Job Application Process


Module Goal: To learn about the job search, application, and interview processes, and to identify key resources and strategies for finding and securing employment.


  1. To identify different ways to find employment opportunities.
  2. To explain common vocabulary used in the employment search.
  3. To describe the employment application process.
  4. To explain the applicant’s legal rights in the interview and hiring process.
  5. To describe the job interview process.
  6. To suggest ways to make oneself a strong job candidate in the application and interview process.
  7. To list and describe resources for students with disabilities seeking employment.


One of the biggest components of your transition to independent adult life is the school-to-work one. Whether you’re getting a job straight out of high school or going to college first, finding your first job is an important step on the road to independence. Getting a job that you are good at, that you enjoy, and that pays your bills can help you become a mature, happy, and independent adult. However, finding that job can take a lot of work. This module is intended to familiarize you with different ways of finding and applying for jobs that interest you, and to show you ways to improve your chances of getting hired. Whether you’re looking for a job right now or just trying to plan ahead, this module will give you an understanding of the job application process and some helpful advice and resources for navigating your job search. Below are the key questions that you should be able to answer by the end.

Key Questions:

  1. How do I find job openings in my area of interest?
  2. How can I tell if a job listing is right for me?
  3. What do I do once I’ve found a job listing that sounds good to me?
  4. I’ve been asked to a job interview. How should I prepare?
  5. I’ve been asked to a job interview. What should I say? How should I act?
  6. Do I have to disclose my disability to potential employers?
  7. What are things that I can do now that will help me get a job later?
  8. Where can I find more information and help in finding a job?

1. How do I find job openings in my area of interest?

Whether you’re looking for a part-time job while you’re in high school or college, or searching for full-time employment after graduation, there a many ways to find job openings in your area of interest. The three main ways to find job openings are through job listings, networking, and walk-ins.

Job Listings: These are postings that employers publish, either online or in print, to search for people to hire. You can find job listings for all types of jobs online, in print in your local paper, or in your community.

  • In print: These will be in the ‘Classified’ section of the paper, and will usually say the general job type at the top of each listing (for example: ‘Sales’ or ‘Automotive’). You can also look postings in special publications about your interest (for example, Theater Magazine publishes job listings for theaters around the country).
  • Online: There are listings for all sorts of jobs on websites such as Job listings are often categorized according to the type of work: retail or education, for example. You can also find job listings in your specific area of interest. There are many websites that post job listings in particular field (such as, which lists jobs in publishing, writing, and communications, or, which posts job listings for the government). Ask a professional in the field or use a simple Google search to find websites that are more tailored to your specific interest.
  • In your community: You can also look for job listings posted in buildings dedicated to your area of interest. For example, a professor may post a flier advertising a job for a laboratory assistant in the college’s science building, or a landscaping company may post fliers at the local plant nursery to find people for yard and garden crews. Remember, your local community center, rehabilitation services center, or even your local coffee shop may have a wall for people to post job listings on. So you can find a job opening in your field of interest online, in print, or in your community – or all three!

Networking: This is a great way to find a job opening that may not be published for the general public. ‘Networking’ is a term used to describe how we cultivate relationships with people who share our interests and may work in the fields that we’re hoping to enter. Even if you are still in school, you can start building relationships with people who may be able to help you get a job.

  • Ask your family and friends: You can start by asking your family, friends, and teachers if they know of any job openings – your cousin may work at a restaurant that’s looking for another waiter, or your friend may have an uncle looking to hire part-time office help. Don’t be shy about asking for help with your job search from the people closest to you.
  • Volunteer: Doing volunteer work in your area of interest is a great opportunity to network; work hard to make a good impression and ask for contact information for the volunteer coordinator and other people that you meet. These are people that you can contact (politely!) when you’re looking for a job – and since they’ve worked with you as a volunteer, they may be more likely to recommend you for any jobs that they know about.
  • Ask at school: Talk to the teachers and staff you have a good relationship with about your job search. Your English teacher may know of a summer camp that needs counselors. If you’re attending college, visit your alumni office: they can put you in contact with people working in your field of interest who may be willing to help.

