As a recruitment consultant, I spend a large portion of my day going through applications for positions and determining as quickly as possible if they’re going to be a suitable match or not. For every one applicant that is going to be suitable, sadly there is probably going to be tens of candidates who are not.
To be honest, this can often be down to the applicant simply not matching the requirements of the role and I’ve already written a few blogs about this in the past that may be worth exploring to avoid me going down the same path here.
Think of it this way; I’ve been given a brief from the client and, as they will be paying me a fee, their expectation is that I am going to provide them with a shortlist of people who match that brief as closely as possible. The brief becomes the absolute benchmark by which I determine if someone is going to move forward or if I’m going to have to let them know that this isn’t the right opportunity for them. It will form the basis of the job ad, along with my own observations of the client and what they have to offer, as well as what criteria I expect to see from a candidate when they send their application through.
With that in mind, here are three top tips that will help to improve your job application chances next time you apply.
1. Make a shortlist of what the criteria is from the job ad
Take a moment to read through the job ad and see if you can identify the top five criteria that they’ve mentioned. It might be a particular skill set or experience with a particular type of work. Then, when you’re putting together your application, feedback on how your match that top five criteria.
For example, if you look online currently, you’ll see that I have a job ad up for a Junior Graphic Designer who has experience with print, digital and designing / building catalogues. The ad also talks about being a team player, collaborative and is very precise on what style of catalogues are involved.
You would assume from that job ad that the key things you’ll want to address in your application from the start (and perhaps reinforced throughout to drive home the point) is:
- Your existing industry design experience
- Your experience with designing and building catalogues
- Your experience with retail print
- Your experience with retail digital
- Your experience working as a collaborative, team player.
2. Ensure that you address the ‘what’s missing’
What if you don’t have experience in any of those five areas? Then address the elephant in the room and acknowledge it and talk about what proactive solutions you might have to work around that issue.
The flipside of this, of course, is that if you can’t come up with a solution, then you may need to accept that perhaps this isn’t the right position for you. As much as you might think applying for every position is a smart strategic way to find a job, the reality is that it will water down your own personal brand over time and you risk being seen as a ‘serial applier’ who applies for every position that they’re actually not suitable for. No one wants that!
What if you don’t have experience in building catalogues - how would you get around that? I would suggest you do some research, go and find some retail catalogues (I was once asked where someone could do that and I suggested ‘a letterbox’) and consider what you would do if you were to create these. Then go the extra step and create a personal project to showcase how you might approach it.
The simple fact is this; if there is a gap between where you are and where you would like to go, consider what is missing and how you can close that gap. This isn’t just a lesson for job hunting but a lesson for life.
3. Ensure that your application shows your attention to detail
These are the small things that show you’ve read the ad, you’ve acknowledge what is needed to apply and that you take your application seriously.
DO mention which job you are applying for. Most hiring managers and recruiters will be working on several jobs simultaneously. Sending an email saying ‘I’m applying for the job that you have advertised’ is going to confuse someone who is already wearing multiple hats over the course of the day.
DON’T send out the same cover letter thinking it will do. And if you do, ensure it has the right company name, job title or even the name of the person on it.
DO make sure that the URL for your folio still works, or that the hyperlink in your CV will click through. Too often I’ve gone to look at someone’s work and discovered that I can’t. Worse is when they send through just a CV for a graphic design role without any form of folio.
DON’T send through your CV in Word Doc format. DO make sure that you actually put some thought and consideration into the layout of your CV. Most CV’s get 6 seconds from the moment they’re opened to convince the hiring manager that you’re the right person for the job. With that in mind, DON’T put paragraph after paragraph of block text - it’s just too much.
DO send through your CV and folio in one document if you can do it, and make sure that you keep the file size aligned with the requirements of the platform. I’ve had people send me folios that were into the hundreds of megabytes - this isn’t going to work!
DO send through a folio that is relevant to the job at hand. If I’m looking for catalogues and your folio doesn’t contain any, you can’t blame me for saying that it isn’t a match. Coming back to me after I’ve declined the application and saying you have that experience only shows me that you didn’t take the time to consider sending through your application properly from the start.
True story, just this week I had an application for the job. The email was about three sentences with next to no information about who they were. I opened their Word Doc CV to find that nowhere in their CV did they state that they had any experience with a fast paced retail environment producing catalogues. There was also no folio attached and no reference to an online folio in the CV. I went back to the person asking if they had any experience with catalogues and all I got back was an email response saying, ‘Yes I have.’ If you were in my shoes, what would you do? It felt like a lot of hard work to just qualify if this person was actually going to be suitable or not and when there are hundreds of applications, you can’t blame a hiring manager for moving it on.
Think about the above example though; what if they had bothered to approach this with a little more consideration?
What if they had included some introduction that showed they had read the ad, understood the brief and explained why they would be a match (even if they lacked experience in certain areas)?
What if they had a nicely designed CV that showed they were a graphic designer along with examples of their design work that matched the brief?
What if it gave me everything I needed straight away that made me go, ‘wow, this person isn’t an exact match but they’ve really considered their application and they’re serious about this role!’
Maybe the outcome would’ve been a little bit different for them.
I don’t write this to be negative. The intention is to bring a mirror up to bad practices that people have habitually adopted when applying for jobs and I know that I am not alone in my frustration around this. It may take more time for your application to be done but you’ll be taken far more seriously and have a far greater chance of getting your foot in the door than you will if the bad habits continue.