Applying for a Job

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Searching for a job can take over your life. We want to make it easier, so we have created a mini-series of articles with inside information to guide you through the early stages. How do you go about applying for a job? How can you make your application successful? This article offers advice on applying for a job using a CV and covering letter. It's about presenting yourself in writing, making the best impression you can, getting through the inevitable weeding out process and on to the final decision to interview you. Future articles will cover other areas of job applications.

Where do I start?

You've clicked on a job advert on this website that you know would suit you. You feel optimistic. The job's yours! You're keen! Then comes the sinking feeling as you face the prospect of applying for it... Familiar?

It has to be one of the most tedious and stressful tasks in the world. Even if you and the job are a match made in heaven, you have to go through the application process. I can't take the pain away - it's got to be done - but this article and others on this website (see the links at the end of the article) will get you thinking about your approach so that you create the best impression you can and get through to interview stage. Yours will be one of many applications, so it's about selling yourself in a buyer's market.

Think about your readers

I write as someone who has sifted through applications and interviewed for positions myself. The ‘weeding out and filtering' process fits a common pattern. As you will see, presentation, clarity and accessibility play a large part in getting to the third - and most important - stage, when decisions are made on your suitability for the job. Only then is it down to your credentials.

Up until the closing date, every job advertisement spawns a pile - or an avalanche - of responses each day. On top of the tasks, meetings and interruptions that make up a working day, someone has to sort through them all and filter them so that only the best have to be read thoroughly and in detail. The more applications there are, the more Draconian the filtering process is.

Filter #1: No-Hopers and Possibles

Your application must get through the first filter and into the ‘Possible' pile or it may not even be read. It's relatively easy to avoid this if you make your application professional and appropriate.

In the No-hoper pile go unprofessional, unreadable or off-putting applications. For example:

  • CVs without a covering letter
  • CVs and covering letters written in longhand and/or on coloured paper
  • CVs and letters sent in small envelopes and written on small writing paper (always use A4, white paper and DL or A4 envelopes)
  • CVs over 2 ½ pages long (you can just about get away with that, but not with 3 cramped pages of tiny typeface and minimal margins. 2 pages is a good length - ensure that you number the pages)
  • CVs under 1 page long (is that all? Not enough effort!)
  • CVs and letters with fancy borders, headings, clip-art or random curlicues. Unless you're a professional applying for a design post, what leaves you as creative and interesting will arrive as amateurish and inappropriate
  • CVs and letters in an illegible copperplate/gothic font (see above)
  • CVs with badly-photocopied ‘generic' letters attached.

If there aren't too many applications, the No-hoper pile may be read out of curiosity, or just to make sure nothing is being missed. Applications in the Possible pile will be skim-read at the next stage.

Filter #2: Probably-Nots and Maybes

At this stage, your covering letter is important as it will be read first. It should give the reader enough information to want to read your CV. Ideally, it will show, briefly, why you want to work for the organisation and why you are the best candidate for the job, pointing out the match between your skills and experience and the advertised job. It needs to be clear, concise, direct, courteous and relevant. It also needs to be short.

So, into the Probably-Not pile go applications that:

  • don't fit the job and don't give relevant information
  • are written badly (i.e. incorrect grammar, spelling and punctuation). Get someone to read it through before you send it
  • are written in overly formal, chilly ‘old-school' language (e.g. ‘Further to...' and ‘I would esteem it a favour if...')
  • are too detailed, wordy or complicated to read in one go (do not use cross-referencing, caveats, asterisks, appendices, footnotes)
  • are too informal, chatty, personal or ‘amusing' (this style isn't appropriate - this is a job application, not a dating agency profile. You'll come across as flippant and irresponsible.)

If you've made it into the Maybe pile, you're in with a chance of an interview. Enthusiasm and evidence that you have found out about the employer will count in your favour (click the ‘Employer Profile' at the end of the job advert if it's on the website), as will any contact you make with the person named under Informal Enquiries at the end of the advertisement.

Filter #3: shortlisting for First Choice Interviewees and Reserves

At this stage, it's all about matching. Applications in the Maybe pile will be read thoroughly for relevant skills, experience, qualifications and the best fit for the position, the team, the department and the organisation or institution. The decision rests on what you can contribute to the position, so you need to have outlined your credentials to fit the post. There may be a number of people involved at this stage, and the decision will be influenced by personal choice, which you can't always allow for in your application. However, to stand the best chance of getting into the First Choice Interviewees pile, your application needs to:

  • match the job specification/person specification (if there is one) and the advertisement as closely as possible
  • show that you are enthusiastic about the organisation or institution
  • be clear, concise and accessible so as to present your credentials as well as possible
  • show them that you are the kind of person they want.

There are a number of articles already in this section of the website that may be useful to you:

How to read a job advertisement

Transferable Skills: The Secret of Success

Top Ten Tips for writing cover letters

You've got 10 seconds to impress me - 10 things NOT to do on your CV

Watch out for new articles on this topic coming to this website soon!

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