What Is the Main Purpose of a Resume & Application in a Job Search?

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Looking for a job seems simple in theory: The job seeker searches for work they can do, they put in applications and, depending on the position, may include a resume or CV. In practice, though, there's a lot more to the process than just filling out some papers and dropping them off. While applications and resumes are important parts of the job search process, they play a much bigger role than simply showing that someone is interested in a position.

Let's say that Tina is making a resume for the first time. What should her heading section include? How about her friend Frank, who's filling out an application for a job that just opened up – does it really matter if he answers every question correctly? Questions like these help to illustrate a major purpose of a resume and application in the job search. These documents convey information about the applicant, and that often goes well beyond just the words that wind up on the paper.

Purpose of an Application

When you think of a job application, you likely think of a form that asks you for basic information such as your name, address and work history. Depending on the company and the position that the application is for, there may also be a few sections that ask general questions about the applicant and their strengths, weaknesses and accomplishments.

Many people assume that this is all just a formality; you put in a job application to show that you want the job in question. For a number of companies, though, the job application plays a much more important role.

Following Directions on an Application

One big purpose of many job applications is to show how well an applicant can follow directions. If information is written in the wrong space or required sections aren't filled out, management will see right away that the applicant didn't actually bother to read the application instructions.

If someone can't be trusted to fill out an application correctly, what do you think the likelihood is that they'll wind up getting the job? While a poorly-filled-out application won't necessarily kill an applicant's chances if they have the skills and experience that the company is looking for, it will be a mark against the applicant if the hiring decision comes down to them or an equally skilled alternative.

Purpose of a Resume

As with an application, many job seekers view resumes as something of a formality that simply highlights their education, skills and experience. These are definitely important parts of a resume, as they show potential employers how likely the applicant is to fit their specific needs.

However, looking at a resume also tells hiring managers a lot about what the applicant is like as an employee. The way that a resume is written can sometimes influence hiring decisions as much or more than the actual information contained within it.

Understanding Resume Layouts

There are a number of types of resume layouts, organizing an applicant's information in ways that highlight education, skills, work experience or other aspects of their professional life that they see as strengths. If the wrong resume type is used, however, the emphasis might land on an area the applicant is actually weak in. The amount of care put into writing a resume tells management a lot about how much pride an applicant puts into their work, and unexplained gaps in employment or discrepancies between the resume and an application can raise major questions about the applicant's honesty.

What Hiring Managers Are Looking For

Given how important applications and resumes are beyond just the information they provide, how should you approach these documents to maximize your chances when applying for a new job? Here are a few ways that you can improve their chances by taking advantage of all of the roles applications and resumes play in the job search:

  • Make everything look professional. Avoid flashy paper or over-the-top fonts with a resume, and fill out applications legibly with either a blue or black pen.
  • Be sure to read all instructions before filling out an application as well to make sure that it's filled out correctly. Avoid leaving sections blank unless they are specifically identified as optional.
  • Adjust your resume to highlight experience that most closely aligns with the company you're applying for. If you don't have work experience that is applicable, focus more on skills you've developed which will also be required for the new position you're applying for.
  • Include certifications, classes and any other education or coursework that you've done in addition to degrees or diploma programs. This information shows not only that you are highly skilled, but it also lets management know that you're not afraid to do extra work to better yourself and improve your skill set.
  • Include volunteer work or any other work that you did outside of regular employment, especially if it took place during gaps in your employment history. This will help to explain those gaps and show that you were keeping busy even when you weren't with a standard employer.
  • Make sure that your contact information is correct and that your email address looks professional. If you have a silly or otherwise unprofessional email, set up a professional-looking alias based on your name through your email provider.

The hiring manager that reviews your application and resume will be looking for signs that you're a good fit for the job and that you will act professionally if selected. By taking the time to present yourself well with your resume and application, you'll increase your chances of being hired significantly.

Things That Kill an Applicant's Chances

Knowing what helps your resume and application to look good is helpful in a job search, but if you're not careful, then you can undo those positives with a few basic mistakes. Here are some things to avoid at all costs because they can simply kill your chances of getting hired:

  • Avoid the temptation to lie on your resume or application. Even though it can make you look better initially, it also sets up expectations you won't be able to meet if you get called in for an interview.
  • Don't write "see attached" or divert the reader to other paperwork unless an application specifically says that you can attach additional sheets. If a hiring manager is skimming applications to see which applicants they want to pay more attention to, being sent to additional sheets could very well cost you a call.
  • Avoid spelling and grammar mistakes on your application and resume. Even if they're common mistakes, they will make you look unprofessional and will likely hurt you in the eyes of the decision makers.
  • Don't ignore the qualifications that the employer lists for a job unless they specify that you can substitute equivalent experience. Many hiring managers will simply toss aside an application that clearly doesn't meet their requirements without even looking at your resume or other supporting materials.

Even though some of these might seem like simple issues, some job openings receive hundreds of applications and resumes. Even little things that suggest you didn't want to put forth the effort to do things right could disqualify you from the position you're applying for. As important as applications and resumes are, it's always worth the time to do them right to give yourself the best chance of getting the job.