How can I cut down on the time it takes to apply for a job?
August 22, 2014 3:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm something of a Swiss Army Knife of a human being, so there are many things I can do and that I find interesting. I am an artist and don't particularly care what I do to earn a living, as long as I can finance my artwork. That said, it can take me A LONG LONG TIME to finish a single job application.

I've managed to shave off some of that time by drafting basic cover letter templates (Not being depressed and unmotivated right now helps loads), but I still spend so much time tailoring the cover letter and my resume to each position -- up to three hours for a single job -- that I'm lucky if I can apply to more than three jobs or gigs in a day. I'm searching on Craigslist, so I don't always have the option to fully research a company before applying.

This blog post is an even better description of my problem.

Is this normal? Does anyone have strategies they can share for streamlining the process? Thanks!
posted by oogenesis to Work & Money (6 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I dunno when I was applying for jobs recently I probably didn't do more than 3 in a day. Then again I'm pretty slow and I can get obsessive about tailoring my resume, researching the company, etc.

One thing that helped was having several basic versions of the resume. Basically one for each type of job I was applying for (all in the same area but different titles). I still did some tweaking but tried to be as streamlined as possible.
posted by radioamy at 4:37 PM on August 22, 2014

I like the windows program JobTabs. It lets you create building blocks for your resume, customize on the fly, saves the craigslist ad, sends email, and is a database to track everything. Free fully functional 30 day trial, and the tutorials even shows you the "hack" to keep using it for free.
posted by Sophont at 5:08 PM on August 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Hello, job applying twin! Yes, totally normal. Here are some things that helped me:

* Plastering my monitor and desk area with post-it notes that say "FINISHED NOT FLAWLESS" to remind me that it's better to submit an imperfect application to a job than to never apply at all.
* Multiple versions of the resume. I had one for secretarial-type work, one for management in whatever field, one for food service, and one for retail. Did the same with cover letters. That way the tweaking boils down to changing my buzz words to match the ones they used in their listing. (For example, I tend to use "detail-oriented," but if their ad says "attention to detail" instead, I'll do a find-and-replace.)
* This might be a little on the woo side, but I always reminded myself that I'd get the job I was meant to have. If I wasn't supposed to work somewhere, then the universe would unfold events so that I wouldn't work there.
* On days when I was feeling particularly unmotivated and depressed, I'd tell myself I was only applying for X kinds of jobs - only retail today, only food today, whatever. That way, there was less tailoring and tweaking.

Good luck!!
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 6:54 PM on August 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

You're doing it right. You might want to get a browser add-on that will help you with the form-filling-out part, though. That's where you might be able to save some time.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:05 PM on August 22, 2014

Best answer: Things that have been helping me:

1: Breaking down my "stock" resume and cover letter into several versions that point at broader categories of jobs I tend to go for. So for example I would find a particular emphasis was always getting deleted for irrelevancy when applying to a certain type of job, so in the version for that type of job I rewrote that section to give a more relevant emphasis. At the same time I've tried to hone my resume to cluster particular topics that are interrelated, because I found if I was changing one I was changing them all and it was more efficient to have them organized.

2: Keeping well-organized files of all my application documents (copying and pasting things like the original job description and emails or cover letters submitted through an online form into a separate document and always saving the resume version sent with that job) so that it's easier to recycle verbiage that fits with a new job. This also makes the interview process easier to prepare for.

BUT - my experience has overwhelmingly been that quality beats quantity in terms of getting interviews. I'm still looking (so grain of salt I guess) but in terms of what's gotten me actual useful notice, it is those applications where I put in the extra time making sure my resume and cover letter answered the position posting directly. 3 a day is a great rate in my book.

General tips - working really hard on not getting stymied or sidetracked by the fact that applying for jobs is hard. What I mean by this is - that Tumblr post you pointed to is more than anything about fleeing into distraction because the application process is generating bad feelings. "Working really hard" in this case for me involves taking a deep breath, acknowledging those feelings, and then staying off the damn internet and doing the application anyway.

I try to keep it simple and direct. I look through the description, highlight all the stuff I feel like I can legitimately stake a claim to in my experience. I tune up the relevant resume, taking out or toning down the irrelevant stuff and rewriting and highlighting the relevant stuff. If I can use their keywords in reasonable way I do so. I used to worry more about being seen to be "keyword stuffing" but my experience has been that those are the resumes that get noticed so now I just bite the bullet and do it as gracefully as possible. I never claim any experience I don't feel like I could defend in person with my head held high. Likewise with the cover letter or message, I run down the specific things in the position description I can point direct experience at.

I'm increasingly of the opinion that for me anyway most jobs that you apply to via an online form are not worth the time. I'll do it if I'm really interested or feel like my experience is a really good fit but if I have the choice between spending an hour on a form versus spending an hour honing a resume where the request is to email it to a specific address I'll spend my time on the latter every time. There is a considerable amount of professional job search advice out there that is basically saying the same thing: these form-driven database applications are black holes for the vast majority of applicants.

Finally Craigslist is a pretty limited venue. I don't know what you're looking for but for me the best leads have been turning up out of searches I have running with frequent emailed updates.
posted by nanojath at 9:08 PM on August 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

3 researched and tailored job applications a day sounds pretty good to me.

Some applications will get auto-binned if they contain any typos. So it pays to be careful and to proofread; speed shouldn't necessarily be your main priority here. If you need an break from doing applications so that you can proofread properly, that's time probably well spent.

The only other thing that I'd add to the good advice above is that it can help if you work on a few at a time. Basically, you use one job application as your procrastination device for another. So start off applying to job 1. When you hit a snag because you're not sure if your skills quite fit or whatever, then move to job 2. When you hit the job 2 snag, move back to job 1 (or job 3 if that's an available option). You might be surprised what your brain can come up with when it's left to just churn away in the background rather than pressured to perform.

Good luck!
posted by pianissimo at 11:04 PM on August 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

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