16 – Applications

Prewriting and Research for Application Materials

Megan Savage; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; and Matt McKinney

Spending adequate time preparing to write your application materials can save you time in the drafting process. This section of the chapter covers strategies that can help in your job or higher education search.

Conducting a Self-Inventory

As you work on your résumé or curriculum vitae (CV), you may worry either that you have nothing valuable to include or that you are “bragging.” One way to overcome both these hurdles is to allocate pre-writing time to a self-inventory. Brainstorm your skills, accomplishments, and knowledge. What did you accomplish at work, school, or a volunteer position? What skills have you learned? What would you tell a friend or family member that you were proud of having achieved there? (Or, what would your grandparent or close family friend brag about you to their peers?) Start writing down key terms and action verbs that describe your experiences and accomplishments, and don’t worry yet about putting them into a résumé format.

For help brainstorming action verbs that describe your skills, browse a key term list such as the one in Table 16.1.[1] First, scan the groupings of skills (Communication Skills, Creative Skills, Financial Skills, etc.) for key terms related to skills you have or work you have done. Then, write down 1) categories of skills you have and 2) corresponding action verbs that describe skills you have or work you have done (e.g. analyzed, performed, calculated, advocated, etc.).

Table 16.1. Key verbs for résumés.

Communication/
People Skills
Creative Skills Management/
Leadership Skills
Helping Skills Organizational
Skills
Collaborated Combined Assigned Aided Arranged
Communicated Created Coordinated Arranged Categorized
Developed Developed Decided Assisted Distributed
Edited Drew Improved Contributed Organized
Incorporated Illustrated Led Cooperated Recorded
Proposed Planned Managed Encouraged Responded
Suggested Revised Oversaw Helped Updated
Synthesized Shaped Recommended Motivated Tracked
Translated Crafted Reviewed Supported Monitored
Facilitated Conceived Supervised Prepared Synthesized
Mediated Established Delegated Bolstered Adapted

As you gather information about your education, work history, and skills, double check that your information is accurate and current. Gather dates of employment, dates of training, lists of activities you have been involved in, academic awards, achievements, and special projects. Job descriptions or performance reviews from previous jobs can also include key terms to include on your résumé. Finally, ask former coworkers or managers about your significant workplace contributions.

Locating Jobs and Graduate Programs

With the popularity of the Internet, locating potential jobs and graduate programs is presumably easy. However, effective searching is not something that can be done just with a Google search, especially if you’re looking for jobs in the professional sphere such as business, finance, STEM, or education, or if you want more detailed information about a graduate program’s emphasis and professional culture.

Job Sites. Websites (and their associated apps) such as LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor are classic places to start a job search. These sites are search engines specifically for jobs. To search for a job, type in relevant information such as a job title, company name, key skill, or location. Jobs that fit your criteria will be listed as results.

University Department Websites. There are multiple reasons why these websites are essential to the application process. Similar to job postings, most people interested in advanced higher education don’t apply to only one university. Additionally, many universities’ application processes require that graduate applicants fulfill two sets of guidelines: one that is university-wide and one that is specific to each program or department. Further still, the graduate application process typically requires the submission of more than just a résumé and cover letter (transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statements and other essays, etc.). Finally, department websites will give you valuable information about faculty and their professional interests, to give you a sense of how you might fit into the program and whom you might want for a mentor. For all of these reasons, you will need to make sure that you have comprehensively reviewed these sites.

University Career Center. Several colleges and universities offer career centers that include targeted job ad databases for students. Some, like Jobs for Aggies, [2] include part-time jobs specifically for college students. Others, such as Hire Aggies,[3] have options for searching internships and full-time positions for students and recent grads.

Company Websites. If there is a particular company or specific field that you wish to work in, you might occasionally find job opportunities posted on a company’s web page. To locate open positions, you will usually have to find a specific link on the company’s website. Most organizations will use labels such as “Employment,” “Work for Us,” or “Hiring.” Occasionally, you will have to go through a company’s Human Resources (or HR) page to find openings.

