Applying for jobs: simple tips and tricks

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In my time, I’ve run recruitment rounds for both public and private sector positions. I’ve read through hundreds of resumes, selection criteria, and cover letters. My teams have always told me I have a good eye for good candidates.

I must say; it’s a very interesting experience being on the recruiter side. There are a few things that I’ve picked up on in my time, and I thought I’d share them with you!

Respond to the ACTUAL job ad.

It’s pretty common for people to apply for multiple jobs at the same. This is definitely easier, because it means that you can copy + paste a lot of the content or even make minor tweaks to make your answers and cover letters work across a number of positions.

The problem is that sometimes people forget to actually tailor their selection criteria and/or cover letter for a particular job. This means that their applications highlight skills that are often not important for the role and miss out on the opportunity to let relevant skills shine. It’s always sad when a person’s resume seems to vaguely indicate that the candidate has the skills but hasn’t bothered to tell me about it.

Tip: If you want to let the recruiter know you actually wanted to apply for the role you’ve applied for, mimic some of the language used in the job description/skills description. Of course; don’t go overboard.

Don’t lie. It looks stupid.

It’s amazing sometimes how quickly a recruiter can pick up on lies in a resume and cover letter. We all like to frame our skills in a positive light – but again – don’t go overboard. If you were a junior secretarial staff member, you probably didn’t lead a major government reform process. If your spelling and grammar are atrocious, you probably weren’t responsible for writing the guidelines and standard operating procedures for your company (or at least, I sincerely hope not).

Importantly; don’t lie about your skills in a niche field. You never know where your former colleagues, staff, or bosses have gone and it can be surprising where your cover letter lands. Don’t make yourself look like a integrity-lacking fool – that reputation will follow you.

And please, for the love of God, don’t lie when applying for a job or promotion in your existing or former team. It’s likely that your old teammates are still there – and if not, they’ve had access to your documents. They’ll know what your actual capabilities are. I’ve heard so many horror stories which I suppose proves my point – people talk.

Tip: Make sure that you only exaggerate your skills to an acceptable level. Be proud of the achievements that you have under your belt, even if they’re modest. You ability to truthfully speak about this achievement in an interview will trump you stumbling over your words as you try to keep up with your lies.

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It’s easy to tell that you don’t have the right skills when you’re compared with more capable candidates…

Check your spelling and grammar – and don’t forget to remove track changes

This is by far one of the most common mistakes that people make when applying for jobs. There are always way too many applications submitted without being run through a simple spell-check. It looks careless and unprofessional, especially when you’ve said you’re a ‘perfectionist’ who ‘pays attention to detail’.

More recently, I’ve had an increasing number of applications being sent through with track changes and comments still there. I think it has something to do with the ‘simple mark up’ in more recent versions of Microsoft Word, but it immediately throws me off. Do a quick check of the document you’re sending through or consider converting the document to PDF.

And while we’re at it – keep your formatting consistent.

Tip: Run a spell check on your final application! If possible, let a friend or colleague read your cover letter, resume and/or your selection criteria. It will allow most typos to be cleaned up and ensures that your message is clear.

Stop using ‘we’

A lot of people feel incredibly uncomfortable about the idea of talking themselves up. These people often resort to talking about their achievements behind the guise of ‘we’: ‘we were required to write X brief’, ‘we did X, Y, and Z,’ ‘we achieved blah blah outcome.’

Although most experiences that you will discuss in a job application or at an interview occurred while you worked in a team, an interviewer is looking to understand your skills, achievements, and potential contributions to the new role. It can be hard for an interviewer to know what you did and what your team did; so try and take ownership of your achievements and speak about them proudly 😀

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