The great advantage of networking is that your circle of acquaintances will continue to grow, and each of your contacts will have their own contacts. Networking is a great way to find job openings that you may otherwise have never come across, and it’s never too early to start building the relationships that can help you find satisfying employment.

Walk-ins: this is the most direct way of finding job openings, because it consists of ‘walking in’ to a place that you’d like to work and asking if they are hiring. It sounds simple, but there are a number of things that you should do to increase your chances of finding a job this way. First of all, not all kinds of job openings can be found though walk-ins – you’re not likely to get a warm reception if you walk into a hospital emergency room and ask if they’re looking for nurses. Most jobs that require professional qualifications, such as college degrees or training certifications, cannot be found through walk-ins. However, if you’re looking for a part-time job at the pizza parlor after school, or a lifeguard job at your local rec center, a walk-in is a fine way to search. It’s important to look and conduct yourself professionally when you’re looking for a job in person. Make sure that your clothes are professional and that you are polite to everyone at the business. If the place that you’re looking to work at has a busy time (like a lunch rush at a restaurant), try to avoid that so that the manager may have a minute to speak with you. When you walk in, politely ask an employee if there is someone you can speak to about getting a job application. Some places may keep blank job applications readily available, while others will want the manager to meet you before you get an application. You can either fill out the application there, or take it home to complete and then bring it back. Some large chain stores, such as Target or Walmart, may have a computer station in the store (usually it’s in the customer service area) with a sign that says ‘Employment Center’ or ‘Career Center.’ This is where you can sit and fill out your application electronically. You can’t take that home, though, so if you’re looking to apply to a store like this, bring contact information for your references with you. You may need to visit numerous places and fill out a lot of applications in order to find a job through walk-ins; this is sometimes called ‘pounding the pavement.’ Remember, you’re looking for a job in person, so try to make your best first impression!

2. How can I tell if a job listing is right for me?

Once you’ve located a job listing, you should make sure that it is both legitimate and right for you.

Legitimate: You want to be sure that a job posting is advertising a real job for a real company. Especially when searching online, you should be wary of potential scams – fake postings trying to get your personal information or to sell you something. The company advertising should have a real website, address, and phone number listed. If they don’t, you can conduct a simple Google search to find this information. Unlike a college, an employer should never require an ‘application fee’ or any kind of payment from you, the applicant. Another red flag is any job listing that asks for a lot of personal information (address, bank information, or photographs). If a job listing seems fishy, you can always call the company and ask for more information. A legitimate employer should be happy to answer any questions you may have. Also be on the lookout for any ‘get rich quick’ listings – a good rule of thumb is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. It’s important to protect your personal information, especially online. There are enough real job postings out there that you don’t need to waste your time with scams.

Right for you? Every job listing should contain a brief description of the job advertised, the time commitment, location, and requirements. To tell if a listing is right for you, first look at the job description (sometimes called ‘job duties’). Are these things that you can physically accomplish? Do you know how to do this job? Would you be okay with doing these things every day? Next, look at the time commitment and location. If the job is full-time but you’re still in school, or if it’s 30 miles away and you don’t have a ride, then you will need to keep searching. Next, look at the job requirements (sometimes listed as ‘minimum qualifications’). The employer will list any skills that a candidate must possess and any education or degrees that are required. If your level of education and skill matches those listed, then the job may be a good fit for you. Some job postings may provide additional information, such as a pay rate or a description of the work environment. Read each listing carefully to see if it seems like something that you are qualified to do. Don’t just consider whether you’re right for the job, however. Remember that a job should fit with the rest of your life and be something that you find meaningful – with each listing, also ask if the job is right for you.

3. What do I do once I’ve found a job listing that sounds good to me?

Applying for a job is a process, not a one-step affair. Different kinds of jobs have different kinds of application procedures, but most will require an application form or a resume and cover letter.

