When we set up the Yardstick Agency, we had three core ambitions.
- We wanted to help more people to engage with financial planning.
- We wanted to help advisers and planners to market their businesses more effectively.
- And, we wanted to provide job opportunities to people in Nottingham.
As we’ve grown, we’ve needed to recruit along the way. So, we’ve plenty of experience of looking through hundreds of job applications for the various roles we have filled.
This puts us in a useful position to share some things we’ve learned as we’ve fulfilled the third of our aims. So, if you’re hunting for a new job, here are five invaluable tips.
1. Read the job specification carefully
This ought to be an easy place to start. If you’re interested in a job, read the specification carefully before you submit your application.
For example, if the specification says that the employer wants a CV and a covering letter explaining your suitability, that’s what you should send.
We typically ask for a covering letter, and so you not including one is a sure-fire way to get your application filtered at an early stage. Clicking a button to submit a CV with no additional effort is going to be almost always a complete waste of your time.
And, if the job is in Nottingham, don’t apply if you live in Caracas. Or Bolton. Or Dundee. Or, if you do, explain to us why we should hire you when your commute might take 24 hours.
2. Personalise your covering letter
OK, so you’ve read the job specification and you know that the employer is asking you to submit a covering letter.
You’d be astonished how many ‘cut and paste’ covering letters we receive. Candidates address their letter ‘to whom it may concern’ and not one of them mentions the name of the employer to whom they are submitting their CV.
If you don’t personalise your covering letter it smacks of laziness. It’s no different from sending us your cookie-cutter CV. Somewhere your covering letter should reference:
- The specific requirements of the role and how you might meet them
- Why you want to work for this specific employer
- What skills you possess that would add value to the employer’s business.
Which brings us to…
3. Don’t explain what you have done. Explain what you can do for us
This is the biggest issue with all the job applications we have seen.
We’ve read dozens of covering letters in the last few days, and all of them are almost exactly the same. Even the ones that have tried to personalise them to our business often fall into the same trap.
CVs and letters tell us what you have done. What they don’t tell us is what this means for us.
It’s great that you were Head Girl, or you won a debating contest, or you represented your university at Ultimate Frisbee. Good on you for getting a silver Duke of Edinburgh award, writing for your student newsletter, or spending your year abroad teaching English in Leipzig.
While all these things are laudable, nothing here tells us, as an employer, what you’ll bring to our business.
It’s actually really easy. Match the requirements of the job to the skills you have.
- If the job needs attention to detail, say “I notice the job needs attention to detail, and I can demonstrate this as I used to edit and proofread my university newspaper.”
- If the job requires you to have an interest in financial services, say “My sixth form work experience was at NatWest, where I developed a real interest in helping customers by explaining the different types of savings accounts available”
- If the job involves working closely with clients, say “During my six-month placement at Bob’s Marketing, I attended weekly meetings with clients in order to agree their social media schedule for the coming week.”
Don’t just send a list of your achievements. Tell an employer how the things you have done, and the person you are, will make you invaluable to the new business.
4. Take care
It should go without saying, but a CV or covering letter filled with spelling mistakes, typos and grammatical errors typically won’t cut the mustard.
We’ve recently been through dozens of applicants for a copywriting job, so levels of accuracy were (obviously) even more important. It made it very easy to filter out applicants when, for example, they didn’t capitalise their own name. Or didn’t spell ‘copywriting’ correctly.
Read, check, read, and check again. Get someone else to check. Download Grammarly. Get your retired English teacher grandad to check it. It’s your first impression, so make sure it’s a good one.
5. Give your application some personality
Employers often receive hundreds of applications for a vacancy. Yes, we can filter them using some of the criteria above, but what we are often left with is a couple of dozen virtually identical applications.
How do you make yours stand out?
- Design your CV professionally so it looks different from the others. This is particularly important if you’re applying for a creative role
- Make an effort. Look up the name of the person who heads up the department you’ll be working in and address your covering letter to them
- Talk honestly about why you want the job. Don’t say “I think I’d be a good fit” (yawn). Say “Since I read The Hunger Games aged 14 all I have wanted to do is write for a living. I want to learn, I live locally, and this is the absolute perfect opportunity for me.”
- Be you. Don’t write boring, formal letters. Tell us who you are, what motivates you, why you want the job, and why we should hire you. Stand out from the crowd.