Typically, job adverts placed in the newspaper attract over 300 applications for one position. All the applications received by the closing date are quickly sifted through to weed out the non-starters – those people who would not be considered for the shortlist. Judging by the thousands of applications I’ve reviewed over the years, it seems that many people who apply do NOT want to make the shortlist.
Here is my list of things to do if you want to apply to apply for a job, but don’t really want to be considered. These are based on real applications that I’ve received.
It’s a long list and you don’t have to do everything on it to be rejected. Often, it just takes one thing on the list to move your application into the rejection pile.
Here’s how NOT to get shortlisted
Your motivation letter:
- Get the name of the company wrong, or spell it wrong.
- Apply for the wrong job.
- Write ‘Dear Sir’ – chances are a woman is reading it; try ‘Dear Madame/Sir’, or if you know the name of person you are writing to, use it!
- Spell words incorrectly – I get tired at the thought that I would have to correct your work constantly.
- Use bad grammar.
- Explain that the reason you want the job is that you need to develop yourself further or explore new life options – yes, I hope you’ll get fulfilment in your work, but my main interest is whether you can do the job!
- Say that you’re absolutely suited to the position – um, let me be the judge of that. I know the job better than you do.
- Include documents you weren’t asked for – read the advert and give only the documents asked for!
- Say that if you aren’t eligible for this job, you’d take any other position that’s on offer – you may be desperate, but don’t tell me.
- Say that you’ve just been retrenched – keep that detail for your CV when you cite the reason for leaving your last job.
- Say that you’ve applied for sixty other positions and have been unsuccessful, and you’re perplexed as to the reason (am I too old, too fat, too overqualified?) – for Pete’s sake, I’m a prospective employer, not your psychotherapist!
- Send me the standard boring format that half of South Africa seems to use (the one that starts with your name, gender, date of birth, ID number, criminal record YES/NO etc., etc.). Stick to your name, age, contact number and then start with a short paragraph on who you are (e.g. I am a 29 year old South African woman skilled in….. I was trained in … at …. I am committed to…) – this paragraph will tell me what is unique about you, and potentially set you apart from other applicants.
- Include the minute details of every training course that you’ve ever gone on in your life – nobody reads that stuff.
- Include the minute details of every small task that you ever performed in each job you’ve ever had.
- Make spelling errors.
OK, enough of that. You get my point.
HOW TO DO IT RIGHT!
Let me tell you what I DO look for:
Your motivation letter:
I’m interested in someone who:
- grabs my attention in the first line with an honest appraisal of her or himself, or a statement about the position on offer;
- keeps the letter short – I don’t have time to read two-page letters;
- clearly knows something about my organisation – can relate their application to the priorities on our website.
- I want to get a sense of you as a person and your key achievements in the first paragraph. Keep the boring admin for the end.
- In describing your prior work, draw out in one or two sentences how this will add value to the job for which you are applying.
- Include up to date details of referees (but don’t include references unless asked for).
Basically, I want to get a sense that you’ve really thought about this position and it’s not one of fifty you’re applying for. I know that means spending more time on each application with no guarantee of shortlisting, but I think you’ll have more chance of getting shortlisted if you submit fewer, tailored applications than many, general ones.
Written by a Cape Town employer
‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression.’ – Anon