Step 7: How to apply for a job with the method nobody taught you

This is the final step of the road map to secure your next job, showing you how to apply for a job with everything you’ve learned so far.

It brings together your resume, online profile, portfolio website, work experience, and networking skills to make you the clear choice for the job you want.

Let’s do it.

This is it: the final stretch! Everything we’ve done in the road map has led to this step.

You’re going to call on everything you’ve built to give yourself advantages that most other candidates just won’t have. That’s why we’ve been putting in the work, step by step.

Table of Contents

Network your way into the organization

Write a cover letter that highlights your unfair advantages

Turn interview #1 into a business consultation

Create presentation showing your vision for the role

Turn interview #2 into a pitch for your vision of the role

Negotiate proper compensation (carefully)

Network your way into the organization you want

Before you do anything, make sure that you’ve updated everything in your professional arsenal to reflect your skills, work experience, and project history. That includes the assets you’ve created for yourself so far.

Going through the actual application process means you need to have your ducks in a row.

All that work experience won’t mean much if you don’t put it on paper.  Give yourself every advantage on paper (or screens) before making your approach.

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Your resume

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Your LinkedIn profile

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Your Indeed profile

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Your portfolio website

Skip the application tracking systems

Application tracking systems (ATS) are the bane of job seekers’ existence. Don’t play into them, as they’re designed to make life easy for hiring managers at the expense of your time and dignity. This guide shows you how to apply for a job without relying on them.

It's a waste of your time

You usually have to upload your resume and then re-type it all out line by line.

Keywords ruin your odds

It boils you down to a handful of keywords instead of your merits.

Stuck at HR gatekeepers

You could get cut by an HR rep who doesn’t understand the job.

You're just a number

You’re added to a database with thousands of other applicants.

Resume design lost

Your resume gets reformatted to a basic, ugly Word document.

You get lost in the herd

An ATS puts you back on a level playing field with hundreds of others.

You get no real contact

ATS’ create a barrier between you and the hiring manager. That’s by design.

"We'll get back to you"

Of course they won’t. There’s no accountability for respecting your time.

How to apply for a job outside of application tracking systems

The people who actually decide if you get the job aren’t HR professionals (as long as you can get past HR). They mean well, but in large organizations they don’t always have the nuanced understanding of what a given role needs—or what projects could benefit the company. They juggle applications and filter them based on whatever the application tracking system spits out.

The first thing you’re going to do is find the gatekeepers who work at that company. If you read Step 4 of the road map, then you already know how to do this. You may have done it already.

Prospect them on LinkedIn

Find their emails via Hunter.io

Instead of proposing a work project right off the bat, ask for an informational interview about the company. You don’t need to be coy about it—feel free to say that you’re interested in the position and wanted to speak with them about their goals, their team, their challenges, and whatever they’re really excited about.

Yes, it’s more difficult than applying through an application tracking system, but that’s why it works. It shows effort and dedication.

“I didn’t tell him that I had submitted an application to HR. It seemed like there were two different recruiting processes: the slow one through HR, and the fast one working directly with the department manager.

Here’s how it ended up. I met Harry and the team, I got the offer and then, when I had already signed my offer letter and I was on the phone with HR talking about details, the HR person said ‘I can’t find you in our system.'”

Liz Ryan

The Human Workplace

You don’t even need to ask for a formal informational interview. You can just ask to meet them over coffee or something. They might not have time, but—remember—getting in touch personally, tracking them down, and asking to learn about business pains all sends messages to a hiring manager that you don’t need to be told make something happen. That’s a valuable first impression for a job seeker, and it really boosts your chances of getting a “yes.”

Just remember to respect their time when you ask for it. They’re doing a favour for you just by meeting with you—a modest amount of gratitude goes a long way.

Pro tip: Asking for informational interviews works better if you do it before there’s a job posting. It seems more genuine that way, with a much smaller risk of being perceived as someone trying to skip the proverbial line. That’s why we did it in the previous step of the road map.

