Applications: sniper, not scattergun

target_darts_190200 rejection letters and counting – does this sound familiar? It certainly does to me. There’s been a fair passage of time since my student days, but I distinctly recall a period of frenzied activity in the months after graduation, applying for any and everything. To my credit I left no stone unturned, or sector untouched and once I signed up for the online job sites, I was really motoring! Sadly, the rejection emails came just as quickly and I was left feeling depressed and dejected. Very occasionally I’d have a spot of luck and be invited to interview, but it was painfully obvious that my interest and motivation were lacking. I couldn’t articulate any passion or enthusiasm, or draw connections between my experience and the job role…because I didn’t have any. And then it dawned: my desire – or desperation – to secure a ‘graduate’ job was clouding my judgement, and I took a step or two back to ask myself some pretty searching questions about what I wanted and where I was going.

Fast forward to 2012 and it seems my experience has been amplified. Graduates emerge into a far more competitive job market and the tail end of a pretty deep recession. Every graduate post receives 52 applications, so it’s no surprise that students feel the need to cast their net wide. After all, this seems perfectly intuitive: the more jobs you apply for, the better your chances. Sending mutiple applications can also make you feel like you’re being really pro-active and taking charge of your job search. Truth be told, it can sometimes mean the opposite.

Why the scattergun approach fails

If you’re about to enter your final year still waiting for that career epiphany, you might be tempted to hedge your bets and apply the scattergun approach. This strategy generally fails. Employers can spot a generic application a mile off and your application will simply find its way onto the reject pile. Tell-tale signs include:

  • Bland, generic statements proclaiming a desire to work for company x ‘because you are a global player, with a strong vision offering a fantastic opportunity for me to learn and develop’. Not only is this pretty tedious to read, but it provides no evidence of motivation, research or originality. And it breaks application rule no 1: don’t tell an employer what they can do for you, only what you can do for them.
  • Liberal use of Ctrl+v! Graduate recruiters spend a lot of time sifting through application forms – you can’t fool them. It may appear that application forms ask the same questions, but there’s often a subtle nuance, or change in emphasis. Copy/paste will not save you time but it may cost you the shortlist.

Why targeting works

In a nutshell, it shows the employer that you are serious and mean business. Good applications take time and effort, and are the fruit of extensive research, multiple drafts and attention to detail. Yes, there is an element of luck, but don’t overstate its importance. In any case, you can’t legislate for luck – good or bad – but what you can do is maximise your own chances with a properly organised job search. Follow the basics:

  • Research, research, research! Start with the industry sector itself. If you can’t provide a convincing and compelling case for your interest in marketing/consulting/HR then you won’t persuade an employer either. Good places to start include TARGETJobs,TheJobCrowdProspects,
  • Get to know the employer inside out: clients, mission, trends, initiatives. Read company reports, press releases, news stories. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook (you may feel Facebook is just a social space – well, it’s not anymore). Use this knowledge to shape your applications; don’t simply regurgitate what you’ve read. Make your application informed and intelligent, not superficial.
  • Only apply for jobs you want. Don’t commit to an application if you can’t do it justice. Why risk slipping into a downward spiral of failure and rejection?

Inevitably it’s the bad news that tends to dominate the headlines, so don’t be surprised if you continue to read alarming stories about graduate unemployment and scarily high applicant:job ratios. It’s certainly true that there are many graduates applying for each position, but plenty will self-sabotage through poor applications. Don’t be one of them. Focus on quality, not quantity, and you may soon be beating those odds.

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