Time is precious and it would be reassuring if there were a definitive number of applications to guarantee success. So let me share with you why, as a Senior Careers Consultant, my heart sinks just a little when I am asked this question. There is no magic number. Sorry, but it is more complicated than that. There are however some questions worth asking which will help you to decide whether it is worth making an application.
Can I convince the employer I’m the person they need?
Every employer will want to know ‘why do you want this job?’ The number of roles which you really do want (and therefore for which you can answer this question convincingly) is going to be finite. Do you know what you are good at and enjoy? Do you know what the employer wants you to be good at and enjoy to be effective in this role? These are easier questions to answer if you can refer to successes in some relevant work experience which you really enjoyed. You might have evidence from a different context of a skill the employer has asked for. If you are at Warwick, you are likely to have used resources such as the Student Careers & Skills website, Prospects or Target Jobs to get a good overview of your sector of interest and develop appropriate skills or experience. You can reflect this knowledge in the application.
Highlight your motivation
It should be obvious to the employer from what you tell them in the application that this job would be an entirely appropriate setting for the next chapter of the story of your life so far. If you do not know what skills, strengths or interests the specific job needs, or do not know your own skills, strengths and interests well enough to know whether they will suit the job, you are going to find it much more difficult to make a convincing application.
Finding all this out first and then making one good application would be better than five applications which addressed none of this. Telling the company how much you love them or describing yourself as ‘a dynamic communicator able to work to challenging deadlines both in a team and alone’, without examples, unfortunately probably isn’t going to get you as far as the interview.
How much time have I got?
Although quality is more important than quantity, it is worth making time to make as many applications to relevant vacancies as you reasonably can. But the key word is ‘reasonably’. I remember a friend of mine at Cambridge mentioning a fellow-student who would only occasionally appear at lectures, would arrive late and sit there looking bored when he did. He was very rarely seen doing any academic work – he graduated with a first! Normal mortals need to spend more time than this on their academic work, but the time needed will vary from one individual to the next. So too will the time you need to spend on other things. If you and your loved ones are all independent, happy and healthy, then be grateful – you will have more time that is yours than students for whom this is not the case. Of course quality applications are vital, but there are other vital things in life too. Having said that, if you told me that you had failed to make any applications because you had spent all your spare hours chatting pointlessly with your mates I might find it harder to be sympathetic (though I would admire your honesty) compared with someone who had less time to fill in applications because they had spent time in hospital.
Quantity or quality?
Some things are not about numbers. If Beethoven had written fifty piano concertos rather than five, would they have been any better? Are the thirty-seven or so plays which Shakespeare wrote the optimum number which he could have written?
Really get to know the job and the employer before you start an application. Spend sufficient time to ensure that your application is good enough and you have given yourself a chance of being shortlisted. Don’t worry if a friend is doing twice as many applications – they might be lucky and have more time, but they might just be sending too many poorly planned applications. (If you think they are, you can direct them to this blog – tactfully.) If you are at Warwick, remember that there is a whole team of us in Student Careers & Skills willing and able to review applications. Take inspiration from Shakespeare and Beethoven but remember that in one respect at least you are already doing better than either of them ever did – neither of them were graduates!