Applications and CVs - Introduction
Job Applications are the first vital step to getting a job interview. In this area, we look at how to give employers the information they need to ensure that they put you on the shortlist.
To make a job application you will need to prepare a letter indicating your interest in the position (known as the Cover Letter) and create or modify a copy of your CV for the position. Many jobs will instead require you to fill out an application form.
Your Cover Letter is the first thing a recruiter or potential employer will see, so it has to make a strong impact. The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce your CV in the best way possible. There is no such thing as the perfect cover letter, but following some basic pointers will help make your letter a worthy build-up to your CV.
Your CV is a summary of personal details, educational qualifications and work experience. It should include your key skills and other relevant information together with the names of 2 people who will provide a reference for you.
Application forms typically ask you to provide standard biographical information and detail of your education and experience, together with some 'open' questions. These documents are critical to catching the attention of a potential employer, so it is wise to familiarise yourself with how to fill out these documents and what mistakes to avoid, so you put your best foot forward.
Job applicants are often asked to complete a job application form, either online or on paper.
Application forms typically begin by asking for fairly standard biographical information, followed by details of your education and experience, and then some open questions - these will give you the chance to highlight your suitability for the job.
Recruiters use application forms instead of CVs because they make it easier to compare candidates when there are a lot of applications. It helps recruiters to filter out unsuitable candidates. This means it's important to include all of the information requested. Employers or recruiters look for two key things in the application:
- Do you meet the criteria?
This helps them filter candidates onto a 'long list' - Always check the job description and prove that you match the requirements.
- Do you stand out among the other applicants?
This is what helps recruiters compile their shortlist of candidates for interview. It may be your work experience or extra-curricular activities that helps you stand out from a longlist of similarly qualified applicants.
Completing the Application Form
- Gather all your basic information together - personal details, educational information, experience etc.
- Decide on the most suitable people to use as referees - contact them and get their permission to put them forward as referees and confirm their contact details
- Think about why you want the job, what you have to offer and what makes you the right fit for the role
2. Check the Details
- Find out what the employer wants - read the job description carefully; study the personal specification to find out what skills and experience they are looking for
- Research the organisation - this will give you more clues about the kind of person who would be successful
- Check closing dates - apply before the deadline. Some employers start processing applications before the closing date – and they are usually deluged by last-minute applications – so if you submit yours early, it may get more attention
3. Don't Rush It
- Allow plenty of time because writing a good job application is likely to take longer than you expect
- Read the application form through before you write anything down
- Follow all instructions and answer all of the questions asked
- If there is a question that does not apply to you, write ‘not applicable’ or ‘N/A’ in the appropriate place to show that you have considered the question and are not just leaving it blank
- Try to make your answers relevant, interesting and personal. Remember you want to stand out from the crowd
4. Final checks
- Spell check and proofread your application
- Where possible, ask a friend or careers adviser to look over it for you
- Do a checklist to ensure that you have included everything asked for
- Keep a copy so that you can go over it again before the interview
- Sign and send
Some online application forms allow you to save your work and return to it later, but some have to be completed in one sitting. Be prepared before you start inputting information and allow yourself plenty of time.
It's a good idea to type up any longer answers so that you can edit and spell check them before pasting them in.
Some recruiters use scanning software - always include keywords for the specific skills and qualifications that they have asked for.
Some online application forms include psychometric tests, it’s advisable to some practice these first if they are present.
Further / Additional Information
Most application forms include questions such as:
- Why are you suitable for the job?
- What is your greatest achievement?
- What are your interests and hobbies?
These questions are your opportunity to make an impact and stand out from the crowd. Use examples from all areas of your life – college, work, interests, activities. The application form may just have the heading ‘additional information' - this is an open invitation to you to tell the prospective employer what you want them to know.
Before you send off or submit your completed application form:
- Are your personal details accurate?
- Are there any spelling or grammar errors?
- Have you filled in all the fields?
