For most jobs, there are many more applicants than there are positions available. The challenge at the application stage is therefore to get an interview. Worry about getting the job later, if you get an interview. First, you need to make yourself stand out positively on paper from all the other applicants.
If you are asked to apply by filling out a form, do so. Don’t send in your CV instead and think that will do. It won’t. If you are asked to apply by CV and covering letter, follow these tips.
The covering letter is often the first thing that will be read. It must not contain any spelling or grammatical errors and it must read fluently. If this letter isn’t well constructed, it makes the rest of the process much more difficult. The letter should be short and to the point, outlining why you are applying for this position and why you think you would be a good fit. It needs to arouse interest (and can use more emotive language) but not repeat what follows in the main CV (which needs to remain factual and objective). You should come across as enthusiastic, positive and keen to be seen.
Here are some dos and don’ts to help get you an interview:
- Do check your CV/application meticulously for spelling/grammatical mistakes. If there are any, it gives the reviewer an excuse to put yours in the bin. At this stage – ‘sifting’ – reviewers are looking for any reason not to interview you. Don’t make it easier for them!
- Don’t make your CV too long. Two pages should (in most instances) be long enough to sell your strengths and arouse the curiosity of the reviewer sufficiently to want them to find out more. Applicants for academic and specialist roles may require longer CVs with more depth/detail.
- Do set your CV out clearly under logical headings, relating your experience/knowledge to the impact you have made in previous roles. For example – ‘trained in xyz technique – led volunteer project team in communicating xyz technique to other departments’. This clearly joins your experience to the impact you have made and makes it easier for the reviewer to see the benefits you could bring with you.
- Don’t include any information that might allow the reviewer to make false assumptions. At this stage the objective is to get an interview. They don’t need to see a photo/know your age/know your address/know your interests, for example, any of which could potentially influence their decision – consciously or subconsciously – as to whether to give you an interview or not. An email address and mobile phone number are fine at this stage.
- Do make your CV easy for the reviewer to read. Use bullet points if you can rather than long sentences. If your CV is being read as number 39 of 40 being assessed, you need to get to the point fast.
- Do align your CV to the specific role being applied for. Every job is different and you should adapt your CV accordingly to ensure it reflects the skills, knowledge and experience relevant to the role you are applying for. It needs to be bespoke. This is time consuming, but it is worth it. You will have a much better chance of getting an interview compared to an applicant who has very obviously attached the same CV to 10 different job advertisements.