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How to propel your application to the top of the pile

Just to set the scene, when I’m sitting down to read applications, I probably have a stack of about 50 to make my way through. I make a matcha latte, put my headphones in, and then I hunker down and click into the first PDF.


The first thing I look at is the resume. I’m comparing this against a list of what I’m looking for in the ideal candidate. Ideally, your resume should be no more than 2 pages and should be formatted clearly. Bullet points are encouraged, as is clever use of colour, bold, or italic text to denote headings. This helps me quickly see the key information on the resume.

When you’re writing your resume, I’d recommend starting with a master document that has way more information than anybody wants to read. The lemonade stand you ran when you were 12 – even that should make it onto the master resume. Then from the master, you’re able to pare down rather than build out. Go through each item and compare it to the job description, asking yourself “So what? How does this relate to the job opportunity? What would I say if I was asked about this in an interview?” This way, each resume you submit will be uniquely tailored to the role you are applying for.

Now for a few quick tips.

  • Work experience:
    • Should be chronological, starting from the most recent.
    • When outlining the duration you were in for each position, outline the months as well as years. If you just say 2018-2019, you could mean the full 12 months, or it’s possible you could mean just 2 months.
    • Don’t just say what you did, outline what you accomplished. What are the outcomes you are most proud of?  
    • If your experience doesn’t exactly line up with the job but you’re in the process of trying to make a career jump, don’t hesitate to call it out in a short blurb somewhere.
    • If you’re later in your career, it may make sense to just include details from your most recent roles.
    • Be sure to include volunteer roles! However, you don’t need to go into a huge amount of detail unless it’s something you’re missing in your work experience.
  • Education:
    • Make sure you include the type of degree/certificate as well as the institution.
    • If you’re early in your career, it might be interesting to add relevant courses from your education.
  • Skills and Interests:
    • A list of your skills is definitely a helpful thing to add! Be sure to tailor this to the role (although don’t just parrot the job description).
    • Examples of skills include fundraising, project management, languages, data analysis, copywriting, event planning, SEO, bookkeeping, conflict resolution, negotiation, time management, etc.
    • As more emphasis is placed on cultural fit, don’t be afraid to add your interests. This is a good place to emphasize your values. For example; sustainability, animal rights, etc.
    • Utilizing your results from something like CliftonsStrengths or ViaCharacter is an interesting data point you could incorporate in this section of your resume.
  • Other:
    • Putting a photo on your resume isn’t necessary. It won’t count against you, but we are trying to reduce implicit bias.
    • Providing references on your resume isn’t necessary either. It’s assumed they’ll be available on request. Do start thinking about who you would list though!


After I’ve perused your resume, I scroll down to your cover letter. This should fit onto one page, and for consistency, I would recommend using the same font as your resume. Please don’t forget to have both your resume and cover letter in a single PDF! And if you’re using Indeed, it’s definitely worth submitting a PDF rather than using Quick Apply.  

When writing your cover letter, without being overly wordy, focus on outlining an overview of your career path and how it would be relevant for the role. It is particularly compelling if you can quantify your achievements. The cover letter is a particularly great place to bring in numbers if you’re worried about confidentiality – for example, you could note that you’ve worked with a range of budgets from $1 million to $15 million.

It’s also useful if you can delve a little deeper into your aspirations. What is the type of role or organization you’re looking for? How does this align with the particular opportunity at hand? Overall, it should be clear that you’ve taken the time to thoroughly read the job description, and to explore the organization’s website.


After I’ve reached the bottom of your cover letter, it’s time to make the call as to whether you’ve made it to the top of the pile. If you’re a promising candidate, I might head to LinkedIn (it can be handy if you provide a link to your LinkedIn page on your resume) to check that everything lines up with what’s on your resume.

What makes a great LinkedIn page:

  • This is a fantastic place to provide links to past work product. It’s a much better strategy than submitting a 14-page application document. You can always password protect your site to control access to your portfolio.
  • It’s definitely worth filling in your skills and trying to get endorsements!
  • Your likes are another opportunity to show what interests you. Tailor them to tell more of a story about your values and background.

And that’s a wrap! If you made it to the top of the pile, you’ll hear from me shortly after the closing date to set up an initial interview. Hopefully this helps!