How to get your job application shortlisted
Have you ever applied for a job which you thought you were perfect for, only to find you’ve not been called for an interview? Perhaps you dealt with your disappointment by rationalising that the competition was simply too great, or by fuming at the employer’s failure to recognise your capabilities.
It’s certainly true that it’s an exceptionally tough recruitment market and that recruitment processes are rarely faultless. However, when I talk to individuals in this situation, I usually find that there are two other reasons which explain why they have been rejected.
Either their application simply failed to demonstrate sufficiently why they were such a great candidate. Or they misunderstood the job, and they weren’t as good a fit as they thought they were.
Here are some tips on how to avoid this by uncovering what an employer is really looking for when they post that vacancy — and how to prove you are their ideal candidate.
Matching the job requirements
First, print off the advert and use a highlighter pen to underline all the candidate selection criteria. This forces you to consider whether you meet every requirement rather than ignoring any gaps.
Once you are sure you meet the main criteria, drill down into the detail of the job. Most employers will supply a job description and a list of essential skills and competences for the role. Go through each selection criteria to check if you have good examples to show how you match their requirements. For instance, if they are looking for someone with people management experience, you will need to be able to show how many staff you have line-managed in different roles, the different teams you have worked with, performance management activities, and other issues.
Your examples should detail not simply that you did these things, but that as a result of doing them there were benefits for the organisation. It’s not enough to assume that just because your job title has the word manager in it that this will be considered sufficient evidence of your people management skills.
Uncovering the hidden requirements
Occasionally, employers offer a named contact you can talk to in order to find out more about the job before you apply. Always take this opportunity if it is offered. If it’s not, try to find someone you know who works in your target organisation, or is one of their suppliers or competitors. You need to find out more about what it is like to work there and how it operates.
Look closely at any information you have been sent by the company as well as their website and marketing material. How does the organisation talk about itself? Does it see itself as traditional, creative, entrepreneurial, ethical or as a centre of excellence? Is the language it uses very formal, relaxed or full of jargon?
If you can pick up clues about the culture and self-perception of the organisation, then you can use language that is reflective of this within your application, making you seem more of a natural fit. For instance, if the organisation seems very dynamic and fast-paced, then describing achievements that talk about multi-tasking against tight deadlines or which showcase your initiative and energy may be particularly helpful.
What if you don’t meet all criteria?
If you meet the majority of the criteria but not all – but you’re convinced you could do a great job for them, then it may still be worth sending an application in. However, don’t try to ignore any obvious gaps. You could try some of the following strategies instead.
• Identify ways in which you could easily bridge any gaps: “Although I do not currently have Sage experience, I have extensive payroll database experience and have enrolled on a Sage course for next month.”
• Highlight transferable skills: “Although I have not worked in account management before, I have always worked in customer-facing environments where relationship management was essential.”
• Use extracurricular experience and show your keen interest: “Although I do not have direct experience of working for a charity, I am actively involved in volunteering for a large environmental charity.”
Corinne Mills is Managing Director of Personal Career Management, an outplacement and career coaching company who are the official Career Management partners for Guardian Jobs.