If you didn’t introduce yourself ahead of time with the company where you want to apply right now, give it a try anyway. You have nothing to lose and it helps you stand out. It demonstrates resourcefulness and drive, at the very least. Just keep it genuine and do not give the hiring manager a hard sell while reaching out to them. Build the relationship first.

What happens when you get the informational interview?

Good job! Come prepared with these things:

No expectations

Mentally prepare yourself to receive nothing from the interview. It’s a meeting, and you can walk away from it at any point. You don’t need to impress anyone.

High-level research

Background research and understanding of the organization. Understand what the organization does, especially in regards to the part you want to contribute.

Hiring manager's bio

Gather information on the hiring manager, starting with LinkedIn. Also check out the company’s blog, Medium posts, and social profiles. It adds a personal touch.

Thoughtful questions

Bring questions for the hiring manager. Go beyond “why did you join?” Ask about their team’s work philosophies, how they’ve handled industry changes, and so on.

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Greater chance of getting a "next" conversation by asking one additional question.

The science of questions and first impressions: 

The research out there suggests that asking questions makes you more likeable to the person answering them. The study in question showed that asking just one additional question resulted in a “second date” at least once over 20 conversations. You can certainly apply this to interviews. Asking follow-up questions is an important part of learning how to apply for a job.

Just be warned that asking too many questions decreases your likeability for outsiders observing the conversation. Watch out for this in panel-style interviews!

When you actually meet the person, take the time to learn about each other. Flex your curiosity and learn all about what they’re doing, where they’re looking to grow, and which problems they’re looking to solve.

You don’t need to brag about yourself, either—let your resume, LinkedIn profile, and portfolio website do that for you, and don’t rehearse it.

Bring value

Show curiosity

Propose next steps

Provide a business card

Remember the fundamentals of in-person networking in this situation. You do want to go through some kind of trial project with the hiring manager, but not on the first meeting. That’s probably overwhelming, and even a little suspicious if there’s an open position.

You can plant the seeds though. Part of asking about their challenges and business pains is to understand how you can deliver value, either as a connection or an employee. Saying “I’d love to sink my teeth into that” (or something along those lines) lets the hiring manager ponder that scenario from a safe emotional distance without feeling the pressure to say yes or no right away.

Thank them for their time, show your excitement to stay in touch, and walk away with a smile on your face to go digest everything you’ve learned. Repeating that process is an integral part of how to apply for a job.

Follow up and create a small trial project

This process follows just like every networking play you’ve done. Thank them, hand them your card, and agree to stay in touch.

Think about what you could do together to build a professional relationship. Asking about a job posting will seem pretty disingenuous after one meeting, so I’d recommend asking about freelance opportunities. Show an interest in working together and solving challenges together instead of pursuing a paycheck—it shows that you care about the work and being a part of something bigger than yourself, which earns a lot more respect than grovelling for a job.

Proposing a project also lets you bypass silly skill-testing tasks that some corporations like to throw at candidates. I’ve personally failed those skill tests. They’re often unclear because the people who make them aren’t qualified to complete them in the first place. Don’t fall into the trap of “failing” them.

Show confidence and competence by being the one to suggest a trial project of some kind, even if it’s informal.

Don’t fall on your sword with some impossible task, though. Choose something manageable and on-point so that you can show the quality of your work and sidestep the skill tests.

Pro tip: Give yourself some time to formulate a project idea that incorporates what you talked about in the informational interview. Sleep on it, even if you already have the perfect idea in mind before meeting up with the other person. Give yourself some time to propose a great trial project and don’t rush into it.

When you actually do follow up, remember to include some form of value: something relevant or recent that you read is a quick win here. Don’t sweat it if they don’t go for it, either. If they don’t have the time, need, or bandwidth for your project, just let them know that you’d love an opportunity to work together. They’ll remember you when they do have a need, and they might even refer you to a job posting if they like your pep.

Build professional working relationships with gatekeepers like this everywhere you want to work. They’ll be your boss or coworkers if you end up working in that place, so it pays to put your best foot forward every time you approach an organization.

