Friday, December 17, 2010

How to Apply for Jobs

In the last 18 months I've gone through the process of applying for (and eventually getting) two separate jobs. I've also seen a few friends apply for jobs, some successful some not successful, and I'd like to think that I've built a little bit of an idea of how to get jobs.

Lets just say at the outset that the best time to be looking for a job is when you're already employed (or if there is no time pressure). Obviously, not everyone is in that situation, if you're in that situation my advice may not work the best, however I think a lot of it still applies.

If I have to be honest, 18 months ago was basically the first time that I've had to go through the formal application process for a job. Prior to that I had applied for and gotten a few part time jobs while at uni and the like but the process was simpler, and the outcome not as important. I basically flowed into my first full time job on the basis of part time work that I did while I was at uni.

Figure out what jobs to apply for.
One thing that I learnt from the job that I am currently in and the one that I will be moving to in the future is, as lame as this sounds, come up with a good career plan. You don't have to go crazy but you do need to sit down and think about what you like to do, what excites you at work and what brings you to tears. If you're a recent graduate you probably don't really know what excites you at work, if this is the case then I'd suggest finding somewhere that is flexible, that allows you to move between projects regularly, I was lucky enough to land a position like that 5 years ago and I am thankful for it. I think that I may have figured out what makes me want to go to work everyday and my new job will deliver that .... hopefully. 

Anyway, the idea is to write down things that excite you. For me this was a job that had both a technical and a personal aspect to it, one that continually changed so that I was always learning and challenged and one with good scope for career progression. For you it'll probably be different, but I'd suggest that if you're young then you really do need to think about a role that has good progression paths. This is one of the key reasons I am leaving my current role, no hope of progressing unless I knock someone off.

Once you've got the ideas sorted and think you know what you want to do talk to someone about it. Find a mentor, someone willing to give you a couple of hours of time to chat to. I was fortunate to have several good contacts, a couple of my former bosses through in their 2 cents and I had a friend refer me to someone quite high up in my field that was willing to chat. It doesn't take heaps of time. A couple of chats to talk through what your thought processes where and to suggest other areas you may not have thought about, like similar roles in other industries.

Now you should have a good understanding of what type of roles you want to apply for and which companies and industries you want to work in.

Fix up Resume and get a decent draft cover letter together.
Ok, this is obvious, but I will say it anyway. Get your resume in order and up to date. There's plenty of information around on how to put together a good resume, so go off and read that. I will add that you should target it towards your chosen job and field. Also obvious I would say. But you'd be surprised how many people don't do this.

Cover letters, you should have a good cover letter aimed at your ideal role. But you won't use this, or rather you won't use this exact cover letter, every cover letter should be specifically targeted for every job application that you complete. More on this later.

Setup JobMail / Job Alerts
Set up job alerts/subscribe to job notifications, there are more places to do this than you think. Firstly use and, but also sign up on some of the bigger recruiters like Then move onto LinkedIn, join groups in your area of interest as well as general job groups like Aussie IT Jobs. Obviously readers outside Australia will need to find other sites like

Finally if there are big companies in your field then find their careers site and find there jobs alerts, for me Microsoft and Telstra had good job sites, but also check out consulting firms in your field like IBM. While you're on the sites have a look around as they usually have criteria listed and things that you should consider if you want to work there. Some of them also have the ability to submit a resume and "they'll review it" when they are looking at placing future people, however I never got a response back from doing these.

Hassle your mates
Use your networks, everyone of them that you can think of, chat to people in your footy club, email your old boss that you haven't spoken to for a year, chase up old colleagues. You never know if one of them knows a good role going if you don't ask them for it. Recently for me this didn't secure me the job, but after I applied for one they called someone I used to work with, that I'd already talked to so they where more prepared to talk about me and my suitability.

Which jobs to apply for
While setting up the job alerts you undoubtedly found some jobs that think you want to apply for. I found that reading the ads a couple of times was important, with a gap in between, to make sure that you've read it properly and like what the role has to offer. If you don't know the company then go off and read a bit about them, check if their size is right for you (large companies probably offer more career progression as an example), check to see if you can find good/bad news about them in the media, check where their offices are, how you could get to work everyday.

Also, aim up or at the very least sideways. What I mean is, don't apply for jobs that you think are 'below you', if you do get the job you'll probably want to leave shortly after and resent working there. I say aim high, apply for jobs above your qualifications. I say this for two reasons, a) you might just get that role, it'll be a stretch but worth the hard work b) they may have other roles that are more suited that you missed or weren't advertised. 

Use recruiters to your advantage
Another thing to consider here is your 'recruiter spread', basically you want your details in the hands of as many recruiters as possible. You want to do this for a couple of reasons, the first is obvious getting your name out there in front of recruiters means that there is more chance they'll think of you when a new role lands on their desks. I got quite a few call backs from recruiters with different roles to the one(s) that I had applied for.

The second reason for this is not so obvious, getting advice out of the recruiter. If you do get a call back from a recruiter (or an email) talk to them about what they liked in your application and cover letter, talk to them about the roles you want and your experience. This conversation will work both ways, the recruiter wants the information to better find a role for you and you want to pick the recruiters brains about anything that could help your future applications.

How to actually apply
Ok, by this stage you should be getting your job alerts every morning or so. First thing every day is to sit and read through the jobs that have been sent your way. Do it instead of reading the paper or what ever you normally do in the morning. If you see one that you like apply for it then.

Now, to actually apply, tailor the cover letter exactly to the job requirements, pitch yourself for that exact role, figure out who to address the email to and personalise it. Make sure the date and all contact details are correct. Once you have done it a few times you should be able to fire off a good application in ten minutes or so. Use your draft cover letter from earlier as a starting point and go from there. Before you submit the role on Seek/My Career check if the company has a direct application form on their website, I got better responses going direct.

Apply for the jobs you like as soon as you can conceivably do it. Don't fart about, just get the application in! Unless it is a government role, they are probably trying to fill it as soon as possible so you want to get your application in as soon as possible.

Now what?
Alright, so you've done everything, applied for heaps of jobs and haven't got the response that you hoped for. Don't get discouraged, realistically you're looking at several months to find and interview for the perfect role. I found that job applications direct to companies (as opposed to via recruiters) tended to get more responses. It seems that recruiters only respond if they love you.

If you're not getting responses it is time to reassess. Are you applying for the correct jobs? Is your cover letter a good enough pitch? Is your resume a finally honed job acquiring machine?

Finally, make sure any correspondence is professional, no spelling mistakes, good grammar and punctuation, polite and courteous and so on. Oh and don't use slang!

Got an Interview?
Go and read Here Is The Main Reason Why You Suck At Interviews on Skorks and any other sites you can find that have stuff about interviews preparation is key here.

Remember that the interview (and the rest of the application process) is bidirectional. You're determining if the role and company are right for you as much as they are figuring out if you're right for them. If you get a second or third interview or even an offer it doesn't mean that you have to accept it. Evaluate the company and the role the whole time to determine your fit within it.

I'm sure there is more that I could say but I'll just leave you with this. Have fun and.....

Good Luck!

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