Job applications are the first step to a new career but how do you make the best impression on your potential new employer?
Whether the word is job, role, vacancy, position, office, or post, the concept is the same. Getting paid to do work.
I have been an employee for over 30 years, an employer for over 16 years and have hosted numerous students and people wishing to get experience of a fast paced environment with high technical skills. As a result of that I am often asked questions about what an employer looks for when posting an application to a vacancy and reading the responses people have sent in to the job.
I’ve compiled a check list I use for myself, my students and my teams to make sure we are all putting our own best foot forward at all times.
These are my opinions and do not work for everyone… but it doesn’t hurt for you to sense check them against your own presentation.
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Areas of an application
There is a lot to think about when preparing for contact, so here is the best pointers we can give.
In marketing the concept of touch points is important. When applying for a job you are marketing yourself. So it helps to review your touch points.
Think about how you present to a prospective employer and what they’ll do to consider you.
Your email address
The email you use to contact the person speaks volumes about you.
Is it your name, you should have something that is very clearly you.Try get your full name into the email address.
- Get your name into your email address firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
- Do not use contractions. e.g. phil phLacey@ all are confusing
- Do not use slang / abbreviated names e.g. philly.
- Make sure your email address is your name. Do not use parents or friends email accounts
- Whatever email sender you use be careful of the domain extension as it can lead to cultural bias.
- .ie, .co.uk, .fr, .de, es. Are ok if applying for jobs in those countries.
- Go for neutral domains such as .com
- Avoid .net and .org addresses to avoid institutional bias
- Make sure the name you use in your job is the name of your email address
- If you were presenting yourself to the President of the country and asked your name how would you give it? That should be your email address
Make sure that the Display name of an email address is your proper name
- Do not use all caps e.g. PHILIP LACEY (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Do not use all lower case e.g. philip lacey (email@example.com)
- Make sure the name matches the email address
A signature is a block of text at the bottom of your email which gives all your contact details
- Use your name and if you have letters use them too https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_post-nominal_letters_(United_Kingdom)
- Repeat your email address
- Ensure you include a mobile number for contact (if they want to give you the job make sure you can be phoned)
- Include your LinkedIn address as it is a link to your CV
- Include a photo of yourself to reinforce what you look like. Makes your email more personable
- Use a sans-serif font… Arial is the safest and most widely available font
- Use black text which is the easiest to read (don’t use creative colours)
- Make sure the font is legibile, size 11 or 12 font.
- Do not use styling bold, italicise, underline
- Sign out the email with Kind regards, Best regards or just Regards
- Use 1.5 line spacing to make it really easy to read
So why do all this
The following may seem harsh but you’re trying to sell yourself. So how might your potential employer see you?
- If you can’t be consistent in your email setup, how can you be consistent in your job?
- If you’re not proud of your name and how it’s presented how could you ever be proud of this company?
- Have you made it easy to get in contact with you? i.e. do I have to go hunting for your number to offer you a job?
- Have you given the reader something noticeable in the email to make it stand out from the other 50 applicants?
- Have you considered the reader and made it really easy for them to invite you for interview?
- Visually your email will stand out as easy to understand and engaging. Getting noticed as technically competent and thought out.
Don’t forget what you’re working for is to get in the door. Your personality will sell a lot more but your application gets you your first meeting.
Body of the email
Your style of writing is yours, this is what makes each person individual but some real basics that need to be considered.
- Check your spelling. Use Microsoft Word or Grammarly to help you
- Go with three paragraphs at most of a structure
- Do NOT attach things to the email instead link to them.
- Large attachments get blocked on most email systems these days
- If it’s a link you can update the file regularly and the email will connect to the latest document
- Make sure the link works before sending
- Ensure you spell the name of the person you’re sending to correct. Check it, check it and then check it again.
LinkedIn is your online CV and should be en pointe as well.
Make sure the name matches your email address and your application.
A nice photo though you think it is, this has to be a professional image of you.
- Make sure you’ve a naturally lit, professional style headshot.
- The photo shouldn’t be too dark or overly bright.
- A high quality image of your face taken at an event, wedding, graduation can suffice if you’re on a budget but takes away from your professionalism.
