If you don’t have the exact type of experience listed in the position description, draw attention to the relevant experience you DO have, and make a strong case for how it would serve you in this role. Don’t make the hiring team connect those dots – paint the picture for them. For example, what skills did you develop as a writer or editor at a college publication that would make you a strong grant writer?

Think like a hiring manager

A recent study from TheLadders shows that recruiters spend an average of six seconds reviewing each resume. That’s a very small window in which to make a strong impression! At Elevate, we review all cover letters and resumes in house – but there are a few things that jump out right away to demonstrate your interest in Elevate, not just any job. Things like:

  • Did the applicant read the directions? For example, we specifically ask applicants to tell us why they want to work at Elevate. If a candidate’s cover letter doesn’t even mention Elevate, it notes a lack of attention to detail.
  • Does the applicant understand and demonstrate the skills that tie to position we are hiring? The original job post will provide that roadmap!
  • Did they complete the application?  We ask for both a resume and a cover letter – make sure you provide exactly what has been requested.
Don’t skimp on the finishing touches

Make sure your cover letter and resume are saved in PDF form, and give everything a final review before you hit submit. (You would be amazed how many documents we receive with comments or edits in the margins.) Similarly, demonstrate your attention to detail by double-checking things like the date on your cover letter, and making sure you don’t have one stray bullet point on its own page. These seem like small things, but they could be a deal breaker for some reviewers. 

Once you submit an application be ready for the next steps. For example, make sure you have a professional sounding outgoing voicemail for calls from hiring managers. Be prepared to interview in person on short notice. Watch you email (including your spam inbox) for follow-up – which may include tests or skill assessments.

We hope these tips and tricks serve you well in your job search, no matter what jobs you apply for. And, if you’re the kind of person who loves working hard for social change, and you have experience in fundraising, grant writing, consulting, project management and/or other nonprofit work, we’d love to hear from you!

Keep an eye out for part two of this series, for tips on how to prepare for an interview and make the strongest possible impression during the next step of the hiring process.

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About the Author:

Katy Kale
Katy Kale