Imagine being able to apply for your dream job or internship knowing you’ve done everything in your power to help you land it. You’ve taken all of the right steps to ensure your resume is a contender for the top spot. You’d feel pretty confident when you finally hit the “submit” button, wouldn’t you?

While it may seem like a pipedream, it really is within your reach. By following some basic networking, business and design principles, you can be sure your application will be hard to ignore.

But what should you be doing? Well, in this guide, I’m going to show you a complete checklist of 13 easy to follow steps that will help you prepare for your application and maximise your chances of being selected.

Your Pre-Application Checklist

  1. Create a professional email address
  2. Take a professional-looking headshot
  3. Design an eye-catching email signature
  4. Create a Linkedin Profile
  5. Prepare your own social media feeds
  6. Study the job posting carefully
  7. Collect information and tailor your resume
  8. Create a reader-friendly resume design
  9. Research your target company
  10. Get inside your contact’s head
  11. Write your cover letter
  12. Design your cover letter to make it stand out
  13. Prepare for your interview

01. Create Your Professional Email Address

The first step is to ensure you have an email address which will make a good first impression. You may not have thought about it, but your email address gives your recipient their first insight into who you are.

If you’re like me, your first personal email address looked something like this:

Embarrassingly enough, they’re all email addresses I used. They look unprofessional and not like they belong to someone who is ready to be employed.

If you feel your email address looks similar you should consider changing it. Because as Barclay’s show in this life skills video, it can be pretty hard to get hired if you don’t:

Aim for a neutral email address doesn’t draw attention to itself. Ideally your name, a variation of it, or a specific personal brand title you have.

You can create this for free, whilst staying professional, by using Gmail. Or if you run a website, you can contact your hosting provider to ask about how to set up a personalised email address using that domain name.

02. Take A Professional Looking Headshot

Your headshot can play a subconscious role in whether you get this job or internship.

According to research by the Association For Psychological Science, it can take just 40 milliseconds for someone to draw a conclusion about you by looking at a photo. (If you’ve ever used a mobile dating app, you’ve experienced this yourself).

By updating your headshot for social media and your resume (if you’ll use one), you give yourself the chance to position yourself as someone they can visualise in the role you’re applying for. How? By looking trustworthy and confident.

The Buffer blog says you should follow these best practices:

  1. Smile with teeth
  2. Dark-colored suits, light colored button downs
  3. Jawline with a shadow
  4. Head-and-shoulders, or head-to-waist photo
  5. Squinch (great video on what it is, here)
  6. Asymmetrical composition
  7. Unobstructed eyes

This should give you an end result like this:

Now, don’t fret if you’re on a budget. You don’t need to run out and hire a professional photographer or buy a fancy camera. Instead, you can read HubSpot’s great guide on how to do this with your mobile phone or digital camera.

03. Design Your Eye-Catching Email Signature

Your email signature can leave a lasting impression on your contacts and add an extra layer of professionalism to your application.

Think of it like a business card you’d give out in person, but interactive and at the end of your emails. It’ll contain only the essential information, like:

  • Your name
  • Current job title or credentials
  • Contact details
  • Links to relevant social media profiles
  • Links to your portfolio or website (if you have one)
  • Your logo or a passport photo size headshot of you

And showing it in a well designed manner will make your readers step back and think, “Wow, they mean business”.

Here’s a great example from SEO Consultant, John Donga. It’s bright, easy to look at, and screams creative professional:

John Donga Email Signature

However if you feel the type of role you’ll be applying for needs a more simplistic, traditional, style, you can take some inspiration from this signature:

Zander Aycock

If you need some design ideas, we’ve put together an article of the 10 best email signature designs to inspire you.

Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t have an eye for design, either. You can easily create your own custom design signature, in just a few minutes, starting from the Geometrical funky or Red volume music business card templates below:

04. Create Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn has become the defacto hub for people looking to get hired, find new employees or connect with like-minded people (without endless cat videos). And it’s probably the first place your potential employer will go to try and research you.

In this step you’re going to set up a LinkedIn profile, or perform some housekeeping on your current one, to make sure it’s in tip-top shape for your application. You can sign up for an account by clicking here.

