One of the key things about being an applicant is to remember that you are applying for that post along with many other candidates, so you have to make your application stand out and worthy of an interview invitation.
A bit about me and my career
I graduated from the university of Cape Town in 2014 with a BSc Occupational Therapy degree and I also graduated again in December 2019 with a Masters of Philosophy in Human Rights Law. After I completed one year of community service in the public health sector, I had to find a job. The stress was real and I had to think of ways of distinguishing myself as an applicant with every application. Since then, I have worked for five different employers in a space of three and a half years and it did not come easy. Getting an interview call for me is literally the fun and easiest part of the process because it is my chance to shine and tell my future employers why they should consider hiring me.
I actually ended up getting job offers at all the places I was invited for an interview. By July 2016 – I had worked for five different employers in a space of six months (don’t judge me). It wasn’t by luck, but rather by the story and the brand I was able to sell to potential employers. Please refer to my blog post Want to study full-time and work full-time? Here’s how I did it. This will give you a bit of clarity on the reasons why I changed jobs so frequent (of which most were temporary/contract).
In this post I will share a few tips on how you can be successful in all your job applications and get that interview! We want that email, that call and that letter that invites us to the panel interview to discuss everything we said on the CV and more. That’s the goal. We don’t want any ‘regret’ emails or ‘unfortunately.’ Now let’s work.
1. Your CV needs to be up to date and short
Having had great success in most applications does not mean that I haven’t received the negative responses too. I have dealt with that too, I just learnt how to glance at them and move on. Don’t beat yourself up, there’s plenty of fish in the sea and someone who will likely be willing to take you on board, so don’t dwell on “why didn’t they pick me?” and worry about how to make the next application count. Also being invited for an interview won’t always guarantee a job offer. The job seekers’ game is tough and you have to be tougher and be willing to lift yourself up rejection after rejection until you get that job offer.
A) It is good practice to have a standard CV that you update every three to six months, that way you can add additional skills that you attain in your line of work or creativity. When you do apply for a specific job profile you can then tweak your CV to meet the requirements of the job and this makes CV editing much easier. It is also very important for job seekers to understand that your CV is not a “one size fits all” glove, it is meant to speak directly to the role you are applying for. Be sure to amend it accordingly to meet the skills required in the specific job advert.
Example: If you are applying for a job as an administrator, maybe the short film you shot back in 2015 won’t be a necessary skill for the job tasks you are applying for, so you really want your CV to answer the question on whether or not you fit the criteria.
CV writing is not something we are taught and it is a skill you need to master. I went as far as taking a course on Future Learn (How to Succeed at Writing Applications) to master my CV writing skills and cover letters. This course also gave me access to CV templates that I could use as templates when drafting my own CV. The result? Success! My CVs have been winning since. Future Learn offers free online courses in a variety of disciplines, so you might want to sign up and start learning new skills.
You may also contact the career center at your university for advice. For example, the University of Cape Town has a dedicated Career Services center that can assist students and staff members (not sure about the public, but you can check) with their CV writing. You can also go online to view some of their tips and advice on how to write a winning CV.
B) Length: Aim for a two page CV, if you can get everything down on one page that’s super, but two pages must be your maximum. Recruiters have to look through many applications and the short and concise ones are often more attractive because they look like you know what you are signing up for. Your CV also gives them a glance into how you present your thoughts and ideas too. They look at the chronological details, the spelling, the tone of your writing and grammar. Please refrain from using exclamation marks (!!) or contractions (it’s) in your CV. It is a formal document and standard English writing rules apply. Also pay attention to spelling and ask someone you trust to have a good look at it before you submit or park your CV. You only need to draft one CV once and thereafter you can add and change that one copy to match your emerging skills and experience.
2. Always read the job spec
These are the main aspects of a role which the job spec will outline, often these are the company’s “wish lists“or the ideal perfect candidate who they wish to hire, but if you have the qualification and the experience and feel you stand a chance, then shoot your shot. Job specs are like a road map to the destined role and chances are the role sometimes will look a lot more different in practice than it did in theory, so rather shoot your shot. Most jobs offer on-the-job training anyways, so long as you have the ideal qualification and experience. It is best to familiarize yourself with the role on offer to be able to check if your skills do match up to the requirements.
Once you are certain that you are a good match for the job and it is something you are interested in, you need to align your CV to that job application. Remember to be honest about your skills and qualifications. Lying about your qualifications and experience can result in a criminal offence and even destroy your career. However, apply anyways with the skills you have, you never know as long as you are not lying about anything you have on paper, you are good to go.
For example if a an advert wants someone with five years experience and you only have three years, but it is something you feel you are qualified for, apply and take a chance. Just indicate honestly that you only have three years of experience and not five, but you are open to learning and expanding your experience further.
After reading the requirements, ask yourself these questions: What is the job about? Who do they want? Am I that guy/girl? Do I have the experience? Don’t just apply for the sake of applying, apply for the job you are most qualified for and if it is different from what you studied be prepared to provide a cover letter, which further motivates why they should consider you despite the fact that your qualification is in another field or area.
If you have answered yes to all of these questions , then it’s time to prepare your cover letter.
3. Write a concise over letter
Q: What is a cover letter?
A: A cover letter is a document (letter) that you send together with your CV for the job application. In a cover letter you elaborate on your career journey, you can also bring your personality into it, by listing your hobbies and what you enjoy doing, so that the panel can get a sense of who you are. Furthermore, the cover letter is your opportunity to also tell the panel why they should employ you. Sounds easy to write right? Not really.
Cover Letters need to be short, precise and to the point. Remember these people have to go through thousands of applications, so you cannot leave the selling points of your letter on the last page, in fact keep your cover letter to one page only.
Most jobs will often make a cover letter compulsory and others will be optional, so often you won’t have to stress too much about it. For senior positions, cover letters are usually a norm and mastering the skills of writing one, can make this last task of application writing a breeze.