Application form: Most retail or restaurant jobs, and some office jobs, require you to fill out application forms. These forms vary from place to place, but all have common features. They will ask for your personal contact information (name, address, phone number), your work experience, and references.

If you don’t have any prior work experience, it’s okay to say that – many companies are used to hiring young people with little experience. You can also list any experience you have as a volunteer in the same type of job; this shows that you have an interest in this field and some experience in this environment (for example, if you’re applying to work at a grocery store, list your experience volunteering at a Goodwill).

Most applications will also ask you for references, as well. If you’ve had a job before, it’s best to list someone from your previous job who will recommend you as a good employee. You should ask this person to be a ‘professional reference’ for you before you give their contact information on any application forms, however. If you don’t have any prior experience, you can ask a mentor, teacher, or someone you’ve volunteered with to act as a reference for you, instead.

Remember, the application form is the first step in introducing yourself to a potential employer, so it is important to complete it neatly and honestly. Messiness will not help your chances of being hired, and any untruths you may be tempted to write on the application will be quickly exposed in an interview.

Resume and cover letter: Many jobs that require more training and responsibility, such as camp counselors or restaurant managers, will require a resume and cover letter instead of an application form. Internships also commonly require these two things in order to apply.

A resume is a document that formally presents you as a job candidate. Resumes vary from person to person and across job areas, but all have certain features. A resume should include your name and contact information, the type of job you’re seeking, your educational information and employment history, and any other accomplishments or skills that make you a strong job candidate. If you’re still in school and don’t have job experience, you can still make a strong resume. Make sure to list any job skills and volunteer experience you may have – do you know how to use a computer to run Microsoft Word? Do you have experience working the cash register at your school’s sports concessions stand? Have you made the honor roll two years in a row? These are all things that you should include in a resume to give potential employers a good idea of what you bring to the table.

Making a resume can be tricky and time consuming. You can find templates and tips for free online, but it’s also extremely useful to get in-person help, one-on-one. Ask your school’s career counselor to help, or check your local community center, public library, or office of rehabilitation services for resume-writing help.

A cover letter is a brief letter introducing yourself and presenting your resume to a potential employer for a specific job opening. A cover letter should be individualized for the job you’re applying for; there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all. Again, though, every cover letter has the same basic features, and a Google search online will show you lots of examples and templates. A cover letter should explain the position you are seeking and how you found out about this job opportunity. It should call attention to important items on your resume that make you a strong candidate (experience in the field, relevant education, etc.). It should also reflect a positive professional attitude and your honest interest in the position. A cover letter is the first thing that an employer will look at, so it should be a well-written, brief description of your interest in the job and your strengths as a candidate. Again, it’s important to seek help and guidance in writing a cover letter, so don’t hesitate to ask for support from staff at school or other service providers.

4. I’ve been asked to a job interview. How should I prepare?

If you’ve been asked to interview for a job, congratulate yourself! This means that a potential employer saw your application or resume and thought that you might be a good fit for this job. There are a number of things that you can do to prepare yourself to have a great job interview.

Do your research. Look up the company you’re interviewing with online and ask your acquaintances what they know about it. Try to get as clear an idea as possible of what this company does, what it’s like to be an employee of this company, and what this specific job would be like. Find out what the standard pay rate is for this job. Find out if people in this job are often promoted to higher positions in the company. If you know anyone who has held the same job or a similar one, ask them what the job was like, and what their job interview was like. Researching the job beforehand will allow you to show the interviewer that you take this opportunity seriously and know what you’re working towards.

Look the part. It’s important to dress professionally for a job interview, no matter what job you’re applying for. Even if the job would require you to wear a janitor’s jumpsuit, you should prepare to go to the interview looking well-groomed and professional. Make sure that your clothes are clean and ironed and not overly provocative. A good goal is to ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have.’ This will show potential employers that you take pride in how you present yourself and that you care about the impression you make on others – valuable characteristics in an employee.

Plan for the unexpected. Chance circumstances can arise before your interview takes place. Call the day beforehand to confirm your interview time and place, and leave early to allow plenty of time to get there. Bring a pen and a copy of your resume, even if you’ve already sent one to this company. A job interview may be very brief or very lengthy, so don’t schedule anything essential for the hour after the interview.

