Today’s employment market is intensely competitive – in fact, I often receive between 100 to 200 applications for a single role. With so many candidates vying for the one opportunity, it is critical you are marketing yourself effectively. It can so often be simple errors that result in a resume being disregarded.
Unfortunately, this is where I see a lot of skilled and talented people go wrong, even at senior leadership or executive level. This is most commonly because when people reach the point where they are pursuing leadership opportunities, they have forgotten some of the fundamental job search principles upon which their career to date has been built.
No matter your experience level, it is crucial to get the first impressions right when applying for a new role if you want to continue your upwards trajectory. To assist you I have provided some simple rules below, that I believe will ensure you have the best possible chance of success.
Follow the Process
I recently recruited an Accounting Team Leader role. In the position listing, I requested that applicants apply through Seek or the OnTalent website, and to provide both a cover letter and resume. However, upon looking at the applicants, I found that 25% hadn’t included a cover letter. A quarter! It is very likely that most of these applicants have honed their skills at great companies, that they have the required experience and in theory would be successful in the role. However, not including a cover letter when specifically asked to do so, immediately sow seeds of doubt about their suitability. An inability to follow processes and a lack of attention to detail suggests a serious communication problem, or worse, an underlying arrogance. Both are traits that very few employers look for.
Invest Time in Your Written Application
There are many different schools of thought on what good resumes and cover letters look like; How long should they be? What should be included in each? Who should they be addressed to? How should the two tie together? Here are a few elements that I would say are essential to include.
One important step that many people forget, is to ascertain who the position reports to or who is recruiting the role and to address the application to that individual. Whether it’s a recruiter or an internal hiring manager, “Dear Sir/Madam” just doesn’t cut it anymore. If the name isn’t on the job advertisement, search the company website, LinkedIn or even call the company to enquire. This kind of personal touch is what makes a recruiter take notice, and immediately separates you from the pile of “Dear Sir” introductions – especially when that person is a woman!
Another tip is to specifically address the key components from the position listing in your cover letter. Focus on how your previous experience and achievements are directly relevant to the key requirements of the role, and then further back this up with evidence when detailing your achievements on your resume. Similarly, the front page of your resume should support your cover letter, reflecting your objectives and summarising your skills and experience. This does mean that as well as a tailored cover letter, it is also essential to have more than one resume, uniquely written for each role you plan to apply for.
Illustrating you are enthusiastic and passionate about the role or organisation is also paramount if you want your application to stand out from other candidates. Finally, close out the application with a courteous line about how you would be delighted to discuss the opportunity further, and you’re far more likely to get a call back about the role.
One branding opportunity where people often fall short are their interactions with recruiters like myself. The process of seeking out and securing a new role is an important and stressful moment in your career, and life in general, but remaining calm and collected is crucial to success. When a recruitment consultant phones you, keep in mind that it is essentially an interview, so treat it like one. If you’re unprepared or the timing is poor, arrange to call back. Take a moment, align your pitch with the key role criteria, and have it ready to go for the call.
Also, avoid being overzealous with friendliness or affability. While as recruiters we naturally want a great relationship with our candidates, phoning to “have a chat” with the goal of getting your name greater visibility is rarely the best use of anybody’s time. I recently had a relatively senior candidate call to inform me that they were going to “flick through their resume.” There was however a clear process outlined when it came to applications, and phoning – while a good thing to do – didn’t negate the need to follow this. The informal nature of the language they used, without knowing me at all, also didn’t leave a good impression of their professionalism.
When is a good time to ask for feedback on an application? I am often phoned by candidates asking for a progress update on their application, and while this indicates a level of genuine interest, it is unlikely that I’ll have any feedback for you two days after you applied for the role. We try to keep you as up-to-date as possible, but if you haven’t heard anything about the status of your application, calling around ten business days after applying is the best advice.
In my experience, one of the most significant errors executives make is not being adequately prepared. Online job boards have made it simple to apply for a wide range of roles in a short space of time. This means it can be easy to lose track of what you have and haven’t applied for. My favourite advice in this situation is to keep a worksheet to record each stage of your search. Note down the details of each role you apply for; what it is, who it is with, who the contact point is, and when you applied. This way instead of having to sift through each online job application, looking for the correct one, with a cursory glance you will know your status with that particular organisation. Having a worksheet also allows the opportunity to track progress and follow up on applications when the time is right.
While executive roles require a greater level of skill and experience, the foundations for a successful career move are still in doing the basics right. These rules might seem simple, but with such a multitude of applications for every role, this is how an application can be made to stand out, or at least not disregarded! You wouldn’t believe the number of cover letters we receive that obviously haven’t been proofread, or the number of people we call who have no idea which job they’ve applied for. It’s hugely disappointing, because these are people with great skills and great experience, who are marketing themselves poorly by not doing the one-percenters right, and letting themselves down as a result.