Job applications: how to stand out from the crowd

1 March 2016

Job applications: stand out from the crowd

Have you ever applied for a job that appeared to match your skills perfectly, but never got called to interview? You may have been unlucky as your application may have arrived a bit too late, as job adverts often stay online until someone has accepted an offer for that role. It’s also possible that your application didn’t make the most of your skills and attributes.

Even if you think your application covered all of the essential and desirable requirements, it’s worth revisiting your application to check a few key details. As recruitment consultants, at ARC we see covering letters and CVs from a wide range of applicants, and we could honestly say that very few applications could be described as perfect. From CVs that give too much or too little information, to covering letters that are clearly generic or so brief they are pointless, there are some basic mistakes to avoid. There are also easy rules to follow that will help boost your application.


DO tailor your covering letter for each job application


Yes, this is quite a bit of extra work if you’re applying for more than one job, but it is definitely worth it. Remember that your covering letter is the first thing your potential employer will see, and it is your first chance to make a good impression. Even if it is not specified, every employer will expect a good application to arrive in their inbox with a covering letter, so make sure you write one.

If you email a covering letter that makes no reference to the specifics of the role you are applying for, and you use generic phrases that could apply to any job in any company, you may as well not bother. An employer will simply assume that you are using the same letter to apply to many jobs, and it will not give the impression that you care much for this particular role. State the job you are applying for, and give a brief summary of why you think you are the right person for the job. Don’t make your covering letter too long, see it merely as an introduction to your CV.


DO use your covering letter to explain anything that your CV may not


Although your CV should contain all of the essential details about your skills, successes, training, and education, there may be some details that you cannot include. For example, if the address on your CV is in Edinburgh and the job you are applying for is in London, you can use your covering letter to briefly explain that you are looking to relocate. Otherwise, it could appear that you have misread the advert. Similarly, if you are applying for a role that differs from your current job in some way, explain why you are looking to make a change.


DO amend your CV to make sure it is relevant


Though we are not suggesting you change any factual information on your CV to suit an application, there are sections you should check before emailing it out. If you have one particular role on your CV that clearly demonstrates that you have the skills for the job you are applying for, make sure you emphasise that role, giving detail on all of your responsibilities and successes there.

Make sure you also remove any information from your CV that contradicts your interest in the job you are applying for. Having a personal statement that mentions your desire to further your career as a freelance make-up artist when you are applying for a permanent role as an aesthetician, is unlikely to help.


DON’T waste space on your CV with personal interests and attributes


If the section detailing your personal interests is longer than your work summary, you definitely need to edit your CV! This might sound a bit extreme, but it isn’t unheard of. Though you may think that your personal interests make you sound like a nice character, employers won’t just be looking to employ someone who is likeable, first and foremost they’ll be looking for someone with the skills and professionalism to do the job in hand. Waffling on about your hobbies is a waste of space, unless they complement your work history. For example, if you work as an aesthetic therapist, then having a keen interest in beauty is relevant, a keen interest in cooking Thai food is not.

Personal attributes are taken into consideration by employers, as new members of staff have to fit into an existing team, and have to fit into the company ethos when representing the business to clients. Some companies will be looking for maturity and level-headedness, some will be looking for enthusiasm and warmth. Unless you are absolutely sure of what the company’s preference is, choose your wording wisely. For example, you might think that describing yourself as ‘bubbly’ is a positive attribute, but some may see it to mean that you are too animated or excitable for their high-end clientele.


DON’T leave out key details of training and employment history


Make sure your CV contains all key details of your training and employment, including the names of employers, your job titles, your responsibilities, and the exact qualifications you have. Don’t assume that a job title explains what you have done in that role, or that your experience explains what you have formally trained in. Employers may make the assumption that you haven’t got the necessary skills if they are not included on your CV.


DON’T expect anything more than the job advert suggests


If a job advert states that a certain amount of experience or training is a minimum requirement, don’t expect a long covering letter that explains how you’d really, really love to do this job but you don’t really meet the criteria, to work wonders. Minimum requirements are included for a reason, and employers are unlikely to include them if they are willing to overlook them all. Instead of wasting your time applying for a job you aren’t qualified to do, spend your time looking into the training you could do independently to get you to that level, and look for employers who may be willing to offer some training on the job.

And remember that these application dos and don’ts matter whether you’re applying direct to a company advert, or through a recruitment agency. Agencies will receive many applications on a daily basis, and will also have to make a judgement as to who are the most promising candidates.


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