- Have you kept a copy?
Tips and Advice
- Give yourself plenty of time - it may take several hours and a lot of concentration to complete the application form
- Think about what's behind each question: what are recruiters looking for?
- Keep a copy for reference - if it’s a paper form, photocopy it; if it’s online, print or save it
- Make it is easy for the employer to see that you meet all the stated criteria
Follow the highlighted links above for useful help and advice on preparing each of these.
Your cover letter is the first thing a recruiter or potential employer will see, so it has to make a strong impact. A cover letter is a concise single-page letter addressed to a potential employer that accompanies your CV and should be part of any job application, unless the advertisement clearly states that cover letters should not be included. Each cover letter you write should be tailored to suit the particular job you are applying for.
It is an opportunity to express your personality to a potential employer and sell yourself as a perfect fit for their team. It is often your earliest written contact with the company therefore creating a critical first impression.
A cover letter should complement, not duplicate your CV, highlighting the aspects of your career most relevant to the position. Following basic pointers will help make your letter a worthy introduction to your CV. It should make the reader want to know more about you.
Examine your career history for specific examples of how you can demonstrate you have what the employer is looking for - e.g. the job advertisement says, "This position requires an outgoing person with demonstrated capacity to work in a team". The keywords here are "outgoing", "demonstrated" and "team". Show you meet these essential criteria to increase your chances of an interview.
Writing a Cover Letter
Paragraph 1 - Explain why you are writing. Make sure it entices the reader to read on. If you are replying to an advert, say where and when you saw the advert and if there is a reference number, quote it. Ensure you have researched the company, job and industry trends before writing. A personable, inviting opening paragraph will convey your enthusiasm for the position.
Paragraph 2 - Briefly explain your job and qualifications. Don't give too much away, your CV can provide the detail. Refer to the skills that are specified in the job description and make sure the skills you mention are reflected in your CV.
Paragraph 3 - Say why they should employ you and why you would be a good employee. Demonstrate you know something about the company. Focus on the employer’s needs, highlighting what you can do for the employer.
Paragraph 4 - Be pro-active - It is a good idea to sign off with a positive statement to prompt the employer to act. Following up with a phone call can show initiative and will prompt the employer to give your CV another look, but be mindful not to bother them too much as this may have the opposite effect. Have another set of eyes read over your cover letter once it is complete to ensure there are no error.
Thank the reader for his/her time and consideration and note that you are available to be contacted at any stage - always make your contact details clear and visible.
Don’t use long words and complex language just to impress.
Be concise – your cover letter should be 4/5 short informative paragraphs. Presenting it in a precise and upbeat manner will entice the reader to move on to your CV.
Some creativity can help you stand out. You could include a brief summary of your toughest sale or most challenging project.
The cover letter should not be used to provide a narrative of their life. It is a marketing tool that will sell your qualifications and skills to the employer. Personalise your cover letter, it shows you are serious about getting the job. Often you can locate the name of the HR Director or relevant contact through the company’s website or LinkedIn profile.
- Make sure your cover letter is addressed to the right person at the right address
- Ensure that you spell everything correctly! Also check for grammar and bad punctuation - one mistake could mean your application is rejected in favour of another candidate
- Do not use ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ - do your homework and locate the appropriate contact information on the company website or LinkedIn for more information
- Include all of your contact details, including address, phone numbers and email. Make it as easy as possible for the prospective employer to contact you. If they can't get in touch with you, you may not get to the interview stage
- If you are posting your application, write and print your cover letter on good quality paper that matches the paper of your CV. Avoid coloured paper! For best results, stick to good quality, white or cream paper.
- Make sure your letter is customised to the job for which you are applying. Pick out specific traits or skills mentioned in the job ad and demonstrate why you think you are suitable.
- Ensure that your cover letter is short, succinct and to the point - there is no reason to duplicate the details shown in your CV.