How to apply for a job with a cover letter highlighting your advantages

Even when you get the inside track through networking and building a real working relationship with the organization of your choice, you’ll still probably be asked to apply the regular way just so that “your info is in the system” (keeping the application process above-board for your contact).

That’s totally fine. In fact, you can use that to create another edge over the other candidates. This is how to apply for a job with a cover letter that reinforces your networking advantage.

How to write your cover letter with connections to the company

Most people write awful cover letters that just regurgitate the tasks they’ve performed in the past. It’s cringe-worthy, and you don’t need to play that game. Instead, just create a friendly, reasoned case for joining the team. It’ll almost come off as a natural extension of the conversation you were already carrying with the hiring manager, if you reference these things:

Your understanding of the organization, its goals, and its needs (from past conversations).

Your ideas to address specific business pains based on your conversations.

How your experience from past projects will help solve new ones for this organization.

Pointing to your trial project as a demonstration of your skills and reliability.

Even if it has to pass through an HR person’s hands, it’s going to stand out from the rest of the applications because it’s addressed to the right person (not “whomever this may concern”) and flows with a natural confidence—in stark contrast to the flood of desperate, robotic cover letters from applicants who barely qualify for the role.

At that point, the hiring manager will probably be looking for your name in the pile anyway. Name-dropping the right person (once) adds considerable legitimacy to your application.

How to write a cover letter without a connection to the company

You won’t always be applying for a job where you’ve had a chance to network your way in ahead of time, of course. Adapt to the situation and continue on with these elements:

Research the company and ask people in your network to find business pains before writing your cover letter.

Use the cover letter to explain what you’ll do to solve those business pains and how it will all come together.

Reference your most relevant past experience to explain how you’ll solve problems in a similar manner.

Weave your ability to solve business pains together with your personal drive and fascination with the industry.

Also make sure that you respect the reader’s time. Make the cover letter exactly as long as it needs to be—no more and no less.

How not to write a cover letter

Recent graduates and untrained communicators tend to submit pretty awful cover letters (I’ve read more than enough of them to know). Do yourself a favor and triple-check every letter you write to screen for these pitfalls.

Don’t regurgitate your resume. Hiring managers have your resume right there. Repeating the details indicates that you have nothing substantial to say.

Don’t rely on buzz words. All but the most oblivious hiring managers will see through industry jargon. It comes off as an intentional smokescreen for real skill.

Don’t fill out a word count. Cover letters shouldn’t be long; they should stir intrigue and reference your experience to solidify your perceived value.

Don’t make the cover letter about you. Like all marketing (yes, you are marketing yourself), it should be about what you can do for the other person.

Approach business pains with confidence, acknowledge your work experience, and step into the role of a consultant working with the employer instead of asking for a job subserviently. Respecting yourself in a cover letter is part and parcel of how to apply for a job.

Turn interview #1 into a business consultation

Preparation is half the battle. Yes, it’s important to be yourself in an interview for many reasons (including some underlying psychological ones), but make sure you tick these boxes too:

Full night’s sleep

Printed directions

Bring extra resume copies

Pack a pen and notepad

Realize it’s not an exam

Warm up your vocal chords beforehand

Going to interviews always grates on my nerves. It’s normal, so don’t feel like you’re losing it if you get nervous too. If it makes you feel any better, one interviewer offered me water and started trying to calm me down because my nervous sweats were just that bad.

It’s hard to embarrass yourself more than that, my friends. You’ll do fine.

Break the ice like you’re networking

Like any sales meeting or networking event, you’ll come off a lot better if you take an interest in the person with whom you’re speaking. Don’t rush into talking about your qualifications or trying to prove yourself. The hiring manager wants to know you better as a person. Comfort with interpersonal interactions is a big part of learning how to apply for a job, so don’t shy away from it.

You also want to know if this team is a good fit for you. Taking the time to learn about the person on the other side of the table sends subtle signals that you possess the confidence and self-respect to evaluate the job prospect without acting desperate. Take some time to settle into the interview this way.

The best way to do this is to ask questions and listen.