A good LinkedIn profile should contain:

  • Your headshot
  • A well-designed banner image (see below)
  • A short biography
  • Your employment history
  • Your key skills, endorsed by people you’ve worked with

Your banner, your headshot and your credentials are the first parts of your profile people will see. By designing this portion of your profile well, like Kei San Pablo has done here, you can create a powerful first impression:

Kei San Pablo LinkedIn

There’s no better time to start building your online profile/branding than now - even if you feel like you don’t need it *yet*. If you invest time and do it right, you’d only have to do it once. I should know! Canva reached out to me via LinkedIn and since I already have all my credentials/details up in there, I was able to leverage it which landed me my current role - and I wasn’t even looking for a job then! – Kei San Pablo.

Because the majority of LinkedIn users don’t have professional looking banner images - opting to keep the default blue - using some simple designs can help you stand out.

For example, by using our Palm Trees Quotational template, you can update your banner image to contain a favourite quote, phrase or saying fits with your own personal brand. A simple touch to make your LinkedIn profile much more memorable.

Palm Trees Quotational template

05. Prepare Your Own Social Media Feeds

Your Facebook, Twitter and other feeds can give them a deeper insight into who you are, what you talk about, and how you interact with others.

It’s a good practice to remove anything risky or unappealing to an employer before applying for a job or internship. Why? Because they’re looking for reasons to narrow down their list of potential candidates to invite to interview.

Taking a few minutes to remove updates like images at parties, or strong-political based articles you’ve shared, can ensure your application isn’t tripped up by a small detail you could have avoided.

Alternatively, you could set your personal profiles to private to ensure employers can’t see what you’re sharing, unless they’re part of your friends list or followers. You can find instructions on how to this for Facebook by clicking here, and for Twitter by clicking here.

06. Study The Job Description

With your essential housekeeping done, it’s time to turn your attention to your job or internship description.

The information in the job description will help you tailor your resume and cover letter to fit the specific needs the employer has. This gives you a big advantage over people who are sending a one-size-fits-all resumes, and will allow you to stick in the employer’s mind.

Open up the job description’s web page, and print out the information on it. Having a physical copy in your hand to refer to can make later stages of this process much easier. Then, read through it a few times to get a feel for what it’s asking for.

Once you feel you’ve got a good grasp of it, grab a highlighter pen and highlight the most important pieces of information for that job. This can often look like: personality traits, specifics of the job, what they expect of a candidate and their minimum requirements, like in the job description below:

highlight important information

Using this information you’ll be able to collect and display the most relevant information for this position (more on that next). Putting you in the best position to be selected, because the decision maker can read through and start ticking the correct boxes in their mind.

07. Collect The Information For Your Resume

Using the job description, and the essential information you just highlighted, you’re going to create (or update) your resume to make it a good fit for this job.

Ideally this information should help the employer to answer the question “How will this person help us to achieve our goals?” while they’re reading it. Let’s look at an example of what I mean.

Let’s say your job description is looking for someone who can “create social media updates that resonate with our audience”, you could update your job experience with examples to support this. This could look this:

I worked on our company's sales force for two weeks, which allowed me to create high converting social media updates by understanding our customers’ biggest fears and objections”.

If you’re struggling to come up with answers like this, you can use a simple trick to highlight it your experience and unlock the benefit behind it:

I did ____ which allowed me to ____

Fill in the first blank with an experience you had, or work you completed. Then fill in the second one with the skill or ability it developed:

I covered my college’s sports games in the campus newspaper, which allowed to learn how to turn around clear, concise and accurate pieces on short deadlines”.

Writing the perfect resume is beyond the scope of this article, so if you need extra advice on this section, please check out Monster Job’s guide to writing a resume by clicking here.

08. Create A Reader-Friendly Resume Design

Good design makes it easier for potential employers to remember individual applications. It saves their time by being simple to read, and is easy to find in a large stack of similar-looking resumes.

You don’t need any design expertise to do this, either. In Canva you can find lots of ready-to-edit resume templates you can just add your information to. If you want to keep it simple but eye catching, you can create your resume using this minimalistic Moss Green template, or you can add an extra level of design to make it pop by using our beautiful yet professional White and Blue template:

If you’re feeling creative and want ideas on how you can leave a lasting impression with your resumes, you can also take a look at these 50 resume designs to help inspire you.

