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My Advice for Early Career Stage Candidates

The early stages of your career play a key role in defining the path you take and too often candidates are applying for any and every role with little success.

The current approach fosters desperation and as the fruitless search continues, the quality of applications drops due to time-saving multi-application platforms sending generic CVs and cover letters. This approach is ineffective. I am sharing my experience of online job applications from both my time as a candidate in the early stages of my career and from a recruiter’s viewpoint, in the hope that it encourages people to be selective and reduces the number of applications being sent that are destined to fail before they have arrived. Here are my five top tips that can help you to negotiate the online application process and improve your chances of getting an interview. I certainly have been guilty of these at some points. Have you?

  • Apply for jobs that you are qualified for. You are wasting your time and the recruiter's time if you’re not qualified, you will get disheartened by getting a rejection email (at best) and recruiters really don’t need to spend hours reading and responding to that many CVs. If anything, it just shows you didn’t read the job post.
  • Carpet bombing multiple roles with the same CV and letter is impersonal. Sometimes this might work, but the recruiter could think it lazy that you didn’t personally address the role and industry. Improve your chances by customising each application, using the key words in the job spec and writing a cover letter that shows you have already done some homework and explains why you want to work for the company.
  • The CV. There are a number of errors I have been guilty of and have witnessed friends and candidates do too. These include spelling and grammatical errors (so important), addressing the wrong person; not attaching the CV and not supplying contact details. List your achievements on the CV, don’t just list where you have worked. Also, use a professional-sounding email address. Anything that was designed to be humorous is not appropriate. Double-check everything before you send.
  • Your CV presentation should be short, clean and crisp. Minimal is best with clearly headed sections so recruiters can find the info they need quickly. For the recruiter's sake make the title of your CV simple but descriptive. Jobs boards are not user-friendly on the recruiter side from what I have seen, so if you can make their life easier it will do your application no harm.
    Good title: DaveJohnsonPRAssistantCV.docx.
    Bad title: MyCV124521.docx.
  • If you are applying through a job board that has a candidate profile of you on there, ensure it is consistent with your CV as both get sent to the recruiter. Although the profiles of the job boards seem pretty widely un-used, if these are checked and don’t match then it’s going to be a problem. Also ensure your LinkedIn profile matches (this one will be used!).

I think the overall summary of the advice I can give as a candidate is unfortunately not the easiest. You need to put a lot of effort into applying. You should be fully aware of the scale of competition for jobs. We had over 300 applicants for a single junior position earlier this month. Every single CV was read but 85% were rejected at first read, mostly over the above reasons. There are jobs in the marketplace and there will be more as the economy recovers. You need to ensure that your applications hit the right pile and to do that you have to take time and care over how you go about applying.

Put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes and imagine what the perfect CV and cover letter would be, look at the keywords used in the post, and address them whether you have those specific skills and experiences or not. If you do not have those skills or experience and want to apply, you need to still answer why you could and want to do this job with even more conviction than someone that meets the requirements whilst demonstrating you bring different but relevant skills to the table.

Matt Thomas currently looks after marketing communications and social recruiting for Recruitment Process Outsourcing company Quarsh. Please feel free to leave your comments.

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