In our last blog, we spoke about how you can lay the groundwork for a successful job search. Once you’ve done that, it’s onto the actual application itself.
You may have come across a role that you think fits nicely. In this market, the likelihood is that there’ll be plenty of other people competing for the exact same vacancy. So how can you stand out from the competition and get your foot in the door for an interview?
Here are a few of our top tips to keep in mind when applying for a job.
Research the company thoroughly
Show you haven’t just applied for this role on a whim. Do some detailed research about the company which you can use as part of your application. Have they won any awards recently? Are they working with some big name clients, or did they recently complete an important or high-profile project?
Pay particular attention to things related to the job you could be doing. For example, if you’re applying for a construction company you could look at their website to find out about their projects.
Doing your homework before you apply will not only give you more confidence about this being the right role– but it can help you impress throughout the process, including in any potential interview.
Tailor your CV
Businesses aren’t looking for someone who simply wants a job. They’re looking for someone who wants to work for them.
For this reason, your CV should be adapted to fit the role. This doesn’t necessarily mean doing a mass rewrite every time you apply for a new role. It may be as simple as mentioning specific achievements or expanding more on certain things you’ve done. The key is for it to relate to the job specification.
Look at the core competencies and key duties that are listed, and match up with these on your CV. Remember, companies are advertising a job because they have a need or problem – so you need to position yourself as the solution.
Tailoring your CV is especially important if you’re changing careers or industries, which more and more people are starting to do. In this instance, transferable skills become more important than experience. For example, perhaps you’ve spent a long time working in the finance world, but want to move into engineering. You might then want to highlight your numerical and problem solving skills, as well as your ability to analyse data, as these are things which are also required in engineering.
Similarly, you may have a lot of retail experience but have now decided on a career change. Two key areas to focus on would be your interpersonal and customer service skills, which are handy in most roles. Every job has some transferable skills that can be applied anywhere.
Add some depth with a short cover note….
Even if you have a great CV, there’s only so much detail that can go into it. Ultimately, it’s a top level overview of you as an employee. An interview (once you get there) is where the employer can really get a good idea of you.
What you need is a bridge between your CV and an interview. This is why including a cover note or letter with your application is so important.
We’ll get to the latter in a bit, but a cover note is something quite short, which you write in the body of the email or application form. It shouldn’t be any longer than two or three paragraphs and is used for roles where a full cover letter isn’t required, for example if you’re applying for a position on a construction site.
It’s basically a brief introduction which should encourage the hiring manager to read your CV. Make sure you include an overview of your key skills and experience, which should be relevant to the role. You should also include a reminder of your contact details, and finish with a prompt to read your CV for more information.
….Or a carefully crafted cover letter
Now, a cover letter is something which needs to be a lot more detailed. This is your opportunity to really align yourself with the role and explain why hiring you would benefit the company.
Some jobs ask you to write the cover letter into the body of the email or application form (just like a cover note), whereas others prefer it as a separate attachment. As a rule of thumb, it should normally be around one A4 page. If you’re looking for something to give you a start in terms of structure, you can download a template we’ve put together, click the link in the top right.
We spoke earlier about tailoring your CV, and this is even more important when it comes to the cover letter. Whereas with a CV you may just need a few tweaks, the contents of a cover letter should be quite bespoke for each application. Don’t try to use a generic cover letter – this is pretty obvious to any recruiter or hiring manager, and makes you look like someone who isn’t prepared to put the effort in.
When talking about your strengths, don’t just say what you’re good at. Explain why exactly that would benefit the company. It’s all about showing the employer how your skills will add value to what they do.
Give very specific examples of key achievements in your career. Numbers tend to work quite well here, as they stand out. For example, you may have increased sales or reduced costs by a certain percentage. If you’re at the beginning if your career, you can still talk about achievements outside of work – remember the earlier point we made around transferable skills?
Whether they’re work or non-work, just make sure you relate these achievements to the job you’re applying for. What skills were required, and how is this an example of the impact you could make in this role?
As well as the key messages around your experience and qualifications, you also want to get some personality across. Employers want to see passion, ambition and enthusiasm, so try to convey this in the cover letter. In the interview, you’re bound to be asked the question: “Why do you want this role?” – so get ahead of the game and answer this in the cover letter. What is it about the company and this vacancy that stood out to you? This goes back to what we mentioned earlier – it shows you don’t just want a job, you want this job.
In terms of the tone you use, match it up with the company’s. If you’ve followed the first tip and done your research, you should have a good idea of their brand and personality. Are they quite corporate or are they a bit more casual? Is their tone of voice formal or conversational? Remember cultural fit is something businesses pay a lot of attention to, so by mirroring their tone of voice, you are showing what a good fit you could be.
You can apply this principle to the top and tail of your cover letter as well. Normally, you’ll know who you’re writing to as this is often on the job advert, so your introduction can be a simple:
“Hi [first name],” or “Dear [first name],”
However, if you don’t know the name of the person, this is where you apply the tone of voice principles. If the company has a formal culture, you can start with:
“To whom it may concern,”
Whereas for a more informal company, you can go with:
When signing off, you can use a simple “Thanks,” or “Kind regards,” for most companies. However, if they are especially formal, you can sign off with “Yours Sincerely,” – but only if you’ve addressed them by their name at the start of the letter.
Finally, be confident and assertive at the end of the letter. Rather than “I hope to hear from you soon”, you could write something like:
“I believe I can be a valuable addition to your company and am really keen to discuss this further. I look forward to hearing from you.”
Follow up afterwards
Most people know you should follow up after an interview, but you can do this after the application as well. You might feel like you’re being annoying, but as long as you’re polite and respectful, there’s nothing wrong with it. It shows how enthusiastic you are about the role, and helps the hiring manager remember you for future vacancies even if you don’t get this one.
Don’t follow up too soon - there’s normally lots of moving parts during the hiring process, so wait 7-10 days after the job application deadline closes. If no deadline was given, wait 7-10 days after you send your application.
Try to follow up digitally, as some people won’t appreciate unscheduled phone calls. If you applied directly with the company, then you can use the same email address. If you went through a job site, then you’ll need to do a bit of research. A good idea is to look at the company website and LinkedIn page to see if you can find someone in their HR or Talent team.
Some people avoid following up if they’re dealing with an external recruiter rather than a direct contact at the company. But remember, recruiters are the link between you and the company, and a good one will always be able to gather feedback for you. They should be doing this as part of their process anyway, but if they haven’t then you can give them a nudge.
In terms of what to say, keep it quite short – remember you’re following up, not applying all over again. The key is to make sure your excitement and enthusiasm comes across. Make sure your tone is upbeat at all times. Here are a few examples of opening lines.
“I applied for [position] online and just wanted to check on the status of my application as I’m really excited by this role.”
“I just wanted to follow up on my application for the role of [job title] and see if there was anything else you required from me? It seems like a really good match so I’d be keen to discuss further."
“I applied for the role of [job title] and was wondering if there was any update on timelines? Any feedback would be much appreciated."
You should also try to mention one thing from your application, such as a key skill or a relevant piece of experience you have. Not only can this help jog their memory if they have lots of candidates who applied, but it’s another subtle reminder that you would be a great hire. For example:
“I am very interested in working at [company name] and believe that my skill set — especially my extensive experience in [example of experience or skill] would make me an ideal fit for this role.”
Applying for a job isn’t always a case of attaching a generic CV and crossing your fingers. Often, it takes some careful thought before, during and after the application process. But in the grand scheme of landing your dream role, spending some extra time is well worth it.