A Step-by-Step Guide to the Job Application Process

When you’re in the middle of it, the job application process can seem both mysterious and frustrating. What should you include in a job application, resume, or cover letter? How many interviews should you expect to participate in – and how many interviewers will be at each one? And finally, how can you know when you’re approaching the end of the process and a possible job offer?

It’s easier to deal with the waiting – and the possible anxiety – when you know how the job application process works. While every company does things a little differently, most employers use some variation on the standard. This step-by-step guide will tell you everything you need to know about the job application process, including:

  • How to apply for jobs
  • How customize your resume and cover letter for each opportunity
  • How to complete a job application
  • How to cope with pre-employment screening, testing, and background checks
  • How to ace your interview

Follow these steps to help organize your job search. 

Get Your Resume Ready

Job applicant and interviewer with resume
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Many companies require a resume and a cover letter in addition to a job application. When you submit a resume with your job application, it is important that your resume is well-organized and polished.

You also want to be sure that your resume is a match for the job you are applying for. Personalize your resume for every job application.  

Write a Cover Letter

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A cover letter is a document that explains why your skills and experiences make a good fit for a job. This document may be required as part of the job application process. If it's optional, including a cover letter is the best way to pitch your case for an interview.

Again, make sure that your cover letter is tailored to the specific job listing. Learn how to write a cover letter and what to include, plus review cover letter examples and templates.

Job Applications

Employment Application
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You can apply for jobs online, via email, or in person. No matter what job you are applying for, be sure to follow the company's specific directions for filling out the application.

Learn how to write a job application letter, how to apply for a job online, how to fill out a job application, and tips and advice for applying for jobs. Plus, see a job application sample letter to use when you’re writing your own customized document.

Job Application Screening

Resume
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Companies often use applicant tracking software (ATS) to recruit, screen, hire, track, and manage applicants for employment. Therefore, your application is likely to be screened to determine if you are a match for the job.

The software will match up the information in the job applications that are submitted with the position requirements for the job. Those candidates who are the closest match will be interviewed.

Employment Tests

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Employers often use pre-employment tests and other selection procedures to screen applicants for hire. The types of tests and selection procedures utilized include talent assessment tests, cognitive tests, personality tests, medical examinations, credit checks, and background checks.

Some tests are conducted as part of the job application process, and others will take place further along in the hiring process, after the interview and prior to a job offer.

Interview Process

Job Interview
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If you are selected for an interview, you will be invited to talk to a recruiter, hiring manager, or employer on the phone or in person (or both). The company may conduct several interviews prior to offering the leading candidate the job.

Some interviews are one-on-one, while others are in small groups. Learn more about how the interview process works at most companies. 

Hiring Process

Business Handshake
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From the time you apply for a job until the time you accept a job offer, you will go through a series of steps as you progress through the hiring process. Learn more about each step in the hiring process, including what happens after the job interview if you're a contender for the position.

Job Offers

Offer of Employment
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When you receive a job offer, you're close to the end of the process. However, you don't need to accept the job, at least right away, if you're not sure whether it is the best opportunity for you.

It's important to take the time to evaluate the offer carefully, so you are making an educated decision to accept, decline, or renegotiate the offer. 

New Hire Paperwork

W-2 Form
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Once you have accepted a job offer, it's time for the new hire paperwork you'll need to complete to get on the payroll, which may include eligibility to work forms, tax withholding forms, and company-specific paperwork. Learn what information you'll need to provide to your new employer, so that you can have your materials ready to go.