Most people hate applying for jobs.
To the point that they will put off leaving a job they don’t like, just to avoid the job search process.
Is this you? It was me.
When I lived in London, my first job was a 6 month contract. At the end of that contract I got offered a permanent role. In between the fixed term contract ending and my permanent contract starting, I took a month off. In that month a few things went down that made me seriously question if this was somewhere I wanted to work. But I didn’t want to go through a job search again so I started the permanent role. I lasted four months before I quit without another job lined up.
The fear in that decision making is one of the reasons I became a career coach. I want women to see their value so they can make career decisions from a place of confidence.
Part of that is learning how to nail your job applications. Here are six mistakes I see all the time to help you see where you’re going wrong and how to fix it.
Making it about you
When we’re writing our cover letter or CV, we tend to get fixated on how much we dislike doing this. How weird and awkward it feels to be trying to ‘sell ourselves’. We’re thinking about how we feel doing this, how much we want the job, how much we don’t want to be rejected.
Our focus is all wrong. It’s not about you. It’s about the recruiter or hiring manager. Your number one job is to make it EASY for them to see you’ve got the skills for the job.
A few ways you can do this:
- Take a look at the job ad and see what key experience or skills are being looked for. Pick one or two that you have good examples for and write those examples in your cover letter. That’s essentially all your cover letter needs to be. You’re looking for this, here’s an example of how I’ve done that.
- Put your best experience, the things you’re most proud of front and centre. The easiest way to do this is to create a key achievements section and put it BEFORE your experience. If the hiring manager doesn’t make it past the first page, make sure they’ve seen the best of what you can do!
- Make your CV skimmable. The real reason you need to pay attention to the format of your CV is to make sure key information jumps out. If you close your eyes and open them, what do you see first? A dense paragraph of text? Your most recent job title? Word and Canva both have great CV templates and you can find even more on Google to get you started. A final hint; bulletpoints are your best friend.
Not making it about you
I know I just said to stop making the job application process about you. And it’s true that you’re not writing your cover letter or CV for you. You’re not the audience.
And it’s also true that the star of the show is you.
You need to focus on your contribution to a project, not the team.
Now this can come out more in interviews, where women especially have a tendency to talk about how WE did something, rather than I did.
But it does show up in the initial application and what it normally looks like is discounting.
We dismiss our role in a project or creating an outcome because we think about how Hannah did this and Henry contributed that. That result either doesn’t make it onto your CV at all or it’s watered down.
It’s great that you’re collaborative and a team player. Those skills are definitely things to highlight. And you need to think, what would Hannah and Henry say I contributed? What was MY role in that success?
Own it. Talk about it. Include it in your application.
Speaking too vaguely and generically
If I was a hiring manager and saw another application talking about my great communication skills, I would want to poke my eye out.
I haven’t done that much hiring in my career but I’ve seen enough CVs in the limited experience I’ve had to see they all kind of end up sounding the same.
You DO NOT want to sound like everyone else. The easiest way to do this is to get specific. And the easiest way to do THAT is to speak in examples.
Let’s go back to communication. Great communication skills can mean lots of things. Maybe you pull together incredible sales presentations that convince the client to engage in new contracts.
Or maybe you write the clearest, easiest to follow user guides you’ve ever seen. Your user guides never get questions because everyone that uses them knows exactly what to do.
Both of those are examples of communication but both are completely different.
Equally those examples are FAR more compelling than just writing ‘communication skills’.
Take a look at your CV and identify all of the generic sounding skills – teamwork, leadership, time management – and ask yourself, what is it within these categories that I do better than most people around me?
Put THAT in your application.
Speaking about what you did and forgetting about the results created
Speaking of getting specific, there’s a second layer to this.
Who cares if you’re a great communicator if nothing changes. Focus on outcomes, impact and that so what?
Let’s take the example of the user guides from above. What is the benefit of great user guides? Maybe they reduce customer service calls by 20%. That’s a lower cost to the business. Customers report increased satisfaction. That increases customer retention.
Your TRUE value to a company are the results you can create. Great user guides are not that valuable by themselves. Writing a great user guide for it to sit on a shelf has no real value.
But a great user guide CAN create valuable results, like those mentioned above.
So in your specific examples, how can you include the results and outcomes of your work.
Really the question you’re answering here is so what? Why does this matter?
And that goes back to making it easy for the hiring manager to say yes to you. Because you’re spelling it out for them rather than hoping they can see the value in what you do.
Not getting your energy right
If you’re focused on writing your CV as a chore, that’s going to come through. You’re going to rush through your job applications to get them over with.
You’re not going to take the time to think about what the recruiter is looking for and making sure your application reflects that.
When you feel funky because doing job applications brings up weird beliefs about ‘selling yourself’, you’re not going to be able to reflect clearly on the value you bring and the experience you’ve gained. If you can’t think clearly about those things, there’s no way you can articulate it in an application.
Before you do anything about looking for jobs, you need to tap into knowing that anyone that hires you is lucky to have you on their team.
That’s not about being arrogant or claiming to be the best at something. It’s simply knowing you’ve got good experience, have gained a lot of skills and you do the work.
I’ve said it so many times before and I’ll keep saying it because it’s simple. The way to tap into that valuable, confident energy, is to write out ALL the ways you contribute to a team and a company. I challenge you to write a hundred ways.
Writing straight into CV format
If writing out a hundred ways you bring value to a job is the first step, then writing everything into a CV format is the last.
Sort out your content first.
Know what your examples are. Know what key results you want to highlight. Make sure you’ve gotten clear on the specifics of your skills and experience.
Hopefully your list is giving you some inspiration here.
Trying to write directly into a CV format clouds your thinking because you’re trying to figure out too many things at once. You trick yourself into thinking that nailing the format is moving you forward. It’s a way of feeling like you’re working on job applications without REALLY working on them.
Having clear, succinct content tells the story of you and what you offer far more powerfully than a beautifully formatted CV that lacks any depth.
Focus on what adds real value to your job applications
Notice that none of these tips are about tailoring your application or finding out the hiring manager’s name. Those are great final touches but they don’t make or break your application.
Start with the things that will give you the most bang for your buck. That’s focusing on addressing the mistakes I’ve talked about in this post.
One of the challenges with job applications, writing cover letters and CV, going to interviews is we never really learn how to do any of it well. The more proactive among us will Google what to do only to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and annoyed that it contradicts itself.
Now you have some very clear and specific guidance on how to improve your job applications and help you land that next great job.
Even choosing two of the mistakes that most jumped out at you and addressing them will make a big difference to landing more of the right interviews.
Hopefully you now feel like you know exactly what to do to improve your cover letter and CV. If you would rather have someone else do it for you, check out the CV Experience. You get my expertise and magic writing a cover letter and CV for YOU, displaying all of your incredible skills and experience. Limited spaces available, find all of the information here!