Pro tip: The more you listen, the better your questions will be. This is another way to learn about their business pains, recent wins, and goals for the future. Even if you learned about those from previous research or interactions, inquiring in the interview will uncover more details for you to work with.

There’s an ebb and flow to it. You can’t just grill the hiring manager with questions of your own. Instead, use the answers you hear as a springboard for deeper conversations about what the hiring manager wants to accomplish and the vision for the role. That’s how you guide the conversation away from a game of 20 questions toward something that resembles a consultation.

Contextualize your work experience as it will help the interviewer

Gathering all of that info gives you a foothold to explore possible solutions that you work toward alongside the hiring manager. The hiring manager might have some structured questions specifically about examples where “you solved a problem” or “resolved conflict,” but it’s wise to sprinkle those stories throughout the discussion.

It feels more genuine when you tell one of those dragon-slaying stories in response to the conversation’s natural progression.

Remember to talk about your dragon-slaying stories in the PAR format, similarly to how you structured them on your resume. The difference is that you’ll go into more detail, offer more context, and talk about the lessons learned. Interviews call for substantially more detail than a bullet point on a resume, of course.

  • Contextualize the story to convey the nuance of the challenge.
  • Expand on the details of what you did and why you did it.
  • Spend time discussing the lessons learned, whether the story resulted in success or failure.

That last one is especially important because it shows your capacity to analyze, reflect, and grow. It’s the intersection of several soft skills that hiring managers can’t see from looking at a resume. It’s a big part of learning how to apply for a job effectively, but if you’ve completed the first two steps of the road map then you’ll already be familiar with it.

Use questions to uncover clues that become your springboard into the real discussion. Once it’s all over, part ways feeling good. If you have a personal business card from following Step 6, now is the time to use it.

Pro tip: Try to set up some kind of “next step” to keep the conversation going, and—even better—send something of value in your thank-you email (just like you would while networking).The more relevant to your interview, the better.

P.S. Business cards help the hiring manager to remember your name and keep your contact info tucked away safely. It also adds another layer of professionalism to the interaction, indicating that you’re not just another recent graduate hoping to catch a break.

Learn how to apply for a job by creating a presentation

You have some prep to do before you actually head into the second interview, but it’s going to make the whole process easier—by turning it on its head.

Take everything that you learned from your research and interview. List all of the business pains. Then list all of the possible solutions for those business pains, including:

Solutions you’ve done before from past work experiences.

Solutions you’ve thought of through research and case studies.

Solutions based on your conversations together.

You’re going to create a (tentative) multi-step plan to address those business pains with the solutions you’ve found. It doesn’t have to be written in stone, and it doesn’t have to be tied to specific timelines—committing to timelines before you’ve had a chance to get your bearings could backfire. Keep the plan to general phases.

Some roles have high growth potential that facilitate new opportunities regularly, with new layers of plans. Marketing, operations, and even service roles like sales or customer support can benefit from new initiatives.

Create a road map for the role

You’re going to bring together those ideas and solutions as a series of responsibilities and projects for you to tackle if or when you get the role. It will include a lot of what the job description already listed, but here are the key differences you’ll include:

Specific benefits/results

Connect tasks and projects to benefits they bring or the business pains they solve. It shows you understand how the role connects to the business’ bottom line.

Research

As always, you need to augment your ideas and discussions with industry research. Find similar case studies around the web to show the potential gains for what you’re proposing.

Visual flair

Nobody listened to my ideas until I started putting them in professional-looking presentations. The production value adds legitimacy to your case. Counteract age bias this way.

I did this once in grad school without even realizing the process I had created. It was for a small role, but refining this process has helped me to learn how to apply for a job successfully.

Here’s what I did.

Even as an entry-level review editor for an academic journal, I was able to chart a modest plan and add my own flair to the role.

It was a basic 3-step plan for a short-term extracurricular role, but imagine how much more detailed you could get in a full-time position.

Recruit academics to contribute to a published journal in 3 months.

Create a style guide cheat sheet to help the contributors speed up their writing.

Create a comprehensive list of all past, present, and potential contributors for the journal.