5. I’ve been asked to a job interview. What should I say? How should I act?

A job interview can make you extremely nervous, but if you’ve prepared for success, you should have nothing to worry about. Each interview will go differently, but these tips from the US Department of Labor should work in any situation.

Be ready to talk about yourself. An employer may ask you to briefly describe your experience relating to the job, or broad questions such as “why should I hire you?” It’s a good idea to prepare and practice answering these questions with a friend or mentor beforehand.

Be professional and polite. Learn the interviewer’s name and shake hands with him or her. Use appropriate language, not slang, and don’t chew gum or fidget a lot.

Bring your materials. You should have your resume and a pen as well as a government ID and contact information for any references you’d like to give.

Be enthusiastic and positive. Make eye contact and ask questions about the job or the company to show that you’ve prepared for the interview and you’re sincerely interested in the job. When talking about your experiences, don’t be insulting towards past employers or coworkers – it might make the interviewer think that you’d think the same of this company. Thank the interviewer for his or her time at the end of the interview, and send a brief thank-you note or email afterwards to show that you appreciated the time took and the opportunity to interview.

Be patient afterwards. You may not hear back from potential employers for a while. Some employers are looking to hire immediately, while others may not get back to you for over a month. Some employers will let you know if they are not hiring you, while others may not contact you unless they want to offer you the job. Some employers will ask for more than one interview or additional references. Be patient and accommodating; if it’s been a long time, you can send a polite email asking about the status of your application. If you’re told that you aren’t going to be hired, don’t try to argue or convince the employer to change his or her mind. Remember, even if you don’t get the job, you can take what you’ve learned from this experience and use it in your continuing job search!

6. Do I have to disclose my disability to potential employers?

No! You are not obligated to disclose your disability on a job application or in a job interview. In fact, it is illegal for a potential employer to ask if you have a disability during an interview. Of course, if you feel that this information is relevant in some way, you may certainly disclose your disability. Sometimes, you will want to self-disclose in order to see what the company’s attitude and accommodations for people with disabilities are (for example, are all facilities fully accessible?). Sometimes, your disability may make you a stronger candidate for a job – for example, your experience with special education may make you especially suited to mentor at-risk youth at a local after-school program. If you’re not sure whether you should disclose your disability at a job interview, ask a trusted friend or someone you know who’s been in a similar situation. Remember, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you on the basis of ability. If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of this (or because of your race, gender, religion, etc.), you can contact the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for more information or to file a formal complaint.

7. What are things that I can do now that will help me get a job later?

If you’re still in school, or if you’re not quite ready to start looking for a job, there are still a lot of things that you can do to prepare. These are just a few suggestions:

Find out what you want. Talk to your school’s career counselor or transition coordinator about potential jobs and careers that interest you. See if you can find people who work in fields that interest you, or have jobs that you think sound interesting. The more you know what you want, the more prepared you can be to achieve it!

Start building your resume and contacts now. You can volunteer in your area of interest and gain valuable experience that will help you get a job later. You can often find classes or trainings in your local community that will make you a stronger candidate (for example, many rec centers offer free or low-cost first aid certification classes). You can use these experiences as opportunities to start networking and finding professional references, too. If your school requires community service learning hours, don’t just slog through them. Try to find an opportunity to volunteer doing something that you really care about, and try to do a good job at it. Remember, anyone that you meet while volunteering may be someone who could offer you a paying job later on, so use your service learning hours to really learn something and prepare you for a job in the future.

Start getting your documents in order. Your school has staff and resources to help you prepare for the job search. If you’re going to need a college degree or professional certification to pursue your goal, then your transition specialist and other staff should be available and ready to help you apply. You can ask your transition specialist, English teacher, or career counselor for help writing your resume and cover letters now, even if you’re not sending them out yet. You should also make sure that you have an official government ID. A driver’s license is fine, but if you don’t drive, you will still need an ID in order to get a job. Ask your transition specialist for help in figuring out how to take this important step.

