I am currently recruiting and have so far waded through 179 applications . 179*! And every one is from a real live human being so I take the time to genuinely consider their CV and the cover letter they’ve composed. A big chunk of these applications have one or more major issues: not necessarily a lack of qualification or experience, more that the application itself prompts some cause for concern.
I’ve recruited for entry-level roles and managerial vacancies, and while there are definitely some people who need more of a support network to help them represent themselves properly in a job application situation, people of every level should be avoiding these pitfalls…
1. Maybe don’t use your personal email address
This is a pet hate of mine, so it gets top billing. It’s not enough to mean you automatically won’t get an interview, but it will make me think twice. Please bear in mind when you apply for a job that the recruiting manager has no idea who you are. And that their vacancy will receive many applications, into the hundreds if it’s not a managerial role.
Your email address is one of the first- if not the first- thing that someone will find out about you so try to think about what you’re saying with that email address. Ultimately, any employer wants to know you can act reasonably in a work situation and with a bit of common sense- if you can’t do that with your email address, why should I believe you can do it at work?
If you’re basically email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org then I don’t judge your personal choices! But your common sense is definitely under scrutiny. And no, I’m barely exaggerating. email@example.com is an example of one I’ve had the pleasure of receiving a job application from. I don’t even know what it means.
Also, generally avoid the word ‘dolphin’ in your email address. Please.
Even email addresses that don’t suggest a full and exciting social life can be problematic; I wouldn’t discount somebody great for this reason, but there’s always that confusion when the address seems to be somebody else’s name… If you’re Bob, why is your email address Pam? Just do yourself a favour and create an email address that is basically the name on your application- it makes everything simpler.
2. Fill in the blanks
I don’t know you, your hopes, your dreams. If all you’ve ever wanted was to move from Galway to London (or vice versa) then good for you! But if your CV states that you currently live in Galway, then it’s probably worth mentioning how and why you’re applying for a job across an actual sea. Even places closer by: if it’s an hour and a half from your city to mine, you clearly aren’t going to be commuting, and interviewing you is going to be a bitch. So state in your cover letter that you’re looking to move, or how you think you could make the role work, because otherwise I will think you’re just not paying attention. I shouldn’t have to work to understand your application.
Similar is true of career breaks and periods out of work: do not just leave gaps. If you were raising a family or had caring responsibilities then just put that in. If you were ill or had trouble finding work, these things are totally understandable but still worth a mention. Again, just try to bear in mind that you’re taking the guesswork out of the situation. The employer doesn’t want to have to try to figure stuff out so KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Which in this case means filling in the gaps.
3. Have an up-to-date CV
Boring? Obvious? Yes! Totally! And yet I see covering letters and personal statements all the freaking time that seem to contradict the CV provided alongside. On the current vacancy we ask whether a particular qualification has been achieved, and the proportion of people who answer yes and then it’s nowhere to be seen on their CV is frankly staggering. Do you not care enough to keep your CV current? Are you fibbing about having passed? Again, I don’t want to be the Miss Marple of Reed, digging to find out the truth. Just tell me what I need to know.
And make it suitable for a lay person. If you have an HR professional doing the recruiting- which may well be the case in a larger organisation- then they’re likely to understand what your qualifications mean. Similarly, if you’re applying for a very specialist job in, say, a riding school, then listing all your horse-related achievements makes perfect sense. But if in doubt, just spell out what all these letters and names mean. I’m not going to sit and Google your acronym so just make it easy. On my CV I say that I have the Investment Management Certificate (glamour!), I don’t just put ‘IMC’ and let employers guess at what particular IMC that might be.
Other quick wins to bear in mind:
4. CVs of more than 2 pages won’t get read. Fact.
5. Get a friend to read your CV. If you can’t even capitalise your own address, or spell the name of your last employer correctly, I’m not sure I want to entrust you with my organisation’s financial future. So ask a mate to check it.
6. Don’t be weird. A bit of colour, or an unusual layout (as long as it makes sense) is a nice change for the poor, tired recruiter’s eyes. But don’t go on about unions ruining your year at a French university, or your obsession with the knowledge provided by Dan Brown books. Out of context it’s just weird.
7. ‘Going to the gym’ and ‘reading’. Everyone puts these as their interests. It’s in no way a deal-breaker but it makes you stick out about as much as calling yourself easy-going in an online dating profile. Oh, do you like staying in and going out with friends too??
8. Volunteering is great.
9. Try not to apply if you can’t even be bothered to slightly tailor your covering letter. I know it’s tough out there, I really do. But receiving the same covering letter you already had saved on the recruitment website without even changing the job title and company name is so depressing. Ideally you should refer to the detail in the job ad but in an entry-level job, if you really feel you don’t have loads to say, just keep it to the point but personalise it to the vacancy.
10. Don’t Dear Sir me if you’re writing to my email address. In my old job I asked all applicants to email me directly. So howabout ‘Dear Laura’ or ‘Dear Ms Bosslady’ rather than ‘Dear Sir’ if you know. My. Effing. Name.
Bonus tip: Want the job, give me a call. Nothing sticks in the mind of a recruiting manager more than the person who took the time to double-check a detail, or ask an intelligent question. It makes us feel wanted and warm inside! And when it comes down to you and the similarly-qualified person, I potentially already have a bond with you.
I hope these help? It’s genuinely so frustrating to see bright young people who have loads of potential making it opaque. If you don’t do your CV right there’s a bunch of people right behind you who will, and will get interviewed before you. Also, I just had to get this off my chest; I’ve been holding on to that ‘daddysmyangel’ thing for years…
* since starting writing this, it’s jumped to 198. I haven’t read all of the new ones.