Years later, I was approached by a financial company for a role in digital marketing. We parted ways after the first round of interviews because our views of the role didn’t align… then they came back a month later, saying that their chosen candidate didn’t work out. This is where I took the opportunity to show them how I imagined the role.

Optimizing the company’s website to maximize short-term and mid-term traffic.

Assess and develop the company’s customer demographic profiles.

Refine the core marketing message to appeal to those new demographic profiles.

Create a content strategy to build mid-term and long-term traffic.

Use competitive research to discover new opportunities for website traffic.

Build out the company’s digital advertising strategy to complement the content strategy.

Develop a content partnership strategy to amplify the company’s content to wider audiences.

I didn’t attach timelines to each phase of the plan. I didn’t end up putting hard timelines to it even after I took the job, either. My boss and I just agreed to tackle them tentatively, understanding that I would grow into the role as I took on each new phase one at a time.

You don’t necessarily need to propose a solution for each phase, either. It just helps to have some ideas in mind so that you have a place to start with each step of your proposal, creating more dialogue with the hiring manager.

Almost no other candidate will prepare for entry and mid-level roles this way, so the hiring manager will probably be blown away with your level of preparation. That’s part of the advantage!

Word to the wise: It may seem presumptuous to tell someone more experienced than yourself how you envision a role you haven’t even in worked yet. Don’t be cowed, but do approach the situation with humility to avoid a negative backlash.

The real value here comes from showing the hiring manager that you have drive and self-direction. Supervisors don’t actually want to spend time supervising people. They have more important things to do most of the time. That’s why it pays to give them the gift of not having to worry about closely managing a new addition to their team.

Design a presentation for your road map

After you’ve planned it out, you need to make it presentable. While slideshows are over-used and generally not all that useful, they are useful in a handful of situations. This is one of them.

When I did this, I used Google Slides because it was easier. These days I’d be more inclined to use Canva because it has so much more to offer in the way of style and visuals (and it has a free version). Powerpoint is serviceable as well, but it’s cumbersome and has a steep learning curve—and who wants to spend time learning software when you could be figuring out how to apply for a job more effectively?

Google Slides

Google’s free answer to Microsoft PowerPoint. You access it right through the browser.

Canva

You’ve seen me recommend Canva before for resumes and website images. It works for pitch decks, too.

PowerPoint

The classic slideshow software has a complex interface. It’s not ideal for beginners, but it has all the features.

Making it isn’t actually all that difficult. Follow these guidelines to make it as efficiently as possible:

Design the page you want once, then duplicate it.

Include at least one slide per “step” or “project.”

Include industry facts and figures to prove your point.

Include graphs, charts, and visuals frequently.

Add tentative next steps before the conclusion.

Add your contact info to the intro and conclusion.

Try to make stats stand out with some visual flair if you have some extra time to put into this. Bullet points get the job done, but people can skim over them fairly easily.

Pro tip: Make the pitch deck in the organization’s colour, branded with its logo to make it look extra professional (it also sends subtle “in-group” signals to build an affinity). One of my bosses said she was impressed with my slideshow the moment she saw it for that exact reason, and it wasn’t even well-designed on my part.

Put your contact info on the intro and conclusion slides too. It makes you look a little more like a consultant than a job seeker.

Give yourself a day or two to sleep on the presentation, then come back to review it with these questions:

Does it include what you discussed in the first interview?

Does it acknowledge the hiring manager’s priorities?

Does it have a few unique insights of your own?

Take a hard editorial look at what you’ve created. If it includes those three elements and you’re proud to put your name on it, then it’s good to go. If not, then go over it with a new coat of proverbial paint until it works for you. Only after you’ve gone through that revision process should you proofread for things like typos, grammatical mistakes, or design flaws.

Let the hiring manager know you’d like to give a little presentation of your own so that you can have a space where the presentation makes sense. You can drop them a note if you’ve already agreed upon a second interview date.

Haven’t heard back yet? Now is the perfect time to reach out and say “I have some ideas for the role I’d love to discuss with you.”