- Ensure no other person or part of a person is visible in the images used.
- Avoid images with headwear. No hats, sunglasses, etc.
- A confident smile is the ideal presentation of your face.
- Get it done professionally if you don’t have a headshot. You can use it everywhere, they are once off €60 to €100 but sooo worth it.
- If a bit weight conscious, don’t stand directly in front of the camera. Turn slightly to one side. Your turning your head will pull / tighten spare skin under your chin.
Which looks more professional? Same person but they tell completely different stories.
- Experience… get every company you’ve worked for listed. All experience is a good one. If you do a job in a social setting include that too. Scout leader. Community leader. Just because you don’t get paid doesn’t mean the job doesn’t have responsibilities, planning and effort associated with it.
- Ensure all your qualifications are listed. All certs, diplomas, degrees, masters and doctorates should be in there. All courses you’ve been on. Where possible link the training back to the organisation or group who gave the training.
- Get the companies / groups / activities to be linked to their parent groups… i.e. Make sure you’re connecting into the larger organisations. Contacts are good.
These take a lot of work but are worth it when you’ve done the exercise.
You should have at least 100!
If less then you need to get working on your network.
Here are some ideas for starting to build your list
- Get the name of every one of your class mates from school and university. They’re looking to build as well.
- Try connect to your teachers and lecturers as well.
- Former companies and employees.
- Family and social connections also count. Especially friends or acquaintances in the industry you’re applying to.
- It would be useful to find people you might know in the organisation you’re applying to.
As the proverb says “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/it%27s_not_what_you_know_but_who_you_know
- Check your languages. Native, is a language you speak without having to think about it. Fluent means you can get around in that country. Passing is a school level study of the subject. Multilingual with fluent is always advantageous.
- Hobbies and social activities should be included. Including college associations clubs and groups. It shows a social side to your personality.
- Related newsletters, associations and groups. Read around your subject. This will help you drop facts and interesting items about your chosen industry. Spend your bathroom breaks reading about your industry and LinkedIn in will help guide you to those groups.
- Install LinkedIn on your phone and keep updating it like Facebook for 3 / 4 months… that’ll get your account into full swing.
- Allow LinkedIn read your contacts to see if others are on LinkedIn with whom you can connect.
- Where appropriate get recommends from employers, former employers and work colleagues.
Quite often people state that they have “no experience”. What you need to be able to show is a willingness to get experience.
You can never have precise experience in the job people are advertising as if you did you would be working in it.
Instead show similar experience of similar responsibilities. If you don’t have these apply to organisations to work for free / part time to get experience.
When applying for this experience explain to the prospective employer you’re willing to learn, this is your commitment.
At the end of the “experience” period, you will
- Have experience to put on your CV in the relevant area
- If you’re good enough the employer won’t want to lose your skills and could offer you the job.
This is a win win but requires commitment from you.
CV (Curriculum Vitae) / Resume
CV in Europe and Résumé in the US.
With your LinkedIn now having so much material for you to use, this should be easy to construct.
- A CV is two pages only.
- If it is a technical job you’re applying for and specific skills have been requested, a third technical skills page is appropriate. This is the only exception to the two page rule.
- Ensure you have a headshot on your CV. It makes a world of difference.
- Refine your experience to your top three MOST relevant experiences. This is work but it makes for so much better reading.
- The references on your CV should match your LinkedIn recommends.
- Make sure the contact details in your signature are in the CV identically as well.
- Make sure the font you’re using in your email matches your CV
When applying for a job always include a cover letter
Should be a properly formatted letter
To get your signature into the letter simply write on a piece of white paper. Get your smart phone and photograph it in good light. Insert the image into your letter at the bottom. Easy as that.
Alternately you can use a touch screen computer such as your phone or tablet and capture the image on that. Showing you have basic computer and communication skills is always useful.
The difference is in the little things.
There are many different jobs and every application to a job is different. The above are my personal guidelines and checks that I use against even myself.
The very best of luck with your application and I hope the above has helped even in some small way to get you noticed.
If you have other ideas, comments or would like to discuss any aspect of this article please feel free to get in touch.