This is a common question. So, is there an answer? There’s always the temptation to come out with the proverbial “How long is a piece of string?” We can do better a bit better than that though. The starting point is “What are you applying for?”
You want a bar or shop job?
Graduate employers love to see a work ethic and there may be an imperative for you to earn money. You could be very keen to get the job, so, how long is it going to take to make the compelling application? The answer here depends on whether you are applying for a job in a large organisation or a small enterprise. The small local business is probably going to be happy with a CV, and you’re likely to maximise your chance of success by dropping it in yourself. Ask to see the manager, be bright and personable and you might find you have landed the job, or at least a trial shift, then and there. You won’t need to have a detailed CV.
If you have to complete an application form for a larger organisation, you may need to spend more time. Remember to elaborate on your customer service experience and to demonstrate that you understand something about the business; your module grades are not going to be too relevant!
You want a graduate scheme?
This is going to be an entirely different process. You will almost certainly have to complete an application form. You’ll have to input your academic achievements and probably enter details of your work experience, extra-curricular activity and any prizes or awards you’ve received.
It’s likely that you’ll then move onto competency questions and approach the “why us” question. Often you won’t immediately be able to recognise the differences between graduate employers offering very similar posts. You’ll have to research until you find ways in which to differentiate them. You might be talking to contacts in the employer organisation or in the business area, reading websites, and seeking out news items. Some questions are going to demand creativity and initiative, a particularly challenging one might be around how a current news story could impact your target employer’s business.
I talked to Hannan Ullah, a Philosophy graduate from Warwick about his experiences of making successful applications last year. Here’s what he said:
“You can’t send in an application that you’ve knocked out in a couple of hours and expect it to succeed. If you’re applying for a top scheme then you’re going to be competing with some of the brightest and best students in the country. I probably spent about 20 hours putting each of my successful applications together. It’s really easy to underestimate what is needed.”
You may find the thought of this daunting, it is. Even when you have finished writing you’ll need to move on to the checking process. That will be tricky too. If you’ve lived and breathed your application for several days or weeks you’ll be so familiar with what you wanted to say that you might not notice your mistakes. Get someone to help you proofread.
If this all sounds a bit tough, remember that it’s better to invest the time up front than find that you rush applications and meet only rejections. The good news is that once you have done a few applications you will get faster.
You want a job working for an SME?
Sourcing exciting opportunities in SMEs might be more time consuming than actually putting together the application! Just as for the part time or vacation job in a smaller business, the process involved in making a successful application can be a very informal process. You might just have to put together a CV. It’s quite common for SMEs to offer posts to people who do some work experience with them. It may be a case of getting through the door to do some work experience and then making sure you go the “extra mile”. Sophie Read had this experience:
“I asked a local SME for some work experience and was delighted to be offered the chance to do some work there. I loved my time in the business and felt at home straightaway. To my astonishment when the work experience came to an end I was offered a permanent job. A dream come true and all without having had to put together an application!”
So, the rule of thumb is the larger the prospective employer, the more time the application is going to take. You won’t be able to rely on your personality to get you through the first stages of a process, that’s true whether you’re applying for a Saturday job or a graduate scheme.
Invest as much time as you can in the application process. You just can’t “wing” big applications!