When you’re job hunting, you typically have your resume and a few go-to cover letter templates ready to go.
But then there are those other times, when you’re not really looking, but your dream job suddenly shows up—a friend sends you a posting she thinks would be perfect for you, say, or you see a “we’re hiring!” tweet from your favorite brand.
If this is the case, don’t panic—and definitely don’t hit apply right away! Instead, take some time and follow this five-step checklist to make sure you cross your t’s, dot your i’s, and have the best chances of standing out from the crowd and landing the job.
1. Research the Company in Depth
Before you do anything else, make sure you set yourself up well for the whole job application process by finding out as much as possible about the company you’re applying to. This doesn’t just mean browsing the website, though. Go deeper by engaging with the company’s social media profiles to get an idea of the team culture, looking over some reviews on Glassdoor, and reading up on the company’s competitors and points of differentiation. Hint: Look up the company on LinkedIn, and see what comes up in the “People Also Viewed” section.
2. Brush Up Your Resume
The next step is more obvious: It’s time to clean up that resume. (And while you’re at it, make sure your LinkedIn profile is ready to make an impression, too.)
Do the easy stuff first. Make sure you’re using the best action verbs to describe your experience and quantifying each of your accomplishments. Then check out these 45 quick changes that will help get your resume noticed. And using what you know about the company and position, tailor your resume as much as possible as you’re making edits (yes, it’s OK to have slightly different variations of your resume for each job you apply to). Finally, wrap up your edits by making sure your resume formatting is on point and easy to read.
Read More: 43 Resume Tips That Will Help You Get Hired
3. Reach Out to Your Network
With your resume updated and some knowledge of the company, it’s now time to enlist your secret job-hunting weapon: your network. If anyone you know (or anyone they know) works for the company or knows someone who does, now is the time to reach out to them. Your main goal should be to learn as much as possible about the company or position, though if you can get an “in” with the hiring manager, even better!
Find a few people you know, and ask if you can pick their brain for advice or have 30 minutes of their time for an informational interview. (Follow these tips by Elliott Bell on how to ask and get a “yes,” then review these three steps for conducting a perfect informational interview.) With any luck, you might be able to get your resume forwarded internally rather than applying directly. That said, don’t wait around for this to happen if it looks like it might take some time. It’s hard to know what the timeframe is for the position, so it’s a good idea to apply pretty quickly.
4. Craft the Perfect Cover Letter
Whether you’re referred internally or you apply directly, you’re going to need an expertly crafted cover letter. To get started, figure out who you should address the letter to, then carve out 45 minutes to focus and start writing. Print out The Muse’s handy Pain-Free Cover Letter Builder, and get to work. (Stuck? Get inspired by these 31 examples.) Once you’re done, read over it one more time and make sure you’re not making any of these seven cover letter mistakes that make hiring mangers cringe.
Read More: The Pain-Free Cover Letter Builder
5. Hit Send and Start Preparing for the Interview
With your resume and cover letter all polished and ready to go and your network backing you up, you’re ready to hit send! Unfortunately, though, it’s not time to relax. Since there’s no standard time for a company to get back to job applicants, there’s no telling whether you have two days or two weeks to prepare for the interview. So, it’s best to get cracking sooner rather than later.
Head over to Muse U for the best interviewing resources The Muse has to offer, including a list of standard behavioral questions and strategies for how to approach them, answers to all your questions about interviewing, and even a class on how to ace any job interview.
When your dream job comes up, it’s easy to overreact by either applying within the same minute of finding it or taking too long as you anguish over all the details. Make sure you’re in the middle somewhere to ensure a swift application that will make a good impression by checking off each step as quickly as possible. Good luck!
Photo of job ad courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author