How to... target and optimise your job applications

EmploymentapplicationJob seeking has become more competitive than ever before. Bombarded by statistics of rising unemployment and global financial meltdown, it is easy for jobseekers to feel overwhelmed by the challenge of finding a job. But this doesn’t mean that you should employ a scattergun approach and apply for each and every role that you see advertised. So how can you tell if and when a vacancy is right for you? And how and why do so many candidates go wrong with their approach to job applications?

Don't set application targets

Firstly, applying for as many vacancies as possible is not necessarily productive. Persistently striving to achieve some indiscriminate job application target is a common mistake. If you don’t honestly think a role is a good match for your skills and experience, then move on. Otherwise you will simply be wasting your time and the recruiter’s time, and you will almost inevitably encounter a disheartening rejection.

When and where are you available?

So you’ve found a promising job vacancy…
Where is the role based? Do you have the right to live and work there? How do you intend to commute there each day? How much notice do you have to give to your current employer? When are you available to start? These questions may seem obvious, but they are important considerations when initially deciding whether a job may be right for you, and therefore must be taken into account.

Be realistic

Take time to evaluate your skills properly. Go through and perfect your CV, analysing what your past experience has taught you and how you can use this to interest a potential employer. If you’re not confident that your skills and knowledge will enable you to make your mark in a company, consider realistically whether the job is really right for you. Candidates need to strike a balance between ambition and reality, as projecting an attitude of desperation or being seen to want any available job will also be detrimental to your job prospects.

Read the person specification

Person specifications are the most useful and insightful documents for jobseekers. They help you assess whether you are suitable for a role as they (should) provide a detailed description of the type of candidate the organisation is looking for. Again, be realistic and if you do not think you are at least an 80% match to the skills and experience required, then it may not be worthwhile applying. If still in doubt, many organisations offer a point of contact for an informal discussion about the role. Use this opportunity to promote aspects of your abilities and experience that do match the recruiter’s requirements and counter any doubts they may have about any apparent skills gaps.

Use your contacts

If you know someone within the recruiting organisation, make contact with them and seek their advice on the things to highlight in your application. Ask them what the organisation values and find out if it is having any specific problems that you are well-placed to solve. If your contact has worked with you in the past, ask them to put in a god word for you. Find out the name of the hiring manager and do some research on their background via LinkedIn and Google for clues about what they might want to hear from a potential recruit.

Don't rush your application

When you are ready to apply for a vacancy, don’t rush your application. A strong but short and concise covering letter is essential in addition to your CV as this is your first opportunity to sell yourself to the organisation. Templates are useful but need to be adapted to each individual organisation as generic documents are easy to spot and will give out the impression that you are not especially interested.
Before sending off your application read through it very carefully. Employers with a pile of applications will be looking for reasons not to take you further in the process, so silly mistakes can make the difference between getting through to the next stage or being sifted out. Take your time. It is better to complete fewer but higher quality applications.

Final Point

Most importantly, stay positive! The job application process is tough, so be prepared to face some set-backs. Shrug off any rejections, keep focused, and the right job for you will be just around the corner.

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