A new year is often seen as a time for fresh starts, both personal and professional. But launching a job hunt can be a frightening prospect, especially in this economy, and many people feel daunted by the lack of control they have over the application process. From the moment you send off your CV and covering letter, the progress of your application is out of your hands. You don’t know when you’ll hear back from the employer; you don’t know if you’ll be offered an interview; often, you don’t even know whether things which have nothing to do with your application- such as your race or gender- will unfairly harm your chances of success. With such a long list of factors outside of our control, it’s easy to forget the things that we can influence. But they are there, and taking ownership of them might just help you on your way to snagging that dream job in 2017. I asked recruiters, hiring managers and employers about what you can do to maximise your chances of being offered a job- and the common mistakes you should avoid like the plague. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Keep it relevant
Former recruitment team leader Johnny Guiliani’s top piece of advice for jobseekers is to tailor your application to the requirements of the role. ‘I want to see relevance to the job’, he says. ‘You have the job spec, how does your experience reflect those skills?’ Even if you’re applying in a hurry, take 10 minutes to read the job description and person specification, and another 20 to edit your CV and covering letter to include evidence of how you have demonstrated each of the skills that the job asks for. It will be half an hour well spent, and could make the difference between an interview and someone in HR deleting your CV without a second glance. If you’re struggling to think of evidence for your skills, Guiliani argues that it’s better to include relevant details from your personal life and hobbies, than irrelevant ones from your last professional role. After all, a weekend job as a teenager isn’t necessarily evidence of good time management, ‘but a single parent, juggling three kids, a Sudoku and making dinner? Better.’
2. Check your application. Then check it again
This is probably the simplest and best advice there is for ensuring that your application is as good as it can be. As Guiliani puts it, ‘if you can’t be bothered to spell check, I can’t be bothered to hire you. Not because of illiteracy, but attention, respect, care.’ A covering letter free from grammatical errors and spelling mistakes is a sign of a candidate’s professionalism, and makes a good impression on an employer from the start. You don’t need to be a natural-born writer to hand in a well-written application: if you’re not confident in your writing, ask a friend who’s good with words to proofread for you, or google the spelling and usage of any words you’re unsure about.
3. Provide referees you can trust
If a job advert asks you to provide references when applying, make sure that they’re from people with whom you had a good working relationship. You want to be confident that your referees will speak highly of you, and the work you did for them. Guiliani warns that employers can and do contact referees for a more in-depth discussion of candidates, especially if they’re not convinced by their sincerity: ‘if referees give me a bland response, I will call them. I want to know if I should hire you. I’m not a doorman at Crazy Joes waving you through, because if I hire you, you are harder to remove than a hand stamp at a 3 a.m. dive bar.’
4. A little politeness goes a long way
Reply promptly to emails from HR. Do a little research so you can show that you’ve heard of the company to which you’re applying. If you are offered an interview, Guiliani advises phoning ahead to confirm that you can come, or sending a quick email to check if you need to bring anything with you. Little gestures like this can make a big impression on employers, making you look professional, courteous, and on-the-ball.
1. Don’t ask what the job can do for you…
Former council manager and recruiter SilverGirl says that in one of the worst job applications she ever received, the candidate listed ‘lots of time off’ and ‘won’t get sacked’ as the main reasons they were applying for the role. While it is helpful to show that you’ve thought about why you want to work in a particular position or at a certain company, it never looks good to suggest that you want a job just because it’s easy, well paid, or has good benefits. Show recruiters that you’re a catch by focusing on your skills and expertise, and if you do discuss the job itself, talk about what excites you about the role and the work that you’d be doing, rather than the sweet holiday allowance.
2. Don’t badmouth your previous job
Another disastrous application from SilverGirl’s wall of job hunting shame reads ‘I hate my job at [xxx] and this looks easy for me’. Be wary of complaining about your last job or manager in an application- it could well sound like sour grapes, and besides, you’re unlikely to convince someone to hire you by demonstrating that you had zero respect for your previous employer. If you had a bad experience in another workplace, try focusing on the positives such as how you overcame certain challenges, or what you learnt from the situation.
3. Don’t despair!
Job hunting can be a thankless task, but if you’ve followed these tips and shown off your skills to their best advantage, you’ve put yourself in a strong position to get the job you want. And if you’re still feeling pessimistic about your chances, you can always console yourself with the thought that there are many, many candidates whose applications are worse than yours. Case in point: SilverGirl once received a covering letter written on the back of a box of cornflakes. However you’re doing, it’s probably better than that.
The recruiters and managers I interviewed for this article preferred to remain anonymous, so pseudonyms have been used to protect their identities.
Written Louise Carey