Professors and Academic Advisors. If you are applying to a graduate program (whether medical school or English), you likely have an idea of where you want to specialize. For example, you may want to be a neurosurgeon vs. a general practitioner, focus more on research than teaching, etc. Since every graduate program has a unique professional culture (even in the same field), it’s a good idea to speak with people who are already established members of the professional community you wish to join, and who can give you an idea of what your best options are. It’s likely that you’ll be asking these same people for letters of recommendation, so this is also a chance for you to find out whether they have any connections with the people who will be reviewing your application.

Social Media. If you have an idea of where you would like to work or study, you might also try following a company or graduate program on social media. This approach can be particularly useful for individuals in creative and performance fields, individuals interested in freelancing, and individuals looking into startups. It is also a good passive search strategy that can be useful if finding a job or program is not urgent.

Analyzing the Ad

To research the position or program itself, take advantage of the description you have found. The job or program description is your secret weapon; in this document, you are told what the employer or admissions committee is looking for in a candidate.

“Analyzing” simply means to break something up into its parts. When writing an ad, employers and graduate programs offer key clues regarding their expectations and organizational culture. To make analysis easier, either print out or save the job or program description so that you may annotate it. On your copy of the description, try the following:

  • Highlight or underline any qualifications that you hold. These include any skills you have, technologies you’ve used, etc.
  • Identify any past achievements that relate to any of the preferred qualifications. For example, if the job description seeks a candidate who can diagnose and solve technical problems, write down an example of a specific time in which you did so in a professional or academic setting.
  • Circle any key terms you might use in your own materials. Using the same terms as the ad demonstrates to the organization that your credentials are relevant, and that you have the same interests, goals, and values
  • Note any questions/uncertainties. Questions could include items that you may need clarification on, such as to whom you should address your materials, the salary or stipend of the position, or what the description means in its use of a certain phrase. Potential uncertainties may include any qualifications you do not have in order to decide what to highlight and what to downplay in your materials, as well as what you need to learn more about.

After analyzing an ad, you should be able to identify what is most important to whoever is reviewing your application. As an applicant, you can then show how you meet those expectations in your résumé, CV, cover letter, personal statement, and/or interview.

Researching the Organization

It is important that you research the institution as well as the position for which you’re applying. The easiest way to research an organization is to visit its website. Look for an “About Us” page or a “mission statement,” and observe how the organization describes its goals and values.

Try to answer the following questions about the company or organization:

  • Whom does this organization serve?
  • Who are this company’s partners or competitors?
  • What is this graduate program’s emphasis?
  • Who are notable faculty members in the program, both in terms of the general field and your specific interests?
  • What technologies would you use at this company?
  • What is the tone of this company’s materials (formal, conservative, humorous, “cutting edge,” etc.)?
  • How would you describe this company’s brand?

Here are a few more ways to research a company, specifically: search for its name on LinkedIn and other social media sites, browse for news articles about the company or press releases written by the company, speak with friends or colleagues who work for the company, or call the company to request an informational interview.

As you research, look for ways to connect with the organization:

  • What do you admire about the organization?
  • Where do your values and interests overlap with those of the organization?
  • What makes this organization a good fit for you?

Try to summarize your connection to the organization in one sentence. Remember that your potential employer or review committee is also your audience, and adapt your tone, examples, and level of technicality accordingly.

This text was derived from

Savage, Megan, “Preparation,” licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License in: Gross, Allison, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva. Technical Writing. Open Oregon Educational Materials, n.d. https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/technicalwriting/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


  1. Adapted from “Creating Resumes I,” Roads to Success, 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20150402071814/https://secure.collegeincolorado.org/images/CiC/pdfs/Roads_to_Success/Facilitators_Guides/Grade_11/G11_JobShadow2.pdf. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial-ShareAlike License.
  2. Texas A&M University Jobs for Aggies, Office for Scholarship & Financial Aid, accessed August 12, 2020, https://jobsforaggies.tamu.edu/.
  3. HireAggies, The Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University, accessed August 12, 2020, https://www.aggienetwork.com/careers/hireaggies.aspx.

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Howdy or Hello? Technical and Professional Communication by Megan Savage; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; and Matt McKinney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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