A techie's guide to the perfect job application

Master the job application process and increase your odds of an interview by integrating keywords, using resume templates, and advertising your strengths.
Written by Matthew Sweeney, Contributing Writer

If you're hoping to break into tech, you may be wondering how to approach the job application process. 

Technology job applicants' analytical minds equip them to master the process of creating a winning tech job application using keywords, template shortcuts, and to-the-point communication.

Read on for our guide on creating the perfect job application for tech companies large and small.

Tech job applications: What to expect

Landing a great tech job starts with assembling your application materials. Whether you apply for positions at big tech companies or smaller startups, you can expect most employers to ask for at least four or five of the following:

  • Resume
  • Cover letter
  • Education background
  • Coding portfolio
  • References
  • Employment history information
  • Professional certifications
  • Link to your LinkedIn or GitHub
  • Coding tests
  • Short-answer questions
  • Personal essays
  • Behavioral tests
  • Citizenship and veteran status

Hiring processes vary. At some companies, such as Amazon, the process can take months. Others might take a week or two at most.

The total process of completing each application component for many job applications might seem daunting. You can speed the process with templates to help you quickly customize resumes, personal essays, and other materials for each job.

First impressions: What tech employers are looking for when they review your job application

Before an employer even sees your application, it must get through their applicant tracking system (ATS) software. 

An ATS is an online database companies use to collect and rank resumes based on keyword searches. You can maximize your chances of landing an interview by customizing your resume to fit the job description.

From there, the employer begins judging how well you fit the company and the position.

Are you a fit for the company culture?

Employers examine your application materials to see if you fit their company culture. 

If you emphasize interesting products you helped create, you may seem like a good fit for an innovation-focused culture. If you talk about increases in profitability you helped create, you may fit a bottom-line-focused culture.

Tailor your application materials to fit the kind of company culture you'd like to join.

Are you a fit for the role?

When an employer looks at your application, they'll judge if you fit the role by comparing your professional history to the requirements listed in the job description. They'll consider: 

  • Years of experience
  • Industries you've worked in
  • Skills you possess
  • Education level attained

Even if you aren't a 100% match, applying may still be worthwhile! If most of these aspects align, you may grab the recruiter or hiring manager's eye. If they don't, the employer may want to learn more about you during an interview or simply pass. 

How to craft a stand-out job application

Once you've found an attractive job on a job search site, it's time to craft the perfect application. This step needs to be handled methodically and takes good critical thinking and written communication skills.

Before doing anything else, study the job description.

Carefully study the job description. Underline, highlight, or note down key features, such as:

  • Core responsibilities
  • Necessary skills
  • Words the company uses to describe its culture
  • The company's industry

Take a moment to reflect on how your own experience and training compare to the description.  Knowing what the job description calls for will help you craft fitting application materials.

Creating your resume

When crafting your resume, align it with the job description. Try:

  • Adding keywords used in the description
  • Emphasizing specific skills
  • Emphasizing specific credentials

A good resume should not exceed one or two pages. Employers may skip long, wordy resumes. Choose a format that people can easily scan. 

Don't spend too much time talking about job duties. Rather, focus on your work's outcome and impacts.

Finally, make sure to proofread for spelling and grammar. Employers may zero in on errors and dismiss your good qualities.

Consider making a master resume including all your previous positions and accomplishments. You can use that resume as a basic template and customize it by swapping out different keywords and emphasizing certain skills and credentials.

Writing a cover letter

A cover letter attempts to persuade your prospective employer that you are ideal for the position.

The typical cover letter ranges from three paragraphs to one double-spaced page. Most employers require a cover letter. Others, including Amazon, do not allow cover letters.

Write a good cover letter by subtly customizing your voice to the position/employer. You can do this by:

  • Emphasizing skills from the job description as important to your professional accomplishments
  • Giving compelling examples to back up claims you make about your skills and strengths
  • Integrating keywords from the description — ensuring they fit naturally and don't become repetitive
  • Showing your background knowledge of the company
  • Expressing enthusiasm about the company's work and highlight how your expertise can help the company reach its goals

Once you finish one letter, you may use it as a template for cover letters for other job positions. Tweak it by replacing company names and highlighting different skills. And remember to proofread!