Review of Topics:

  1. There are many different ways to find job openings in your area of interest, both online and in print, and through networking with people that you know.
  2. In order to decide if a job is right for you, consider whether the job itself is legitimate and whether it fits your abilities, interests, and schedule.
  3. To apply for a job, you will need to fill out an application or submit a cover letter and a resume. While each job is different, all applications, resumes, and cover letters share common features. Their purpose is to present you and your qualifications for a job.
  4. If you are asked to do a job interview, it is important to prepare beforehand and to make an effort to make a good first impression as a potential employee. A job interview is a chance to show a potential employer why you would be a great employee, so you should take care to do your best.
  5. You do not have to disclose your disability to anyone when you’re applying for a job, and it’s illegal for companies to discriminate against you because of it.
  6. Whether you are actively seeking a job or just want to plan for the future, there are a lot of things you can do while still in high school to get a head start. Participating in career exploration, doing volunteer work that you’re passionate about, and writing your first resume are all things that you can do in high school that will help you later on.


  1. What are the different ways of finding job openings in your field of interest? Which methods of job-hunting do you think would be best for the job you want to find? Try using one of these methods to find some job listings that interest you.
  2. How can you tell if a job posting is advertising a ‘real job’? What are some steps you can take to protect yourself against scam advertisements? Look at the job listings that you’ve found and try to explain why they are (or are not) legitimate.
  3. What is the purpose of a job application? A resume? A cover letter? How are these documents different from each other? Try to find an example of each online.
  4. What is ‘networking’? How can it help you find a job? How can you start networking while still in high school? Think about your own ‘network.’ Ask one person in your network if they have any suggestions for your job search. Ask another person from your network if they are willing to be a professional reference for you.
  5. What steps can you take to prepare yourself for a job interview? What can you do to have a successful job interview? Ask a teacher or friend to conduct a ‘mock-interview’ with you and to give you feedback. Come up with two things that you can do in any interview to make a good impression.
  6. Use the internet and staff at your school to find examples of resumes and cover letters. Make your own resume and a cover letter for a job you’d like to have. Ask a teacher to look it over and give you suggestions for making it stronger.

Additional Resources Online:


This website is a source for job listings for young people. It’s also full of helpful tips for teens looking for their first job, and it’s got an interactive resume-builder as well. If you’re looking for a job, or just looking for job-related information for someone your age, this is a great place to look!

Job Corps

This government-run agency provides job training, educational opportunities, and additional employment support services. This website can connect you to lots of services that will help you find employment.


An online community where people with disabilities can post resumes, apply for jobs and network with inclusive employers and service providers. This website is completely free and a great place to network or find a job that’s right for you.


This website contains links to lots of different job banks and educational opportunities. You can also use it to find help with writing your resume or improving you job interview skills.


This website is full of resources for your transition into the workforce. It’s completely free, and you can use it to connect to other young people and build your resume, or find volunteer and internship opportunities.

Finding Volunteer Opportunities

This search engine, called “United We Serve” will help you find local volunteer opportunities in many different areas. Use it to find work you’re passionate about, explore different career options, and to build a professional network.


Sample Lesson Plan:

Lesson: How do I find employment and apply for a job?

A sample lesson plan on the Job Application Process developed by Jesse Hull, M.A. Candidate, George Washington University


Phoebe Slocum is currently earning her Masters’ in Transition Special Education from George Washington University. She holds a degree in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College. She currently teaches Government, History, and Drama at a high school for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities in Maryland.

This document made possible in part by the support of The HSC Foundation, a Washington, DC-based foundation dedicated to expanding access and success in education beyond high school. HEATH is affiliated with The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development and The HSC Foundation. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The HSC Foundation. No official endorsement by the Foundation or of any product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned in this publication is intended or should be inferred. Permission to use, copy, and distribute this document for non-commercial use and without fee, is hereby granted if appropriate credit to the HEATH Resource Center at the National Youth Transitions Center is included in all copies.