How to Bring Order to the Chaos of Job ApplicationsAugust 8, 2023
Applying for jobs can be a daunting task. It could take anywhere from 20 – 200 applications to get an offer. It can be chaotic to organize everything, stressful to be constantly updating your cover letter template to make sure it’s “personalized” for a company, and mentally taxing to be preparing for hundreds of whiteboard problems.
Rohit Kartha, one of our Associate Developers currently part of our 2023 program, has recently experienced the difficult application process. He will share some simple, actionable ways you can bring order to the chaos of job applications.
David Crawford, one of our Software Developers, will also include his advice on how application processes can reveal a company’s culture, and cover letters.
Finally, Jeff Kloosterman, Head of Client Services, will provide some insight into what we look for in resumes.
We hope that this can give you more confidence as you apply for jobs, while also giving you some insight into the care Michigan Software Labs places on our hiring process.
ROHIT: The first thing we’d like to talk about to help bring some order to your job application process is organizing the applications themselves. With potentially hundreds of applications and positions to keep track of, having an organized spreadsheet might be a good idea. With a row for each position applied, you can employ a simple color key for different stages of the interview process. There can be several phases that are worth classifying including HireVues, Online Assessments, and technical and behavioral interviews. There’s a lot of great templates out there, one example is this one from SpreadSheetPoint:
After you’ve organized your applications, if you pay attention to the type of application processes they use, you may begin to see a trend. The benefit of using a spreadsheet isn’t just for the organization itself, but also to keep track of priorities and jobs that really excite you. For example, some companies ask you to upload a resume, and then rewrite your entire resume again in a form. Some companies have 10 different interviews during their process. Some companies don’t require cover letters. Some companies take a very long time to respond, or outright ghost applicants. Other companies are highly communicative and transparent. What kind of interview are you okay with going through? What type of process do you prefer?
Several companies use HireVue as an initial step in the interview process. With a video interview format, applicants have a couple minutes to respond to prompted questions. It might be worth it to separate out interview types like these in your spreadsheet and complete them when preferred, as they provide a predictable interview structure. Any company using a platform like this won’t be such an unknown for you when interviewing with them.
DAVID: When thinking about the pile of applications you’ve been submitting, and possibly the frustrations that you’ve had, let’s consider the other end of the experience. Companies have to deal with 20 – 200 applications as well and make sure that they’re making the right hiring decision. How they deal with this is incredibly telling of their culture. What kind of company are you looking for? The answer to that question can depend highly on where you’re at in your career or life.
In the past, I’ve been in situations where I didn’t have the luxury to pick and choose the ideal company I’d like to work for, I just needed a job. But what about when you do have that luxury? When’s the last time you’ve reflected on the interview process, and how it might reveal the culture of the company? When a company isn’t very responsive, or has an incredibly cumbersome hiring process, what does that say about their day-to-day work? Are you prepared to navigate a business that isn’t highly communicative, doesn’t have concrete processes, or needs a lot of help?
Sometimes these types of companies are exactly where we’d like to be, but not all the time. Consider your experience while applying for a company, the interviews you go through with them, and what that means for the culture you want to be a part of.
Cover Letters #
DAVID: If a company requires them as part of their process, cover letters can get a bad reputation if you have to write 200 of them in a row. They all start looking the same, and follow the same boring template. How do you know if you’re standing out?
My only advice, if you’re already using a template, is to quote the company in the letter. Have a portion of your template ready to have a quotable segment. Does the company have a blog? Take 5 minutes to find a quote in a post that compliments your message. If they don’t have a blog, quote their mission statement, or social media. Do they have none of these? Ask yourself if that’s either the type of company you don’t want to work for, or if it’s an opportunity.
A few years ago I worked as a developer at Red Technologies, a freight brokerage company that had a blog written for truck drivers. This type of blog was not for software development, but it was a great opportunity. Below is a snippet from my cover letter to them, as an example of one way you could quote a blog:
…To keep improving products at a certain point requires retrospectives, and following through with testing plans. In your blog post, Day in the Life of a Truck Driver, it was written that “One of the most important lessons [Leonard] learned is patience as traffic and bad drivers are the most common issues he consistently faces.” This stood out to me, because it brings out the truth of the necessity of software testing. We’ve all experienced the longer traffic stages of development, or the unpredictable nature of bad drivers in the form of bugs and project setbacks. But with extra time and patience placed into testing early and often, with each prototype comes a well validated product that has a clear path to continue improving…
At this point in my career, I wanted to emphasize software testing. So I found a way I could relate that to the company’s own content. If you’re using a cover letter template, first deeply understand the narrative you’re supporting, and then quote each company in a meaningful way. You never know: you could end up quoting the exact person reviewing your application.
Our last piece of advice is for resumes. For this post, we don’t believe that telling you what you should have on a resume is completely helpful. Instead, we simply wanted to show you two different resumes. We wanted to share these with you to help encourage you and give you insight into what type of resume we expect from developers at various stages in their career.
The first resume is for Rohit, who got the job at Michigan Software Labs as an Associate Software Developer, and is currently in college.
The second resume is for David, who got the job at Michigan Software Labs as a Software Developer and has several years of experience.
JEFF: What I look for in a resume varies from position to position depending on the experience level we are hiring for at the time. I will often end up reading a resume from bottom to top. This is because I am more interested in how a candidate got to where they are today than I am in exactly the person or employee they are right this minute. I see candidates through the lens of “Is Michigan Software Labs a good next step for their story?” At the root of this, I am trying to answer the question of whether this individual, with the right support from our team, can grow into the person we need within the timeframe that we need them.
Personally, providing context for how you have worked on teams in the past is great context! If you are newer in your career and pursuing an internship or your first job out of college, giving me insight into how you have been adaptable to new teams, situations, or technologies in the past is super helpful to help me think about how you might apply the same skills here. This is true even if that past experience is as a lifeguard, a caddy, or a variety of group projects. We can (and do!) teach a lot of project specifics when you get here.
What’s Next? #
While the different advice we’ve shared won’t guarantee you a job, we believe that following them will help bring some clarity to the chaotic application processes you might be going through. If you can improve just a couple small areas of your job search through some of these points, it will be worth it in the long run in order to reduce some stress and increase your confidence and consistency.
Now, if you’re interested in working for Michigan Software Labs, we want to help you answer some of the questions we shared in this post. Regarding platforms we use for hiring, how many interviews it takes, and what type of care and consideration we place on the process, our hiring steps are the following:
- A friendly, introductory chat with our Head of People Operations & Talent Development
- A “technical” Zoom interview to delve into your experiential skills and industry knowledge
- Additional reference checks
- An onsite interview and office tour
- A meeting with the Managing Partners
We primarily use BambooHR, and only ask for a resume. We also have a writeup on our careers page that has more details about our process.
If you’re interested in any of our openings, we hope to speak with you soon!
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