5 Top Tips for an Outstanding Job Application

1. Ignore advice that says "Just keep applying for as many as possible and eventually you'll get through". You need to focus.

Treating applications like a 'numbers game' is a bit like:
- trying to play all instruments in an orchestra or
- training for 5 sports to increase chances of a medal.
In reality, to secure the best job for you takes FOCUS.

When you focus on one application at a time (or at least one type of job) your form, CV and letters will be targeted and relevant enough to engage the reader and give them confidence that you are a likely contender.

This is a marketing document, and your potential 'buyer' needs to see (easily) that you have the relevant: skills, knowledge, experience and qualities. To get this across you must understand the job ad and specification; or if it's vague do your research. You must be able to recognise the evidence you have to fit the requirements and be able to articulate that evidence using language your target employer will understand.

Some people find this all harder than others. If you find it difficult, this is absolutely no reflection of your suitability for the role. The skills to get through application and selection processes are unrelated to the skills required in most jobs. So, don't feel defeated, get help. Don't get someone to write it for you! Ideally get help to develop this skill for life not one application, you'll be amazed how you can improve with a bit of coaching.

2. Really imagine yourself in the role - why you're suited to it and why you'd love it.

The top way to stand above your competition is to write a researched, focused, specific and genuine answer to "why do you want to work for us?". If you have to ask what you should write to make a good answer to that one you need to go away and research the employer and role and think about what you want from work. If you still can't think of what to say, then maybe you are focusing on the wrong job?!

Don't use cliches, don't lie, don't be generic. This all applies to applications for courses as well as jobs. Expand on your reasoning to explain not only what is appealing and important to you, but also why. For example, the fact that a company is large and international may be genuinely appealing, but why? So far you are only telling them what you know and nothing about you or why that appeals. Get specific. Maybe you have spent your life moving around the world, couldn't imagine not using your languages and like nothing better than learning about different cultures and seeing how you can adapt.

Don't write that exactly! But you get the idea, with anything you write ask yourself "why?" again, then again until you get to the specifics. Now your application is starting to sound a little bit different to every other application and is telling them more about your personality, values or interests.

If you look at your answer and think you could paste it into other applications that's not great. Especially if you do so and forget to change the name of the organisation in the process.

If you've not explicitly been asked "Why this role and why us?" don't think you've avoided this. If the application is a CV and cover letter then it should be addressed in the cover letter. If the application is mostly a big blank 'supporting statement' you should of course use that space to say why you are suited to the role, with evidence, but also part of that is why you want to be there.

3. Answer the question you read, not the one you'd like.

So for the "why us?" question mentioned above, don't just repeat all the relevant skills you have.

For competency questions make sure you answer every part of the question. STAR can be helpful to remind you to cover: the Scenario, the Task (what was important and what was tricky), the Actions you took and the Result and possibly Reflection on what you learnt. There is a lot of advice out there for competency questions and if you are completing applications for graduate schemes you will probably write a lot of these. But remember...

Read the question again. Just because you see the phrase 'team work' or 'problem solving' don't just paste an answer from another application without carefully checking the phrasing. Examples you used before may fit, or they may not quite and show up as obvious cut and paste jobs.

4. Don't be too cautious

I know if it's a dream job you don't want to put a foot wrong and that's great. But don't stifle your personality or ideas. If you are too careful your application can become too full of buzz words and too like every other application. Imagine reading through a big pile of applications on a Friday evening and you can imagine how quickly they turn into "blah, blah, blah".

Personalise in the "why us?" question mentioned above. But also questions about commercial awareness and ideas. So, if you are asked about the top 3 issues for that company and how they should handle them, you don't want to be too wacky and miss the sensible answers but if something strikes you or you feel a strong opinion and worry "is that right?" you might be on to something good. These questions rarely have one answer, you will rarely know the best answer or you would already be running the organisation and the reader may not agree with you. But, if your answer is backed up by research and it demonstrates real interest and opinions you'd like to discuss more at interview, then it's probably great.

Clearly creative questions you definitely must not hold back. Guess what most people write in response to: "if you had a million pounds what would you do with it?" Normally it's along the lines of "Give £x to charity, invest £x and use £x pounds to start..."

To all questions ask yourself, why are they asking that?  This question is probably asked by a company valuing creativity and big thinking. Again there is no one 'correct' answer; maybe it will be a well thought out plan (but not boring), something reflecting your values (and their's), or maybe something more amusing and entertaining. If you make them think, or spill their tea, or laugh, that has to be better than the most common answers which will just lead to 😴

5. The boring but easy one - proof your application, until you can proof no more!

Even better swap around with friends to proof for each other too, as it's easier to spot others mistakes. Here are some real life examples of when students didn't:

* My hobbits include..
* I'd like to work in the pubic sector.
* Look forward to hearing from you shorty.
* I attach my CV to you.
* I am a conscious individual.

job application proof read get help

One last things, which isn't about getting shortlisted so it isn't number 6.

Please don't lie. Apart from me personally just wishing everyone could be more honest, not everyone realises how damaging this can be. I've been laughed and scoffed at for saying so as lying on applications isn't uncommon. But, you don't just risk being caught out at interview or damaging your conscience, it is actually fraud and you could be prosecuted. I agree, that doesn't often happen, but even if you 'just' get found out, recruitment can be a small world so you don't want to get a bad reputation from the start.

To positively improve your chances then:

  • Do fewer applications to a higher standard.
  • Study the employer and job spec, in order to tailor. Write about knowledge, experience and skills relevant that post. Consider including personal qualities, e.g. values, personality and motivators. Experience isn't everything - especially if it's not your top selling point!
  • Tell the employer why you want the job. With this one make sure your answer is genuine, specific and based on good research of the employer and self reflection. 
  • Don't be too cautious - show personality, interest and opinions.
  • Proof read and proof read again.
  • If you feel you are struggling and losing valuable time, or can’t see why you aren’t getting to interview; then take a short cut and get help.



Leave a comment

Name .
Message .

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published