According to Business Insider, job seekers apply to 27 jobs before they are offered an interview. That seems a conservative estimate to me. I applied for over 50 graduate jobs before I had my first interview.
In this post, I’ve decided to put all my rejection to good use. I’ve interviewed two Girl Boss employers and an employability expert, and combined it with my own experiences to explain exactly why your CV and cover letter don’t land you the job.
Note: while I’ve always had media-related jobs, and my interviewed employers also work in this field, these tips apply to almost every industry.
You haven’t put the effort in
Applying for jobs is a full-time job in itself, fact. While it might be tempting to fire off applications left, right and centre, sending off CVs as quickly as possible is a false economy.
Amie Shearer is the head of influencer marketing at Mumsnet. She shares her biggest bugbear with job applicants: “If you have spelling and grammar mistakes in your CV or cover letter, that shows me two things: one, you have no attention to detail and two, you don’t care enough about this opportunity to proof read your work, or even just look for the red squiggly lines in Word! After the second error I stop reading and move onto the next application.”
Yikes. It may sound harsh but Amie isn’t alone. Employers are busy people, and lazy applications are never going to convince them you’re the missing link in their business.
Jennifer Welford is the director of Antelope, a digital marketing and PR company. She says: “The first reason I’ll bin an application is no cover letter or even just a note to accompany the CV. Coming a close second is a generic cover letter. I’m really looking at the CV to match it to the job description and skills required so people should consider having variations of their CV and tweak the cover letter and actual document for every application, while dropping the “CV 101″ style sentences.”
You’re not proving your worth
Louise Currie is an employment coordinator. She explains what employers are really looking for: “It’s difficult to stand out in a CV so to make sure that employers want to meet you you have to ‘give them what they have asked for’.
“Every job description contains ‘key words’ such as; good communicator, problem solver, necessary qualifications etc. You need to make sure that you include all of these key words in your CV. If they want a qualification – make sure you have it. If they need someone enthusiastic and passionate – give them that person on paper. This way, you are almost guaranteed to get an interview.”
With literally hundreds of applicants for every advertised job, it’s essential to prove what is unique about you. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box – innovation is always valuable to employers. Never be afraid to be genuine and let your personality shine through.
“One of my fave applications ever was a girl who had the confidence to politely point out that the job ad had a spelling error but what was even more impressive was how tactfully she managed it,” explains Jennifer. “My most recent hire was for a content writer who sent a CV with the opening line, ‘I’m a trained journalist with a penchant for proof reading’. In today’s digital community where everyone and their nan are content writers, that to me was gold.”
You’re writing too much (and it’s probably about nothing)
As author Stephen King says in his book On Writing: “when you write you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out the things that are not the story”.
King may be talking about novels but this tip totally applies to CVs and cover letters too. Cut out the fluff. Remove any padding. Generic phrases? Zap ’em. “If I get one more that says, ‘I’m a motivated team player but also work well on my own initiative’, I’ll probably just bin it,” sighs Jennifer.
Your cover letter should merely be an introduction, as employers are capable of reading between the lines. If you need to write an essay to explain why your experience is relevant then it probably isn’t relevant at all. The interview is when you can go into your entire career history and what your aspirations are. For the cover letter, focus on using key words from the application and Make. It. Snappy.
Keeping your CV and cover letter succinct is easier when you’re confident you have the experience in the bag. But what about if you’re trying to change career paths, or if you’re a new graduate?
“If you are lacking specific experience I encourage you to thing a little deeper about the experience you do have,” says Louise. “It doesn’t have to be paid work and it doesn’t necessarily need to be related to the job you are applying for. Any experience is good experience. Just try to focus on the transferable skills you gained during these experiences and pop them in your CV.”
You’re aiming too high
Being ambitious is important, but you need to be realistic in your goals. If you’ve only just graduated and have limited industry work experience then you’re not going to get that marketing manager job. Sorry about that.
Jennifer advises: “When I’m looking at CVs I will skim and look at the job titles only. If none are remotely similar to the position I’m advertising then I won’t go farther, so only apply if you have the right history. If you don’t have that then seek an entry level or trainee job to build up the skills in the area you want to move into.”
I personally faced a lot of rejection when I was looking for journalism jobs straight out of university. Even though I felt I had loads of experience (I was student magazine editor, y’all) I underestimated the value of life experience. Instead of taking every job rejection personally, focus on finding jobs that are made for you and your skillset.
You’re not giving employers what they are asking for
So you’ve cut the filler. Good job! Now it’s time to see if your CV and cover letter really convey exactly why you’re made for each specific role. Make sure you research the company and showcase that you understand the business’s goals.
Amie says: “I can’t stress enough how tailoring your cover letter (and if possible your CV) to the job description will help you stand head and shoulders above other applications because so few do it.
“Pull out the key parts of your experience that are applicable to this specific role or business, and tell me why you want to work here specifically – this shows you really want this specific role and are invested even before you’re in the door. I’m far more likely to want to bring you in to interview over someone who is potentially firing off CVs to every job ad on Indeed.com without really looking what it is.”
Happy job hunting friends. Put in the time, focus on keywords and, above all, have faith in yourself!