Updating your LinkedIn

Updating your LinkedIn profile when embarking on a job search can help you present your most relevant professional face. Take the following steps when updating your profile:

  • Update your profile headline to reflect what you're looking for
  • Ensure your work history is correct and current
  • Update your profile picture
  • Incorporate relevant keywords in your profile information

Your LinkedIn profile should reflect your resume. Focus on general keywords relevant to the types of jobs you're pursuing, such as "design," "metrics," and "analytics."

Answering job-specific questions

Some online job applications include a short-answer questions section. When working on your answers, write drafts in an external application and copy and paste them in later.

Some questions may ask you to explain how you have behaved in past work situations. They may, for example, ask you to:

  • Tell about a time when you displayed leadership in a tense situation.
  • Give an example of a moment where you failed to meet a goal.

In these situations, you can use the STAR method to give examples:

S: Describe a Situation

T: Explain the Task involved

A: Explain the Action you took

R: Explain the Result of your action

Providing references

Most job positions require you to submit two to three professional references. Professional references could include:

  • Coworkers
  • Immediate supervisors
  • Upper-level managers
  • Colleagues within the same industry
  • Professors

References in higher job positions may be more impressive. However, your references should be familiar enough with you and your work to highlight positive traits and accomplishments.  

Etiquette dictates asking permission to use someone as a reference before listing them. Notify possible references one to two weeks before you begin applying for jobs.

Answering salary expectations

If you need to give your expected salary on a job application, you should, whenever possible, answer "open to negotiation." 

When you do this, you portray yourself as flexible and avoid the trap of low-balling yourself early in the game. 

Additionally, be aware that employers are forbidden by law in some states and municipalities from asking about your salary history. 

Check if such laws exist where you live before answering salary history questions.

Bonus tips: Professionalizing yourself online

Use a professional-sounding email address.

Your email address can influence an employer's decision to hire you. An address that doesn't include your name or includes a joke or off-color language could be considered unprofessional and immature.

Try one of these formats for a more professional look:

  • First initial + last name@address
  • Your name + your location@address
  • Your name + your specialty@address
  • Your name + your degree@address

Clean up your social media profiles.

Employers may search you on social media before hiring you — especially if the role is public-facing.

Clean your social media accounts of any publicly visible inappropriate or off-putting (e.g., sexually explicit, racist, sexist, or vulgar) material before putting in your application. 

You can do this by:

Taking down posts that could be considered offensive

Untagging yourself from inappropriate, publicly-shared photos

Unfollowing social media accounts that post inappropriate material

Adjusting your visibility settings so only current friends/followers can see your posts

Next steps after submitting your job application

Track each application you submit by noting:

  • When you submitted it
  • Where you submitted it
  • What version of your resume you submitted
  • How highly you prioritize that application
  • A link and login information for the company's application status tracking system, if relevant

You can keep this record in a spreadsheet, notebook, or a job application tracker app like Huntr.

Don't expect personal responses to all your applications. Modern companies frequently reject candidates without sending a notice. Professional norms have changed: At many companies, reaching out to ask about your application's status will seem pushy.

If you've followed our networking tips and already have a contact at your prospective employer, asking them for an update may be appropriate. Wait at least two weeks before doing so. 

Otherwise, continue applying to jobs. Trust that your efforts in crafting great job applications will help the right employer find you.

This article was reviewed by Sarah Holliday, MS 

Sarah Holliday has years of experience working with nontraditional and traditional-aged students in various areas related to career coaching and training and development. Holliday holds a BA in English from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and an MS in instructional design and technology (training and performance improvement) from Walden University. Holliday is currently working on her doctorate and looks forward to dissertating in the near future. 

Sarah Holliday is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network. 

Last reviewed March 12, 2022.

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