Top 10 Tips From HR Professionals

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These 'Top 10 Tips' were sent in by recruitment professionals working in UK Higher Education. Their advice could mean the difference between your application being noticed...or thrown in the bin!

The list below shows the completed top ten. You can click on each top tip to find the individual quotes from these professionals which incorporate both application ‘must haves’ and a few ‘cardinal sins’!

  1. Read the Person Specification
    • Make sure that you address the criteria in the person specification in your application, preferably in the order they appear in the further particulars.
    • Cardinal Sin: Not reading further particulars or person specification. Person specification is important as it lists the qualifications, skills required for any job. No point in applying if they do not meet most or all of the criteria listed. Read the job description, further particulars and information about the organisation so you are fully informed and can tailor your application.
    • Always read the job description and ensure that you have written something on each of the essential criterion.
    • Applicants should carefully read the Job Description/Person Specification to ensure they are tailoring their application towards the post they are applying for.
    • Read the job description and person specification carefully and make sure you fit all of the essential criteria. If you don’t it would be worth contacting the prospective employer as your application may still be considered.
    • (Tailored) CV with brief description of tasks carried out that are specific to post applied for.
    • Provide a supporting statement to demonstrate how your skills and experience meet the person specification, but be concise! (2 typewritten sides of A4 should be sufficient for most jobs)
    • Applicants should provide examples of how their skills/experience match those of the post being advertised.
    • Cardinal Sin: Not listing how you fulfil the essential requirements for the post.
    • Pay particular attention to the job spec and indicate specific areas of your experience that match it - but again be specific - no sweeping statements! - Julie Skinner (Resourcing Specialist), Human Resources Department, The Robert Gordon University (
  2. Neatness/ presentation
    • Make sure your application is neatly presented form completing all questions fully.
    • Cardinal Sin: Scruffy forms/illegible writing/spelling mistakes/crossing out/etc
    • Make sure your application is well presented, either typed or written clearly and legibly.
    • Please write everything clearly and with a good black ink if your form is handwritten. The photocopies automatically make everything a little paler and fuzzier - if it's poor to start with it's practically indecipherable on the copy.
    • Cardinal Sin: Spelling errors - and don’t type in capitals or bold text
    • Make sure your application is neatly presented form completing all questions fully.
    • Presentation is very important. Make sure your handwriting or font is easy to read and neat.
  3. Sell yourself! Use your presentation of your application to highlight your key selling points and your capabilities.
    • Make it as easy as possible for the recipient to pick out the key things they are looking for on your CV or application. If they have to search for the information they are looking for and they have a pile of applications, they might just miss something! - Julie Skinner (Resourcing Specialist), Human Resources Department, The Robert Gordon University (
    • Try to make the application easy for the panel to read e.g., if there a list of essential requirements to do the job, Make headings on your application the same and list how you fulfil them, giving examples.
    • Please sell yourself. We have a lot of applicants for some of the posts, and the more information you can supply to make yourself stand out from the crowd the better. By this I do NOT mean fancy paper on CVs, plastic wallets, etc. All these are discarded when they reach us as the departments just want the plain forms to read - it does nothing to impress anyone. What is needed is clear and concise information which tells them how wonderful you are - make them think that they can't manage without you.
    • Don't be afraid to use colours or bold print to highlight key points in your application (although too much going on can be of putting).
    • Cardinal Sin: Don't lie! And if you enhance the truth, be prepared to talk about it at interview. Remember interviewers will be trained to read signs when you are lying or embellishing the truth.... - Julie Skinner (Resourcing Specialist), Human Resources Department, The Robert Gordon University (
    • Don't be afraid to use headings in you personal statement such as Relevant Experience, Customer Service Skills and Communication Skills giving a description of how you have built up these skills in the work place.
  4. Follow the instructions, quote reference numbers and heed Closing Dates.
    • Follow any instructions, e.g. to use black ink, to complete an application form rather than sending in a CV and to make sure that your application is submitted before the deadline
    • Application forms should arrive in time for the closing date.
    • Please read the letters we send if you are short listed. We always give details of a contact name and number at the end of these, and at least half our applicants just read my name and email address at the bottom of the letter and send answers to that. Or, because I email them their interview letters to make sure they have as much time to prepare for their interview, they just hit the 'reply' button. Again, it's a time waster for me, and it doesn't make a good impression on whoever is in charge of recruitment when I have to forward the replies.
    • You don't have to include a photo on CV unless asked for
    • Do not send application form to the wrong institution, this can happen if applicants are applying for numerous positions.
  5. Explain why you are applying for THIS job - covering letter/ CV tailoring to be unique to each position.
    • Write a good covering letter with application (why are you applying for the post and what skills and qualities could you bring to the role, any previous experience).
    • Applicants should try to make each application seem unique to the post they are applying for rather than send in a universal CV/covering letter.
    • Provide a brief explanation about why you are applying for the job e.g. you may appear to be overqualified but have reasons for moving sideways or into a less demanding role.
    • Cardinal Sin: Making comments about previous employers as to why you wish to leave current job
    • Don't include general statements like 'I am a good communicator and can work well on my own and in a team' These are totally overused phrases and mean nothing. Instead use phrases which illustrate why you are a good communicator eg 'Improved communication in my team by setting up a daily review of workload' or 'Demonstrated strong communication skills in a pitch to persuade the MD to change xyz..' - Julie Skinner (Resourcing Specialist), Human Resources Department, The Robert Gordon University (
  6. Lengthy CVs
    • Cardinal Sin: Applications that are too long and not in any particular order, making it difficult to ascertain whether the candidate meets the person specification.
    • Lengthy CVs
    • Cardinal Sin: Attaching lengthy documents (thesis, research papers) not necessary and not asked for
    • If you fill in application form with all the information required on it you do not need to also put in a CV.
  7. Make sure you supply a number of contact details
    • Always ensure you have you full address and contact details, an employer is not going to spend extra time chasing to get your details if they have a pile of other candidates.
    • Cardinal Sin: Lack of contact details e.g. daytime telephone numbers/email addresses.
    • Please supply us with as many ways of contacting you as possible - 'phone numbers, email addresses. It never ceases to amaze me how hard it is to get in touch with some people. For short listing purposes, or just for correcting errors on the forms, this is essential.
  8. Be concise.
    • Be concise and clear.
    • Try to give enough information without it too wordy or too brief. It should be concise not repetitive.
    • Keep application forms and CVs short, concise and uncomplicated. The longer and harder to read your application is, the less likely the prospective employer is to read through it all.
  9. Provide full referee details
    • Complete application form fully, give full referees addresses (name, position in organisation and postal address)
    • Please supply as many details of referees as possible, e.g.: email addresses, telephone numbers, FULL addresses. Again, I spend a lot of time trying to find these details when they're not supplied.
  10. Equal Opportunities forms...
    • Please complete and send us the Equal Opportunities forms with the application forms - we need the details on these forms for our records and statistics reports - if they're not supplied, we can't put accurate information on the system.

Finally, please use empathy. Put yourself in the place of those reading it. If you were receiving your form, would YOU be happy with it? Does it tell you everything you need to know, and is it legible? If you're not happy with it, then why should they be?

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