8 Tips for Your Next Job Application From a Former HR Manager.
As a former Human Resources Manager, I’ve reviewed thousands of applications and recruited hundreds of people. When it comes to applying for and getting a job, I’ve seen it all — the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve been asked on numerous occasions to help a friend with their job application, and I find that I’m always giving, more or less, the same advice.
- Be an opportunist and use the ‘third door’.
- Lead with value and make it easy for them to say yes.
- Go above and beyond in your application, don’t use the scattergun approach.
These are 8 tips that will help you next time you apply for a job.
The Third Door.
In life, business and almost everything, there is always more than one way in. In the book, The Third Door, Alex Banayan explains how the world’s most successful people launched their careers by taking the third door.
“There’s the First Door: the main entrance, where the line curves around the block; where 99 per cent of people wait around, hoping to get in. There’s the Second Door: the VIP entrance, where the billionaires, celebrities, and the people born into it slip through. But what no one tells you is that there is always, always…the Third Door. It’s the entrance where you have to jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door a hundred times, crack open the window, sneak through the kitchen — there’s always a way. Whether it’s how Bill Gates sold his first piece of software or how Steven Spielberg became the youngest studio director in Hollywood history, they all took…the Third Door.” — Alex Banayan in The Third Door.
When applying for a job, most people go to a job board, type in the position they want and then start applying. This is taking the first door approach. If you do this, you’ll be in a metaphorical line with 99 per cent of other people to enter the nightclub. Most employers post a job and then check it in a few days only to find they now have to sort through a few hundred applications. There are two ways employers handle this: (i) they use an Applicant Tracking System (explained further below) to sort through the applications for them, or (ii) they sit there for the next couple of days skim-reading hundreds of cover letters and CVs. Don’t take this approach; you do not want to be one application out of a few hundred that a busy employer will skim over.
If you have to apply, along with a few hundred others, through a job board, you need to speak with the employer. Most job ads list a contact person should you have any questions. Take this opportunity to speak with the employer — ask a question and introduce yourself. Make this your first touch-point, rather than when the employer comes across your application after reading a hundred applications that day.
So, what is the third door? You need to be an opportunist and slide into their DMs. Once the position has been advertised, you’re going to be competing with a few hundred other applicants. The best situation is to apply before it’s even advertised.
Some time ago, I got a message on LinkedIn. The person had seen an opportunity that my business hadn’t capitalised on. Simply put, they messaged me and told me they had seen an opportunity and that if I hired them, they could do it for me. They sold themself to me before I even knew that I needed them. I didn’t hire this person immediately, but a couple of months later, they messaged again, and sure enough, I ended up hiring them. Unfortunately, LinkedIn is now full of spam. Most people rarely ever check it. LinkedIn is like banging on the side door; as Alex Banayan says, if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. You’re going to have to try until you get noticed. Send them a cold email or maybe find them on Instagram (most people get fewer messages on Instagram, so there’s more of a chance they'll see your message). They might not reply, but that’s not a problem; you can just message again in a few months. Be careful; there’s a fine line between selling yourself and being annoying.
I can’t tell you specifically how to do this; you’ll have to figure this out yourself. Here’s an example: if you’re a video editor, find a medium-sized YouTuber and explain why they should outsource video editing. Explain to them how you can make their videos look better than they currently do and how outsourcing editing will allow them much more time to film more videos.
Do the thing really well and build a portfolio.
Charlie Munger, the billionaire investor, businessperson and former attorney, says that the best source of new business is in the work you already have on your desk. Do what you do really well, make it obvious to those you work with that you are an A-player, and you will get more work. You will naturally connect with other A-players by performing really well, and these other A-players almost always want to work with A-players.
“It’s the work on your desk. Do well with what you already have and more will come in” — Charlie Munger in Poor Charlie’s Almanak.
Be a great person to work with and make this obvious to everyone around you. If you do this, you will naturally get references — whether that be from previous employers, clients or colleagues. If you’re excellent at what you do, they will, at some point, mention you to someone else. If you do this, you’ll never need to apply for another job again. The positions will come to you.
If, like most people, work isn’t coming to you, then you should build a portfolio to show your skills and assets. The work starts before you apply for the job. If you’re a graphic designer, build a portfolio of your work. If you’re a student, start a blog and write articles about what you’re learning. Make sure you highlight this in your job application — it shows that you can do the work they want to hire you for.
Make it easy for them to say yes.
If you’re taking the third door approach, you will need to make it easy for them to say yes to hiring you. Recruiting is hard for employers, and there’s a lot of pfaff when finding the right person. How does an employer even know who the right person is? And if they aren’t right, it's even harder to hire them. The cost to the employer of hiring the wrong person can be as high as 2.5x their salary. Make it seem like hiring you is a no-brainer. If someone with the right skills falls into a recruiter’s lap and says, ‘hey, I want you to give me a shot’, it’ll make it super easy for them to say yes.
If entrepreneur and angel investor, Naval Ravikant, somehow ended up broke and in a new city, he’s confident he would be wealthy again within ten years. He would build up his portfolio, go after people and offer to work for free for a couple of weeks. That way, it’s super easy for them to say yes. Be mindful, this can go either way. On the one hand, offering to work for free can lead to you being exploited. Conversely, it can be the difference between getting a look-in and getting ignored. If someone reached out and said something like the below quote, I would give them a shot and pay them for their work, even if it didn’t work out after the month. If you’re in a position to do it, give this a try. It won’t work every time. But you might be surprised.
