How not to get shortlisted

Writing applications is a tedious and tiring process – it can often feel like a full-time job in itself.  Green road sign with a isolated white background.As a Job Search Adviser here at Warwick, I have seen hundreds of CVs, cover letters and application forms so have some insight into how it must feel to be a recruiter. Make their job easy by giving them reasons to select, not reject, you.  These are some of the common mistakes applicants make that can often cost them progression to the next round of the recruitment process.

1.    Writing a shopping list

In an effort to ‘get this over with’, many applicants start listing verbatim their skills and experiences in the hope that employers will grasp the connection between these and the job criteria. Employers, however, are busy people and will not waste time trying to infer meaning or spot the relevance.  Nor will they start musing on the candidate’s potential – if you haven’t given them something concrete to go on, the chances are you’ll end up on the reject pile.  Unless you clearly state how your experience fits with and adds value to the organisation, don’t expect employers to fall over themselves with glee.

 2.    Taking the spam approach

You may think that sending countless applications will save you valuable time and create more opportunities for success.  But there’s no obvious  correlation between the number of applications you send and the success rate.  In fact this strategy can often backfire. Employers are looking for (demonstrable) potential combined with genuine interest in their company and its mission or vision. Firing off applications that vaguely cover the job criteria are unlikely to impress. Taking the time to showcase  both your motivation and suitability,does not allow for a scattergun approach. If you’re firing off hundreds of applications or uploading your CV to numerous job boards, you’re selling yourself short. You need to choose: quantity or quality. You can’t have both!

3.    Researching then regurgitating

Some applicants go from one extreme to the other; from no research to regurgitating everything conceivable about the sector, company, role, MD etc etc.  In principle this seems a pretty solid approach: after all, recruiters want to see you’ve taken the time to understand what they do. But in practice too much can be as detrimental as too little. Employers are not (generally) interested in your forensic research skills – well, unless that’s part of the job criteria. What they’re  looking for is evidence that you’d  be a good match and would fit with the company ethos and culture. They don’t want to read about every single deal they’ve cut or merger they’ve initiated. Try to personalise your application: what is your personal motivation to join the company? How could you personally add value to the organisation?

4.   Killing content with clichés

‘I am a motivated and hard-working individual with strong drive…’; ‘I am a self-starter with a keen eye for detail…’; ‘I am a great team player…’ Sound familiar? Of course marketability is about ‘talking the talk’ but this approach offers neither style nor substance. In some sectors, the applicant to job ratio is staggeringly high so the name of the game is to stand out. Clichés are both meaningless and lazy. Avoid at all costs. Be factual, be genuine, be original. If in doubt read it aloud – how does it sound? If you cringe, then imagine what an employer will do.

 5.   Waffling on…and on…and on…

Never write 50 words, where 100 will do! This certainly seems to be the mantra of some students. But, remember: employers are time poor – they don’t want to waste what time they have trying to decode endless verbiage.  In an effort to cover everything – and then some –  applicants produce lengthy accounts, often repeating themselves in the process. I’ve seen CVs where chunks of prose cover much of the page – this makes it hard to read and the salient points just get lost. Bear in mind most employers will  scan your CV in seconds and make a judgement based on their first impression. If you can’t be concise and precise, then you might as well throw your CV in the bin.  The same applies to application forms and cover letters – focus on the facts and evidence.

Before you hit send cast a critical eye over your application: does it hit the right notes, or just incite a feeling of zzzz? If in doubt ask a Job Search Adviser to check it for you. Don’t leave anything to chance….

One thought on “How not to get shortlisted

  1. Pingback: How NOT to get shortlisted for interview | Bournemouth University Placements & Careers Service Employability Blog

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