Turn interview #2 into a pitch for that vision

When you arrive, tell the interviewer it’s good to see him or her again. Ask about some of the things you talked about last time to break the ice, taking a personal interest. It’s easier to break the ice this way because it’s a continuation of the conversation that you already started last time.

It only gets easier as you strengthen the relationship!

Here’s how to handle the transition from the first handshake to the first few slides.

Enjoy the small talk for a little while. Show genuine interest.

Keep watch for when the small talk runs out of steam.

Transition into shop talk. Follow up on your last chat.

Say that you’re excited to get into the ideas you mentioned.

It’s a natural kind of exchange that frames you as part of the hiring manager’s tribe, creating subtle psychological advantage. Psychologists might call this being in the “in-group” instead of the “out-group.” That’s how you create a natural transition back into consulting mode, and it’s been an advantage in knowing how to apply for a job for a long, long time.

By the way… When we say “presentation,” we’re not talking about something too formal here. It’s just a segment of the second interview in which you communicate your ideas in a more structured, put-together way (with visual assistance). In reality it’s just a discussion between you and the hiring manager where you just point to whatever bullet points, graphics, charts, or screen shots exist on the slideshow for proof emphasis.

You don’t need to rehearse all that much and you don’t need to memorize lines. Just remember the order of your slides and the biggest point for each one. The rest will come naturally, but it doesn’t hurt to practice a little extra if it helps calm the nerves. It’s A-OK to feel nervous—it just means you care about the outcome, and that’s a good thing.

Pro tip: If the hiring manager wasn’t able to secure a room with a screen for your slideshow, don’t panic. You can just sit on the same side of the table and look at your laptop together. Just say “That’s okay—we won’t let a technological hiccup get in the way of a good conversation.”

Putting yourself on the same side of the table, facing the same direction may actually create a psychological advantage. The literature out there seems to indicate that men may prefer speaking side by side, while women might prefer speaking face to face. Personally, I found that having the interviewer focus on the slide show instead of me took the burden of stress off my shoulders.

Getting into the presentation or discussion

Preface the discussion by saying you’re interested in getting thoughts and feedback from the hiring manager. It invites participation, and that validates your application even further. They may interject to ask questions and challenge one of your claims, or they might reserve their questions for the end.

It’s not only okay to acknowledge that you don’t have all the pieces in place to know if your presentation is exactly what the hiring manager is looking for, but it’s smart, too. It shows a balance of initiative and humility.

Remember to breathe in between your sentences and allow them the opportunity to jump in with their own contribution.

Embrace feedback and revisions

The hiring manager is going to have questions, and maybe even a few concerns. That comes with the territory of taking the initiative and making proposals. Hiring managers will step in to offer course-correction in a few instances.

And that, my friends, is perfectly fine. Here’s how it went during an interview for my third role out of school, which is when I really figured out how to apply for a job.

At first, being asked to clarify things or even being challenged on a few items made me nervous. I rolled back on my heels and assumed I had made a misstep that made me look unprofessional.

Every speed bump in the presentation felt like a chance to lose the job offer.

I thought so, anyway. The hiring manager said that although I was the most technically skilled candidate for the job, she had a different vision for the role. I saw it centered around creating and promoting content marketing, while she thought the role would be mostly about web analytics.

We parted ways on good terms… then, two weeks later, she viewed my LinkedIn profile again.

I knew something was up.

Sure enough, the candidate she hired had failed to keep up within the first two weeks. We resumed the conversation, and I pitched a documented vision for the role that included the analytics she wanted and the content marketing focus that I wanted.

Once again, she stepped in periodically to correct an assumption I had made, or chimed in with the existing process that they had created.

“We’re going to have ‘creative differences’ again,” I thought.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth! It meant just the opposite: the hiring manager was interested in making the plan work, so she rolled up her sleeves and started working through each section of the road map with me. I didn’t realize it until a day later, but that was the moment I turned the interview into a full-blown working session.

That’s why you shouldn’t sweat revisions and requests for things to be added or subtracted from your plan. It doesn’t mean you missed those things out of incompetence. It means the hiring manager is trying to add what she or he knows (or prioritizes) to make your proposal the best it can be.

