19 Oct 2021

The secrets of a successful job application

As the world returns to something like normality, many of us are ready for a new start and a new challenge. We have spent successive lockdowns agonising over our careers and are ready to launch ourselves onto the job market. And with vacancies at an all-time high, there's no shortage of opportunities.

But how do you make your CV stand out from the crowd, ensuring that you at least have a chance to shine at the job interview? We’ve come up with some essential advice for all job-seekers to ensure that you don’t fall at the first hurdle.

Compiling Your CV

Of course you will want to show yourself off in the best light, but be careful about exaggerating and making claims about your career that you will not be able to substantiate when questioned.

There are myriad ways in which you can choose to present your CV. Your choice should reflect the stage which you have reached in your career, and which aspects of it you want to bring to the foreground. If your career progression has been steady and uncontroversial, you will probably choose to present your working life chronologically. If, on the other hand, you have had many jobs and there are unexplained gaps and absences, it might be more sensible to go for a skills-based CV, which reflects on your various attributes and specialisms, and how you acquired them.

In general, CVs start with your education, and your job history (if you are taking the chronological approach) is listed with your most recent employer first. Don’t use long paragraphs – it’s hard work for employers and will put them off. It is really helpful to spell out exactly what skills you acquired and utilised in previous jobs. This will act as a clear signpost to employers, who may well be feeling overwhelmed by wading through swathes of prose.

Bullet points will break up the text and make it easy to read. You do not have to present your entire life story – edit the information, keep it short, concise and relevant.

Listing hobbies such as ‘socialising with friends and going to the gym’ will sell you short. They don’t demonstrate what value you’re bringing to the company. Only include hobbies that will have a positive spin, e.g. running marathons (striving to push yourself to the limits), playing in the local football team (team player), amateur theatricals (creative people person etc).

Don’t be afraid to include details of your social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs) but only do this if you think it is a positive reflection of you. It’s becoming more common for employers to search for potential employees online, so by including this information you are making it easier for them to find you.

Finally, review your CV every time you apply for a new job. Advertisements will highlight the key skills that are required, and you must present your experience in a way that will demonstrate that you possess these skills. This might mean tweaking and editing your CV to reflect specific requirements.

Presenting Your CV

These documents should be clearly laid out, legible and professional looking. Avoid typefaces that mimic handwriting, or jaunty, joking typefaces like Comic Sans. Opt instead for something classic and elegant – a safe default is Times Roman. Don’t use obscure software to create your CV; Microsoft Word is universally used in the business world, or you can save your CV as a pdf, another universal medium.

Ensure that your CV has a legible header that clearly displays your name, address, phone number and email. No employer is going to waste time scrabbling around trying to find ways in which to contact you.

You will need to provide the details of referees at the end of your CV (two are sufficient), or you can add the phrase ‘References on request’. If you are citing referees by name, it is a basic courtesy to secure their agreement in principle to your request.

Finally, remember the top three things that will turn off employers are bad grammar, spelling mistakes and poor formatting, so check your CV meticulously. Take advantage of simple online templates or even use your own creativity – just remember to have a fresh pair of eyes look at your CV before you send it

Your Covering Letter

It is increasingly unlikely that you will send a covering letter in the post, since most job applications are now digital. Nevertheless, it is recommended that you treat this communication as essentially a letter in digital form.

If the job advertisement calls for a CV and covering letter, then you should probably format the letter in the conventional way and send it as a Word attachment, with a very brief email accompanying your application, just stating the position that you are seeking. If this is not specified, then it is quite acceptable to treat your email as the covering letter.

This vital document is the first thing any potential employer will read, and it will determine whether they actually look at your CV or not.

To ensure that your letter acts as an excellent, and enticing, introduction to your application, follow these rules:

  1. It should be no longer than an A4 page. If you are required to apply by post, it should be printed on good quality paper (white or cream, not coloured).
  2. Try your utmost to personalise the letter, using the name of the person to whom you’re writing, and the correct title (Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms). This may involve making a telephone enquiry before sending off your application. Only use ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ if you have no other option.
  3. Add a subject line to the letter (underneath the ‘Dear…’). This could be the job title, or the reference number given in the job advertisement.
  4. Check the letter forensically for the correct use of spelling and grammar.
  5. If the advertisement calls for a handwritten covering letter (which happens occasionally), it is a clear indication that your application should be sent by post.
  6. Indicate in the letter that you know about the organisation you are applying to. Research the company before you write the letter, and perhaps refer to the fact that you have visited the company website.
  7. Explain, briefly, why you are interested in the specific job, and why you think you are a suitable applicant.
  8. If you are replying to an advertisement that calls for specific skills, experience or qualification, you must make it clear that you meet these requirements.



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