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The lifecycle of a job application

Let's pull back the curtain on what happens to your job application after you submit it.

5 min read


What happens to your job application after you submit it? Your initial email or form submission, your resume, your coverletter? Where do all these end up?

The process is surprisingly long and applications touch more hands than you think. It's really important to repeat yourself over and over in all the materials you submit.

While every company has a custom hiring process, a lot of how you approach applying will be the same.

In this post, we're going to talking about hiring at "typical" companies. Have a look elsewhere for advice on landing a job at places like Facebook and Amazon.

Into the funnel

We'd like to think that our application goes straight to the CEOs desk, but that's never the case. Long before it gets there, your resume gets screened by one or more members of the recruiting team. For bigger companies, this might be an actual recruiter. For smaller companies, it might be an engineer or someone coordinating applications.

These days, many companies get hundreds of applications per job ad. Most of these will be low quality, but there's still going to be a lot of them.

Their first step? Screen out as many resumes as they can, as fast as they can. The poorly formatted and spelling-mistake-riddled fare the worst at this stage. These generally end up getting deleted immediately, no matter the skills and experience.

Having a neat, tidy, well-formatted resume matters a lot at this stage. Things like margins, paddings, line-heights, font size/selection all matter a lot here.

You need a resume that's visually appealing at a glance. If you're not sure if yours is up to the task, ask someone. "Look at this for 5 seconds and tell me if you hate it" is a fine question to ask a friend. I'm happy to give you a 5 second take on Twitter as well. Reach out.

From the frying pan to the Greenhouse

Yay! You've survived the first round!

Your resume and profile now get entered into a program like Lever or Greenhouse. Here, the recruiters and recruiting managers will add tags and other info to your submission.

What kinds of info?

Anything they can find. Your Github profile, LinkedIn profile, email address. Personal info like your phone number and address. Then, they'll add the position you applied for, and other positions for which you might be a good fit. Lots of info.

Technical review

After your profile gets created in Lever or Greenhouse, it will get assigned out to a technical reviewer. Like me! We'll look at your profile, along with any work you've submitted for consideration.

We're looking for just two (2) key pieces of information. I describe these in detail in Your job application is missing two key things .

If it looks like you can do the work we do, and you'd be a good fit here, the recruiting team will setup a first interview.

That process is pretty straightforward, but there's a bunch of key things to know.

What you don't know

  1. There's a field for uploading a resume.pdf. Just one field. If you submit your cover letter and resume separately, which file do you think makes it into Lever?

  2. Good, friendly, positive communication matters with every interaction. Every time you interact with a member of the recruiting team after you apply, it shows up in Lever. Reviewers like me are able to see most of the replies you send via email — not all, but most. This is our first introduction to your written communication. It's important to communicate well in every interaction you have with the company.

  3. Engineers, like me, who do technical assessments on your applications are busy people. We want to see clear, direct communication. We want to get in and out of this exercises as quickly as possible. Long, rambling resumes don't help.

  4. "All of my recent work is under NDA" is a giant wet blanket on the process. Here's some tips for ways around it. Don't use it as an excuse for a low-effort application.

  5. You've got about 5 minutes to shine. We review your submission and write up a brief summary of what we think your next steps are. If the signs look promising — good resume, good communication, good portfolio—that will turn into 15-30 minutes. If you have none of these things, you're basically done in 5 minutes. You need to do the work of telling me why you'd be a great fit here. If you don't do that, reviewers like me are generally not going to put in that work for you.

  6. No one submits a good portfolio. Re-read that last sentence and let it sink in. No one. A good portfolio puts you in the top 5% of applicants.

  7. No one tells us why they want to work here. Re-read this one too. Why on earth do you actually want to work here? There's thousands of companies out there hiring right now — why do you want to work at this company? Telling us a compelling story of why you want to work here puts you in the top 1%.

To sum up

This post hasn't mentioned a single thing about your skills. That's a separate conversation. This part is just about getting in the door and having a fair shot. If you follow the tips above, it's easy to put yourself at the top of the stack of applicants.

A neatly formatted resume, good communication, and the two missing things puts you way ahead of most applicants.

Good luck out there!

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