- Examples of results-oriented keywords include: increased, reduced, redesigned, upgraded, initiated, implemented, reformulated, generated and produced.
- If this is your first job or you’re changing careers then use experience from your life, school or different roles to demonstrate transferable skills. Demonstrate that you know enough about the employer or position to relate your background and life experience to it.
Most CVs follow a similar template, using the five categories outlined below.
Personal Details - Name, address, contact number and email address. Provide contact details where correspondence will reach you promptly. Make sure you have a genuine and professional-sounding email address.
Educational Qualifications – Present most recent qualifications first. Provide grades (or expected grades) and dates.
Employment or Work Experience – Start with the most recent. Include paid work and unpaid internships. State what you achieved and learned through the work, not just the tasks you carried out. Write with your career goals and the job requirements in mind.
Additional Information - This could include skills, interests and achievements. Include anything that will highlight your employability and make you stand out.
Referees - Names of referees and contact details (check with them first). At graduate level this will usually be one academic and one employer or personal referee. The references do not have to be included on the CV, it is acceptable to say 'References available on request'.
Personal Statements - These can be useful where are sending speculative applications - the recruiter can see at a glance who you are and what exactly you are looking for. They should be used carefully.
- You are not expected to include age or date of birth.
- You don't need to include the word 'Curriculum Vitae or 'CV'
Styles and Formats
There are different formats of CV. Check out examples of CVs but never copy a CV template exactly. Sample CVs can be useful to get you started, but always adapt it for the job you are applying to.
A graduate CV is typically fairly short - keep it to one A4 page, maximum two pages.
Different types of CV to above may be required in certain situations e.g.:
- Academic jobs tend to require longer CVs and include additional sections such as teaching experience and publications.
- Convention in the USA is to provide a 'resumé' which should be just one page long.
- The UK typically follow the same format required by Irish employers, but elsewhere in Europe there may be differences in expected format so research is important.
- A Skills-based CV is useful at graduate level where you may not have a lot of work experience, so instead you want to focus on your skillset.
o Arrange your key skills under three to five headings i.e. ‘Communication skills’ and ‘Teamwork’ etc. and write about your relevant experience and accomplishments under each skill heading.
o Add a brief paragraph listing your work experience (provide dates, employer name and job titles only)
o Include education details in a separate section after these
1. Keep it Short and Concise
Fitting your relevant career experience into two pages shows focus and an ability to communicate well. The majority of employers will appreciate this.
2. Don’t Sell Yourself Short but Keep it Short
Many people take for granted the skills they have and presume employers will assume they have them too. If you have a skill which an employer needs then make it clear. Don’t leave it up to an employer to interpret your CV.
3. Tell an Employer What They Want to hear
So you just graduated college, how do you stand out? Don’t just tell them you have a degree, tell them how the knowledge and experience your education developed can help them. Make them need something they didn't think they needed before.
4. Know the Job You Are Applying For
Try and learn as much as you can about the place you are applying to. Some of this information can go into your CV in a subtle way. Spot anything the business does which you think you could improve on. Let them know how in your CV. This why copy and paste type CVs frequently find themselves on the rejection pile. It pays to display your interest in the position.
Source: Dr. Bill Mallon founder and director of CareerProjections, a Dublin based team of specialists in career and college advice and provision of CV and college proofreading services.
- Have you included a current phone number and an email address that you check regularly?
- Have you included a cover letter?
- Is your CV relevant to the career sector or employer you are applying to?
- If you are emailing your CV, have you saved it with your own name in the document title? If it's just called 'CV.doc' it could get lost in a pile of others.
Note:Most companies prefer CVs submitted online or by email - Create your CV in Word so it can be opened and read by recipients easily. You may be asked not to use a pdf, particularly if you are sending a CV to recruitment company. If in doubt, ask.
Last but not least ... Spelling and punctuation must be perfect! After you proofread it yourself, have a friend check it over for readability and any errors that you may have missed.