That’s how it ends up working for both of you.

Take notes along the way and you’ll have what you need to seal the deal.

Word to the wise: We all feel imposter syndrome, even after years of working in an industry. It’s easy to feel it so acutely fresh out of college especially, since you’ve just spent 2-4 years in a school being graded on everything you do by someone with a PhD and published works. Don’t take criticism or revisions as a deducted mark out of a total grade, though. It’s just the process unfolding organically.

What do those revisions look like? They can be anything, including:

Ballpark timelines

Some hiring managers will want to know how long it will take to finish certain projects (or a group of them), but they’re not usually looking for exact dates here.

Performance metrics

How will the role be evaluated? Instead of shying away from this, you can influence the process here. Suggest metrics that you would use to judge success or failure.

Tentative projections

What will the role bring to the business, and at (approximately) what times? It could be 2,000 more site visits over 6 months, or 4 hours saved per week.

Secondary objectives

How else can you benefit the business and the team while you’re working through this role? These usually aren’t mandatory but they do help to solidify your case for being hired.

All of those are normal things to ask for, even if you aren’t sure how to incorporate them. Just schedule a follow-up working session or shoot some emails back and forth to figure out how. It just builds the relationship—and the time the hiring manager puts in is quantifiable proof that he or she is interested in making the arrangement work!

From there, you play the waiting game to hear back about an offer.

If you don’t get an offer, then you just thank them for their time and express how you hope there’s an opportunity to work together in the future. Every organization is just one fish in the sea, and many will remember you the next time a fitting opportunity presents itself. That’s a key long-term advantage in knowing how to apply for a job.

Negotiate proper compensation (carefully)

If you did get an offer of employment, then congratulations! 

You’re almost out of the woods. We just need to make sure that you’re getting adequate compensation before you sign on the dotted line. You don’t need to worry about being viewed as a money grubber either. People with self-respect look after themselves. Respecting yourself earns respect from your employer, plain and simple. It’s the opposite of being desperate.

Pro tip: Never accept job offers verbally. Always ask for the offer in writing. If the employer is playing games about sending you a written offer, then your alarm bells should be going off. Listen to your gut, take a step back in a situation like that, and pursue other options until you get a clear offer in writing.

Compare the offer with salary data

The employer will toss a salary figure your way with the offer when it comes in writing, but you might not know exactly what it should be for your position or industry. That’s where salary research websites come in.

These are the sources you can get for ever-evolving salary information:

Glassdoor salary data

Glassdoor popularized reviews for employers, made anonymously from the inside. It has begun to supply pretty accurate salary data, too.

Indeed salary data

Indeed is a natural place to accumulate salary data from the viewer’s point of view. Handy, but it’s samples are still a little small.

PayScale

The original website that popularized data-driven salary insights. It still does it incredibly well, too. Always include it in your process.

There are more out there, but these are the heavy hitters. Look at the data from all three sources to get a sense of the average. You’ll notice some variation in all likelihood. Look for a common range with the understanding that national averages can reflect different costs of living (which directly impact competitive salaries).

If we look at the salary for “copywriter” (one who writes marketing material), we can see a pattern emerge. They all fall between $51,000 and $57,000 per year. These salary reports usually represent anywhere from 12 – 200 people, so that seems like fairly reliable data.

Remember that this is the average salary recorded, which means that it’s supposed to represent compensation in the middle of the road by balancing wages for industry veterans and entry-level hopefuls in one number (we won’t get into the nuances of averages vs. medians here).

With that in mind, ask yourself this: does the salary offered to you reflect a reasonable wage? If you’re applying for an entry-level job (and you probably are if you’re reading this), then you’re probably going to sit on the lower end of that spectrum for now.

Translation: don’t push hard for a salary above your market worth as you figure out how to apply for a job. I learned this one the hard way.

Word to the wise: Salary averages are helpful, but they can’t tell you everything. Figure out your cost of living and see if that salary will sustain you—and make sure you’re living within your means. Don’t expect to drive a brand-new car the moment you get a job. Accept that living with housemates or roommates may be a financial reality for several years, even if you don’t like it.

