Making a successful job application (part one)

Last week my blog looked at how to recognise when it might be time to move job.  This week I am looking at how to make a successful job application.  My approach to making an application is methodical and seems to work for me.  I almost always manage to get an interview.  This blog describes what I do.

If the application process is by CV or an application form I will always send a covering letter if the opportunity is there.  In this I outline why I think I am the right candidate for the role.  If this is not an option, I make sure my CV, or my application form answers are tailored for the role having, carried out the exercise outlined below.  Otherwise I would be expecting the recruiter to work it out for themselves and they might reach the wrong conclusion!

First I read the details about the role carefully and jot down notes about how I fit the bill.  I even go as far as listing each item from the role description and person specification in one column and make notes in a second column covering the following things:

  • Do I have experience in each area and what evidence do I have?  Evidence is very important for a successful application because it is important to demonstrate clearly that I am the right person for the role.  E.g. if the role requires someone to ensure the organisation operates in accordance with the highest standards of governance, I would provide some hard evidence that I have achieved that before.  An example might be the fact that I had led a team which consistently achieved high assurance internal audit outcomes.  If they are asking for a team player, I don’t just say I am, I give an example of when and how I have demonstrated this.
  • If I lack some relevant skills or experience, I jot down what experience I do have and how is it relevant. For example, when I applied for my first governance role a key part of the job was pulling together board paper packs.  I had not done that before, but I had written board papers for some committees. These had been praised by the members for their clarity, so I mentioned that.  I went on to describe how this gave me insight into what was involved in writing papers, what was required by decision makers and how I would apply these insights to the role.  Or, if you are a lawyer looking for a career change into a governance role, there are perhaps some governance activities you haven’t undertaken.  But you are brilliantly equipped to research the issue and find the answer, so point this out.
  • If I don’t have work related experience for some of the elements of the role description, I consider whether I have evidence from outside of formal work. I include these and explain why they apply.  On one application there was a requirement to work with people who were geographically distributed.  In my work I only had experience of working with people in the same building.  But I had undertaken a volunteer role which had required me to work with people from across the country to deliver an event, so I mentioned that.
  • It is unusual to have prior experience, in or out of work, for all the elements of the role, especially when looking for promotion or a first role.  My approach has always been to be open about this and outline why this is not a problem!  For example I have a track record of learning new skills or gaining new knowledge quickly, so I give examples and say how I would apply these skills to quickly fill any gaps. I have even outlined other ways I would go about filling that gap if I was successful (e.g. do a course, find a mentor etc) so the recruiter can see I have thought about it.  Or, if I have supported someone else doing that task but not led it, I say so, but stress what I have learned from that and that I am ready and keen to challenge myself and lead that activity it in their organisation.

Once I have done this for every element of the role, I look at what I have discovered from this line by line review.  My application success rate may be partly due to the fact that if I feel the results of this exercise are a bit thin, I do not apply.  It seems I am not alone in doing this:  This article illustrates how we should be careful about placing too much emphasis on this.  As a chartered member recently said at a Yorkshire Chartered Governance Institute branch event “Don’t’ cross yourself off someone else’s short list”.  I will definitely keep this in mind for the future.

I also look at my evidence through the eyes of the recruitment team.  What might concern them about my experience?  Have I managed to construct an argument about why they should not be concerned?  If not, I try again!

Next week I will cover how I use the information I have gathered to make a successful application.

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