Over the past 15 years, I’ve applied for at least 50 jobs and internships and interviewed for close to 30. Everything from a bakery, hardware store, supermarket, hospital, temping agency, engineering company to law firm. It doesn’t matter what the position, there is a method to the madness of getting hired in this economy. Here are the 5 things every successful job hunter does to get hired:
1. Reach out before you dish out
Over 80% of jobs are never advertised – they are usually filled internally or through existing networks, as it saves the employer time and money. So, personal connections are clearly important in the employment process. If you’re responding to a job advertisement, try to make contact with someone at the company first – you can call the named HR representative or (if appropriate) the head of the team that you are trying to infiltrate. This way, you can address your application to an actual human, which will increase your chances of it making it to the interview pile. Other ways to reach out and get a feel for the market, potential employers or job vacancies include:
- Attend networking events – General Assembly or YBF often hold good events in Melbourne
- Be active on LinkedIn
- Set up Google Alerts for companies you’re interested in
- Keep an ear to the ground internally. You never know, you’re ideal job could literally be around the corner (of your cubicle!).
2. Bespoke is not just for suits
Nothing will send your application into the trash quicker than a clearly generic, bulk-issued covering letter. Here are the key tips for creating a bespoke winner-of-a-letter:
- Address it to a specific individual – Find out who is reviewing the applications and address the covering letter personally to Mr or Ms [so and so]. Ideally, you should be able to refer to your earlier telephone conversation (see #1)
- Match the tone from the job advertisement – If you’re applying to be a paralegal or graduate accountant, the tone will be different than if you’re applying for a social media role in a PR company (#hashtagsareneverappropriate)
- Address the selection criteria and use key words from the job advertisement – Most employers will ask for team players, but pay attention to the specific criteria. Do they want someone who is proficient in PowerPoint or a particular accounting software? Do they want someone who is able to manage and lead teams?
- Keep it to one page max – If you haven’t convinced them to hire you (or at least meet with you) in one page, you’re not going to.
- Include a paragraph about why that company and/or role appeals to you – and be genuine. If you don’t know why you’re applying and can’t write this paragraph, then it’s a good sign that the role/company is not for you.
- Proof read it – then do it again, backwards. Google receives over 50,000 resumes a week and around 58% of them have typos – apparently, sending them straight into the bin. A simple proof read will automatically demonstrate an attention to detail and commitment to quality control.
Sure, you can have a paragraph or two that is a standard inclusion – but 90% of your covering letter should be as well-tailored as a Savile Row suit.
3. Tell your story – even the sub plots
So you’re applying for law clerkships but you’ve only worked in bars and retail? The focus should be on transferable skills. If you’ve managed to balance your studies with playing netball, learning French and travelling solo to Cambodia – that’s time management, independence and the ability to manage competing demands. If you’ve just come back from 12 months travelling through Western Europe and the only reading you did was some Nicholas Sparks on the beach in Nice and the wine labels on the vino bottles in Tuscany, then tell that story. It’s not the main focus of your application but it’s a sub-plot that will come out sooner or later and is better addressed up front in my experience.
The General Manger of recruitment agency, Poolia, said “in the current skills shortage this [career breaks] creates a fresh pool of talent which fills important gaps. Employers see the benefits of those who’ve taken career breaks in terms of new skills others may not have, especially when dealing with people and making decisions.”
So, extracurricular activities, travel gaps, baby breaks, study ventures – they all make you an interesting and diverse candidate with something unique to offer. Employers and interviewers are people too at the end of the day – they will be intrigued and interested (and probably jealous, particularly if you’ve still got the European tan and a new Zara wardrobe).
4. Give as good as you get
The interview process can be really daunting. I’ve been in one-on-one interviews, panel interviews, 2 – 3 stage interviews, group interviews. I’ve been given scenario based questions, HR behavioural questions, psychological testing and analysis. I’ve been asked what my thoughts were on the recent Supreme Court case on security for payment legislation, what kind of fruit would I be (a grape, obviously – team player and autonomous) and what footy team I follow. I’ve done it face-to-face, by telephone and video conference. Although it seems like a lot of work goes into quizzing and screening you, 90% of the interview is about determining your cultural fit for the organisation – and it takes two to tango. Only recently have I really understood that an interview is a two-way street – you should be asking just as many questions and using the interview to work out if this is the place for you.
So, have some questions ready – about the company, the role, recent projects, flexible working arrangements – whatever is important to you. Perhaps don’t ask if there’s free spirits at Friday night drinks or a daily fruit box – unless those really are deal breakers for you. Ask to meet other members of the team, walk around the office or come to the next social / corporate event they are holding. You might be thinking that beggars can’t be choosers, but who said that beggars couldn’t be politely and professionally inquisitive?
5. The 3-day-rule is not just for dating
This is not the time to be playing hard to get though. Always, always follow up with your interviewer or the HR representative if you don’t hear anything within 3 – 5 business days. Whether this is after the job advertisement has closed, after you’ve had your interview etc. You don’t need to pressure them for a decision, but just say that you are calling to touch base and see how your application has progressed – is there any further information they need from you and/or when can you expect to hear about an interview or decision?
If you’ve been unsuccessful, ask for feedback – if you followed #1, then you have a personal contact that you can telephone. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to send an email to give them a chance to think about it and get back to you. It might be a genuine case of we’re-just-not-that-into-you but if there’s a specific reason and some constructive feedback, take that graciously on board and ask to be kept in mind for future roles.
Good things happen to those who hustle – Anais Nin