Take a closer look at benefits and bonuses

Benefits are super, super important for your well-being. The hard truth is that you’re not invincible, even if you’re under 30. Your health coverage matters to your well-being, because medical costs can become financially crippling.

The biggest concern is if there are any benefits with the role. Not every business is big enough to afford them, but any organization with more than 7 people should have a group benefits plan, at the very least. That’s where all the employees pay into the plan and in return each employee gets to spend a finite amount of compensation per year (vision, dental, prescriptions, etc.).

Watch for these red flags when it comes to benefits.

Contractors don't get benefits

If your offer is really a contract position, then it probably wont’ provide any kind of benefits package. This is what I was offered in my first job after graduating.

Past employee complaints

Look for poor reviews on Glassdoor or Indeed. Most companies have at least one disgruntled employee leaving a bad review, but look for patterns about low pay and poor benefits.

Low "category" limits

Low limits on everything in the benefits plan should raise a red flag. “$100 for vision every 24 months” is a joke. They’re designed to make you pay more out of pocket yourself.

When do they kick in?

Benefits can take a few months to kick in sometimes, which aligns with the usual 3-month probation period. Any longer than that is downright suspicious.

Find alternative forms of compensation (if necessary)

The employer might not be able to pay a higher salary. That happens sometimes. Hiring managers can get locked into certain salary ranges because of red tape, while small or medium businesses just might not have enough money to pay anything extra.

That doesn’t mean you can’t find additional compensation. It just means you need to get creative. You can negotiate for benefits that don’t translate to cash. Take these as examples, and see if any of them are tax-deductible for the employer in your region.

Fuel reimbursement

Technology stipend

Professional development budget

Many alternative kinds of compensation are win-win. If your employer invests in your professional development, then they’ll reap the rewards of your improved skills and knowledge as you bring it back into the business. In turn, you become more qualified for a raise (either there or elsewhere).

Remember this as you learn how to apply for a job: costs are always relative to value.

Stay respectful and don’t push too hard if you aren’t willing to walk away. Above all, display calm self-respect and genuine gratitude for the offer in equal measure. This will seriously mitigate the chances of rubbing the hiring manager the wrong way during the acceptance and negotiation processes.

Sign the offer and celebrate!

Congratulations on getting that job offer! If you’ve followed this road map closely then you’ve put in a ton of work. Celebrate your victory and share the good times with your friends!

You’ve earned this.

The best part is that now you have all of the fundamental pieces needed to build your career even further, when the time comes (and it will).

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A professional, quantified resume

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A professional, highly visible online presence

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Relationships with recruiters

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A hard-hitting portfolio website

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Business cards and a referral strategy

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The foundations of your professional network

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Automated notifications from job boards

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Genuine work experience and insights

Career development never really ends, and now you have a professional presence that most people never get around to making for themselves even at the peaks of their careers.

Enjoy the feeling. You’re going to feel like a king or queen for a little while, so let that drive you to do an excellent job. Show up 10 minutes early. Don’t clock out as soon as you can. Enjoy the work and become familiar with the dynamics at your new workplace. Make a killer first impression and never stop learning.

So, what comes after this?

Things will stabilize. You’ll start thinking about how to improve yourself and how to acquire new skills and new opportunities, both inside and outside of this organization.

You’ll face new challenges, too:

Navigating office politics

Managing people below and above you

Motivating yourself and others

Charting your own career as you grow

I’m going to be writing about that on the Employed Historian blog. Visit again every once in a while to learn how it all fits together. This is really just the start of your career, after all.

Don’t stop kicking butt out there.

Before you head out…

Thanks for reading through the job road map! It means a lot to me that you did.

If you found it helpful, please share it. There are a lot of hardworking people out there who just need a strategy to turn their hard work into gainful employment.

The road map and the website setup took a year, so letting others know about it would aboslutely make my day.

Thanks again for reading. I know you’re going to crush it out there.

– Andrew