Applying for a Job
When there is an open position at a business or an organization, the employer will usually collect information on potential employees, make a short list of candidates, conduct job interviews with the chosen candidates, and then decide whom to hire for the job.
To be considered for that short list, you need to submit certain documents which describe you and your qualifications for the position. Most often you will need to submit a resume, but other documents may be required as well, or give you an advantage even if they are not required. It is important that all your documents are neat, printed on clean paper, without bends, folds or smudges, and free of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
The documents most commonly needed when applying for a job in Canada are:
Whichever document or package of documents you are submitting, it is always a good idea to include a cover letter. It is a letter of introduction to the employer. This letter highlights your achievements and experiences relating to the specific job for which you are applying.
Your cover letter should include the following:
- short introduction about yourself and some specific benefits you would bring to the workplace
- brief information about your education and training and relevant work experience and skills
- your knowledge about the business or organization where you are applying and how you and your qualifications fit in
- brief conclusion to thank the persons in charge for their time and tell them how to reach you for an interview
Your cover letter should:
- be maximum one page long on standard letter-sized paper
- be an original, typed and printed (unless otherwise requested by employer)
- be addressed to the specific person or the committee in charge of hiring within the business or organization
- include your daytime contact information and where to leave messages
- have your signature
- contain only information relevant to the specific job for which you are applying
A resume is a structured document which lists your experiences, education and training, skills, accomplishments, and career goals. This document is perhaps the most important tool in your Canadian job search. It gives you a chance to show why you are the best person for the job.
Your resume can include information about yourself organized under the following categories:
- Career Objective or Professional Goals -- one sentence that tells the employer about your career objectives; if possible, link this to the job for which you are applying
- Highlights of Qualifications -- four or five points that quickly show the employer you are qualified for the job
- Relevant Experience or Professional Skills -- list of your abilities and skills that relate to the job for which you are applying
- Employment History -- list of the businesses or organizations where you have worked, including your job title or position held; locations (cities and provinces or countries); and the years you worked there
- Education, Certification and/or Training -- list of your educational background, including the names of the programs or courses studied; names of the educational institutions; locations (cities and provinces or countries); and the years you completed with each course or program
- Volunteer Experience, Hobbies and/or Interests -- outline of your volunteer work, hobbies or interests that demonstrate something about you, including achievements or awards you may have received
- References -- list of persons who can vouch for your character and verify some or all of the information you have written in your resume; this list can be submitted as a separate document (see more information in section below)
Here are some tips for writing a Canadian-style resume:
- Keep your resume short, no more than two pages long.
- Include your name and contact information (address, telephone number and email) at the top of the first page. If your resume is two pages long, put your name on the top of the second page as well, perhaps in smaller type, just in case the two pages get separated.
- Adjust your resume to suit each specific job for which you apply.
- Emphasize and be specific about your accomplishments.
- Use action words when describing your work experience and skills.
- List work, education and volunteer experience in chronological order, starting with the most recent.
- Use years only when listing employment or education times. For example use '2004-2008', not 'September 4, 2004 to March 31, 2008'. Or, if they lasted less than a year, use months (e.g. 'January - June 2006')
- Check your resume for errors in information, spelling and grammar. Ask your employment counsellor or someone you know who speaks good English to check it for you.
- Keep your formatting (font type and size, margins, etc.) simple and consistent with your cover letter.
- Use bold print and insert bullets (dots or dashes) to make important information stand out. Do not overdo this -- if everything is bold, nothing will stand out.
- Print your resume on standard letter sized paper. Do not give a photocopied resume to an employer.
- Be honest, do not lie on your resume.
There are three main types of resumes that you can use:
- Chronological resume starts by listing the jobs you have held. It is best to use this type of resume when you have a lot of experience in a particular field and are applying for work in that same or similar field.
- Functional resume focuses on the skills that you have gained in your previous work or studies. This type of resume is best if you are a recent graduate without a lot of work experience, have large gaps in your employment history, or are changing fields of work.
- Combination resume has your skills listed first, then your work history next. With this type of resume you can highlight the skills you have that are relevant to the job for which you are applying.
Curriculum Vitae (CV)
A curriculum vitae, commonly referred to as CV, is used when applying for international, academic, education, scientific or research positions, or when applying for fellowships or grants. It is longer than a resume (two or more pages) because it gives more details about your:
- educational and academic backgrounds
- teaching and research experience
- awards and honours
Some employers ask that you fill out an application form when applying for work at their business or organization. For many part-time, entry-level and manual labour jobs, employers use applications to decide who they will call for a job interview.
For other types of jobs, the human resources departments may need completed job applications from all people who are applying for work with their business or organization. Sometimes employers ask you to fill out an application form after they have invited you for an interview.
Most of the time, you can take the application home to fill it out. Some employers have on-line application processes. Job applications usually ask you about your past employment, education, volunteer experience, and references. Sometimes there is a section for you to briefly talk about yourself.
Here are some tips for filling out job applications:
- Be prepared and follow instructions -- Review the job application before you start filling it out. Follow the instructions and make sure you are filling it properly. You should think of the application as your first test in following instructions if you get the job.
- Be neat and complete -- You should fill out your job application as neatly as possible. Use block letters, not cursive writing. Use only a blue or black pen and 'white-out' or correction tape to fix errors. Fill out all of the sections and answer all of the questions on your job application. If there are questions that do not apply to you, put 'not applicable' or 'n/a' in the box. When finished, check the application for errors.
- Attach your cover letter and resume -- Do not put 'see resume' in the sections where you have the same information on your resume. Employers want the same information from all job applicants and may see this as laziness.
- Be honest and consistent -- If an employer knows you lied on an application, you may not get an interview or you may get fired once you have the job. Many applications ask about reason for leaving your last job. If you were fired, you should try to be as positive as possible, without lying, and give a more detailed explanation if you get at an interview. In this case, you could put 'job ended' as the reason you left your last job. Keep the information consistent with the information on your resume. Make sure all dates, names, titles, etc., on your application coincide with the information on your resume.
An employer may ask for references during your job application process. References are people who can tell an employer that they know you, how they know you, and explain why they think you would be a good employee.
References can be personal and professional. Depending on the type of job for which you are applying and the employers request, your references can be:
- former supervisors
- former coworkers
- volunteer work supervisors
- former instructors or professors
- business associates
- clients or customers
- personal contacts like employment counsellors, friends, etc.
References can be listed directly on your resume, or on a separate sheet attached to your resume or taken to the interview. You will usually need your reference person's name, position, name of the business or organization where they work, and their contact information (phone, email, mailing address).
Employers mostly ask for at least three references. References are usually contacted in the last stages of the job selection procedure, usually after an interview.
Some people lose out on job competitions because their references are not positive. You should know your references well and be sure that they can give good feedback to anybody asking questions about your past.
You need to make sure that your references can answer questions about you in some of the following areas:
- professional conduct
- personal character
- academic qualifications
- work experience (job titles, responsibilities, employment dates)
- communication skills (oral and written)
- strengths and weaknesses
- management/leadership skills
- attitude (attendance, punctuality, dependability, etc.)
References can also be given in the form of a letter. A reference letter is written about you, your personal qualities, and your work experience with a specific employer.