“Give me a shot for a month, and if you don't like my services at the end of the month, you don’t have to hire me. It will have been a learning experience for both of us”.
Lead with value and cut the BS.
Lead with what you can do for the employer rather than a thousand words fluffing up your experience and qualifications. Every employer can see straight through unsubstantiated and overly flowery language. Don’t spew hot air without any substance. Don’t jam as many buzzwords and BS in as possible. Don’t apply with something like this …
“I will shortly be completing the second year of my degree, and I’m very eager to gain experience working in this industry during the semester break. My academic achievements and previous experience have prepared me to succeed in this position. While at University, I have spent time building teamwork and time management skills. I am focused and diligent when managing workloads and prioritising tasks to meet deadlines. I thrive in environments where I can make a positive impact around me, and I like complex problem-solving to find solutions to achieve results.”
The example above has stated the reasons why they want the position and why the position is good for them and then thrown in some buzzwords that aren’t substantiated. Reading countless applications similar to this gets very boring. An employer doesn’t really care about why the position benefits you. They care about how giving you the position benefits them.
Keep it short, concise and lead with value. As George Orwell says, don’t use a big word when small words suffice. State exactly why they should hire you and write for clarity, not impressiveness. You want to come across as a clear communicator rather than an intelligent communicator. Apply with something like this …
“Working in this position over the semester break would be a dream come true! There are five reasons why I believe I am perfect for this role.”
Follow this up with reasons why hiring you will be valuable to them. This is a dream to read. You’re saying, ‘here is what I’m good at and here is evidence to prove it’. Substantiate this by using examples from your previous experience, and use metrics if possible.
Keep it short and tailor your application.
Opening an application a few pages long fills an employer with dread. No employer wants to have to read pages and pages to find what they need to find. Make it easy for them. Keep your CV to one or two pages. Keeping it short is easy if you don’t have much employment experience. If you have more experience, you don’t need to include everything you’ve ever done; cull anything irrelevant and only include what communicates value. Again, write for clarity, not impressiveness.
Tailor your application to the position and the organisation. Don’t take the scattergun approach and submit the same application a thousand times. It may seem time-consuming, but if it means the difference between success and failure, it’s worth it! Research the organisation, read the position advertisement and job description, tailor your career profile and skills, and write a custom cover letter.
Layout and typography can make or break a CV. A poorly laid-out CV with confusing typography is a hassle to read; you don’t want your application to be a hassle. Lucky, there’s a quick and easy solution — use a template. Whether you’re using Microsoft Word or Google Docs, there are plenty of good-looking, well-designed free templates.
Before you start writing your application, ensure you understand the vibe of the organisation you’re applying to. Is it a ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or a ‘Hey friend’ kind of place? A big part of what an employer is looking for is cultural fit. Do you fit in with the colleagues you’ll be working with? If you submit a formally worded application to a casual workplace, they’ll think that you don’t get the vibe, and you probably won’t be a good cultural fit. This goes both ways; take the time to dial in your writing style.
Go above and beyond in your application.
If you’re applying for lots of jobs, you won't be able to do this. But if there is a position that you really want, make sure you go above and beyond, so you stand out from the crowd. If you do this, the employer will notice. Employers want to hire someone really good, but equally, they want to hire someone passionate. How you do this will be different for every position. If you’re applying for a copywriting position, ghost-write a blog post that the employer would publish. If you’re applying for a graphic design position, create an animation the employer would use. Take this as your opportunity to show the employer that you are really good at the thing, that you are passionate and that you deserve their attention.
Consider video applications.
It’s so easy these days to record a video. You can learn the basics of videography — lighting and audio — and video editing over a weekend. As an employer, when I’ve read dozens of applications, they all start to blend into one. The benefit of a video application is the employer almost gets to meet you, they get to know you much more in a short video rather than a written CV, and it stands out.
Video applications can go both ways. Make sure you feel comfortable in front of the camera and aren't nervous, and pay attention to lighting, audio, camera angle and background.
Don’t forget the Applicant Tracking System.
Many recruitment agencies and larger employers use automated software to pre-screen applications. An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is essentially a robot that sorts through hundreds of applications and matches them to the job ad or job description. A human will only look at the applications that the ATS deems a high enough match.
Here are some quick do’s and don'ts to help get your application past the ATS.
- Use keywords from the advertisement or description in your application.
- Use text, not graphics. The ATS doesn’t pick up graphics.
- Write out acronyms. For example, write “Applicant Tracking System (ATS)” rather than just writing “ATS”.
- Use typical headings such as ‘Education’, ‘Qualifications’, ‘Experience’, ‘Skills’. This makes it easier for the ATS to categorise the sections of your application.
- Use an elevator pitch rather than a ‘career objective’. Include some key points from the advertisement in the elevator pitch.
- Go overboard with too many keywords. The employer and a good ATS will see through this.
- Use images, graphics, shading or symbols. Most ATSs won’t pick be able to make sense of these.
- Answer mechanically. Don’t just select “Yes” or “No” to questions. If there is a text box, use this as an opportunity to sell yourself.
- Leave out the jargon. Include the terminology relevant to the position, especially if you’re applying for a technical position.
- Make spelling or grammatical mistakes.