09. Research Your Target Company

Taking the time to research the company you’re applying to can pay off big time.

In an interview it shows you’re prepared, hard working and interested in them as an organisation. But it also allows you to create an application and cover letter which is aligned with their company goals.

When you’re researching you’re looking to find out more about their:

  • Company history
  • Mission statement
  • Current products or projects
  • Marketing or advertising messages
  • Social media channels and communities
  • Performance in the last financial year

Not all of these will be applicable, and they will change based on the job you’re applying for, but it’s a good place to start. This will allow you to craft your application and be sure it resonates with their company values.

For example, if they’re a laid-back company with bean-bag chairs and dress-down Fridays, you’ll need to craft one type of message. And if they’re an old-school, old-money company who expect a three-piece suit, you’ll need to create a completely different one.

For more tips, you should check out Forbes’ guide to researching a company before an interview.

10. Get Inside Your Contact’s Head

If you’re able to find out the exact person you’ll be applying to, or the head of the department you’ll be working in, it helps to research them as well.

As Keith Ferrazzi points out in his book Never Eat Alone, this research can flatter the person and leave a lasting impression on them. It also helps to make you more likeable than the other candidates.

Let’s say your contact is the head of the Human Resources department. You could do some research into their social media profiles and personal or professional blogs. Once you’ve found them you can look for:

  • Likes and dislikes
  • Views and opinions on industry events
  • Personal achievements (for example, have they run a marathon, or recently learnt Spanish?)
  • Professional achievements (awards, recent projects etc.)

You can then present views or ideas that resonate with them (as long as they’re authentic); or you can strike up a conversation with them about a topic that really interests them, by mentioning one of their achievements.

Don’t worry, people won’t be confused as to how you know about all of this. Instead they’ll be flattered that you took the time to research them.

11. Write Your Personalised Cover Letter

Phew! Over the last few points you’ve done a lot of research and preparation. But this is where you finally get to take some action and put it all to good use.

Based on everything you’ve learned - about the job, company and contacts - it’s time to put together a cover letter to send with your application.

This letter will play a role in selling you. By including all of the information you’ve accrued through your research, you can create a tailored letter that will blow your potential employer away.

Your cover letter should:

  • Fit the needs of the job description
  • Reflect the company culture
  • Frame your skills as benefits to the company

For more in-depth insights into writing a cover letter, you should take some time to look through Resume Genius’s guide right here.

12. Create An Elegant Cover Letter Design

Your last task before you submit your application is to create an elegant design for your cover letter.

Much like your resume, this will help you stand out in the forefront of your potential employer’s mind. After all, a well-tailored letter with a stunning design is a hard-to-ignore combination.

I recommend adding one of Canva’s simplistic letterheads or sidebars to add an extra level of professionalism. For a minimalistic design that’s easy to create, you can update our Straightforward Letterhead to fit your taste, or if you want something with a little more traditional pizzazz you could opt for our Gold Sidebar template:

13. Prepare For Your Interview

If you’ve followed all of the steps so far, you’ve no doubt put together an application that will get you to the first interview stage. Now, it’s time to prepare for what you’re going to do when you get face-to-face with them.

You’ve already taken many of the steps to prepare for the interview: researching the company, researching your contact and thinking about how to present your skills and qualifications as benefits to the employer.

To do this in a real world setting, it’s good practice to formulate answers to the questions you feel they’re going to ask you in the interview. You can then set up a practice interview - with a friend or relative - where they can question you, and you can work on your responses.

It’s also important to dress the part. If you didn’t receive any notification about what to wear, it’s always better to dress more formally than more casually. Don’t turn up in a ball gown or a tuxedo, but smart-professional wear is rarely “overdressed” in these situations.

For more tips on preparing for your interview we recommend you check out this article from The Muse.

Good luck!

You’ve taken all of the right steps, and added a few extra details the other candidates won’t have thought about, to position yourself as a real contender for your job or internship. Now you can rest easy, confident you’ve done everything in your power.

And if you need a way to pass the time between now and when they reply to you, we’ve got enough design templates and ideas to keep you occupied!

James is the founder of the Freelance Writers School where he teaches normal people how to make money through freelance writing even if they failed English at school.