Study the ad for subtle hints about the job. The tone and language of the ad can tell you if the company has a casual culture or a more suit-and-tie vibe. The length of the ad can give you hints about how thoroughly they understand the role they're hiring for themselves. And if the ad is posted somewhere that required money to change hands, the position is real and unlikely to be filled internally by the boss' brother.
Follow the directions. No-brainer, right? But I can vouch from personal experience that most applicants can't seem to follow simple instructions like whether to include attachments and what information to put in the e-mail reply. If you follow the ad's directions to the letter, you'll automatically go in a smaller pile.
Don't write a novel. Be as concise as possible while still responding completely and accurately. No one will read everything you write, so if you have something important to say, it's a good idea to not nestle it among a lot of extraneous details that no one will ever see.
Find a name. If possible, dig up an actual name to address your reply to. This can be tricky, especially if the ad lists only an e-mail address. But a little sleuthing, like visiting the company Web site, can often yield great results. You can even call the company and ask the secretary for the name of the hiring manager or HR rep for the position you're interested in.
Customize your template. You're probably replying to a lot of jobs online, so it makes sense to have a template or a stock e-mail. That said, you should customize each and every reply -- templates feel generic, and the HR dude reading yours can tell.
Follow up politely. Should you follow up with the employer? Yes. Should you badger your potential employer? No. Wait several days -- perhaps even a week -- before sending a note. When you do, keep it short, emphasize how excited you are at the prospect of working there, and offer to send any additional information the hiring manager might need to make a good decision.
Do you have any tips or success stories of your own to share? Sound off in the comments. Photo by Neubie