What—in your mind—is the purpose of a job application?
Is it to let a prospective employer know who you are and what you have accomplished? Is it to tell a prospective employer about your skills and experience? If you cannot whole-heartedly answer the last two questions with a resounding Yes!, you are on the right track!
The purpose of a job application is to convince the hiring team that you are the best candidate for the job.
Who is the hiring team? The primary audience for your job application usually comprises members of the Human Resources recruitment team and the department manager who is hiring. (Larger companies may also employ an artificial intelligence system for application screening called an applicant tracking system or ATS.) In North America, you may be able to get a better idea of who your readers will be by doing some research on LinkedIn and on the web.
So—how can you convince the recruiter and hiring manager that you are the top candidate for the job? By putting yourself in their shoes.
Put yourself in the hiring team's shoes
Find out as much as you can about the company, its values, its culture, and its recent achievements or news: read news releases and other content posted on the company website or published by the media. Think about how that may influence what the department that is hiring may be working on, and what situation the company may be in.
Study the job posting closely. What does it tell you about the company? About the position? Look for keywords and for phrases with similar meaning that are repeated throughout the posting. Often, the author of the posting will not state the same word twice but express a similar message by using synonyms. For example, you may read in different parts of the posting that they are looking for someone who is a) motivated, b) enthusiastic, and c) has drive. Get the picture? Maybe the posting mentions in different sections that they'd like to hire a) a team player with b) a collaborative mindset who c) likes bringing out the best in colleagues. You get the picture. Look for synonyms and use them to gauge what is important to the hiring team.
Now that you know more about what the hiring team is looking for, put yourself in its shoes and start writing your application with empathy.
Empathy is the one soft skill that will help you convince your readers that you are the best fit for the job. When we write a document about ourselves, we often tend to lose focus on what an application is really about: how we fit the hiring team's needs and wants. Let both your resume and cover letter reflect that you understand your prospective employer's needs, and explain how you fit those needs. Empathy will help you not to get lost in details that may be important to you but may not be relevant to the hiring team. Distance yourself from your ego and let go of details on your resume that you may have worked hard for, and that you may be really proud of, if they do not serve the purpose of convincing the hiring team that you are the best candidate for the specific role they are seeking to fill. Indeed, if you list too many skills or experiences that are not directly relevant to the job at hand, the hiring team may wonder why you are applying to this job and conclude that your interests and strengths lie outside of what they need.
If you develop the skill and habit of writing your job application wearing the hiring team members' shoes, you will be in the best position to produce a convincing application that resonates with its readers.