5 Basic Do’s of Job Applications: How to Pass The First Look Test

February 6, 2013 | By Felicity Cull


You’ve probably heard about this; a student from York University applied for a position as an admin assistant – a completely commonplace occurrence. In another commonplace occurrence, she made a mistake in her application. Instead of attaching her CV, she attached a particularly ridiculous picture of Nicholas Cage. Horrified, she posted about it on her Tumblr; “I ACCIDENTALLY SENT MY POTENTIAL FUTURE BOSS A PICTURE OF NIC CAGE RATHER THAN MY COVER LETTER+RESUME, WHICH WAS A ZIP FILE TITLED WITH A BUNCH OF NUMBERS LIKE THE JPG I ACCIDENTALLY ATTACHED OH MY GOD” – and it went viral.

I completely understand why it did. The juxtaposition of the relatively formal tone of the email and his face is laugh out loud funny. When I shared the post on another social media platform (I do so love helping a post go viral), people joined in my hilarity, but there were also a number of people who said, “I’d hire her!” However, the student did not get the job she was applying for.

Standing out from the crowd but being suitably formal in a job application is a difficult tightrope to walk. In this oft-quoted study, researchers found that on average resumes were perused for just six seconds, which gives the viewer time to hone in on your name, where you’re currently working, when you started there, where you worked previously, and your qualifications. With this kind of time frame to make an impression, you have to be formal but find a way not to be forgotten.

Being memorable can work for you or work against you; last year CreativeBuilder released a study that listed a number of terrible mistakes people made in the recruitment process as well as a list of things people did that got them noticed. For example, some terrible mistakes included a candidate calling themselves a genius and inviting the employer to interview them in their apartment, or the candidate who applied to a job saying they were ‘deetail-oriented.’ On the flipside, there was the candidate who listed not only their accomplishments from each position, but also detailed examples of lessons learned while in that position, which is vaguely boring but really helpful. Then there was a candidate who applied for a food and beverage management position by sending a resume in the form of a fine-dining menu.

The study found that there was an increase in applications that were more creatively packaged. Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, said “We see more people using infographics, QR codes and visual resumes to package their information in new and interesting ways.” Recently, a website builder came to the attention of the industry by having an online resume that mirrored the Amazon website. When you clicked on the ‘cart’, a contact form popped up, which is pretty cool.

What’s tough is that when you research the rights and wrongs of resume writing, a lot of the information is contradictory. Some say to use Times New Roman size 12 only, some say to use a slightly different font to the norm to get noticed. Some say to only provide a two-page resume, some say to give detailed case studies. Some say not to include references, some say that they are a must. Researching the How To’s can make you feel you’re supposed to be a psychic and magically know what the particular person who will be picking your resume up like and dislikes.

As an antidote to this, we have brainstormed what we think are the basic rules to adhere to. It’s important to note that these rules shouldn’t stop you being creative. What we’re hoping is that if you adhere to these basic rules, your application can push other boundaries and you can be noticed and taken seriously.

Do no.1: Apply for jobs you can prove you’ll be able to do. If a job ad asks for something you definitely don’t have but want, you can use the ad as a tool for development but it’s a bit of a waste of time to apply for it. You’d be better off using the time you spend applying for positions you don’t fit becoming more qualified or looking for something that’s a better fit for you. Make sure you can demonstrate that you can do the job in some way – if you have transferable skills, like a proven ability to work well in teams, high level communications skills or the ability to be self motivated in learning new things, make sure you show this. Have you looked at a recruiters Job Board and found you’re not a fit for any of their jobs? Most recruiters allow you to register your interest regardless.

Do no. 2: Give all the information. That includes but is not limited to; your contact details including your mobile phone number, your residential address and your email address (really, seriously, they’re easier to forget than you think), the dates you worked at each job (month, year), details of projects you worked on in each role (not just your responsibilities) hopefully with some examples that are relevant to the PD for this job. It’s also a good idea to send us links to any info on the web you think we should see in your intro email (LinkedIn, examples of your work, your website or twitter, etc.) The important thing here is to pay attention to the job ad and provide everything that is asked for.

Do no. 3: Review what you’ve written. You need to do one or both of the following things before you send any job application in; print the application out and read it out loud, editing it as you go, then get someone else to read it. Reading it out loud will help you make sure it’s in your own voice, which is a good thing for a job application, but it will also pick up mistakes that spellcheck can’t. Having someone else check the application is the final step in ensuring that there aren’t errors you’ve missed. If you can’t do both, you must do one. No exceptions.

Do no. 4: Format your documents consistently and clearly. Avoid tricky templates, inconsistent formats or fonts that make the information hard to find. When you’re reviewing a high volume of resumes in a day, you need them to be easy on the eye. This resume is an example of what your resume should NOT look like. Ever. It’s also important to remember that recruiters and HR managers often use databases. The more simply you have formatted your document, the better it will look when uploaded to this kind of program.

Do no. 5: Use appropriate keywords. If you want to tell the HR manager or recruiter you can bake or that you can do the running man, do it, but also show them that you are able to perform in the job they’re looking to fill. Tell your potential employer clearly why you’re suited to the role you’re applying for in the email you send or in the CV – you do this by using industry appropriate terminology. One really important thing when applying for a job is proving you’re a cultural fit but you also have to show you understand the industry. Keywords can be boring so try to avoid clichéd ones like those listed here but you’ve got to show that you know the job you’re applying for.

A lot of this advice might seem so straight forward it’s boring but the thing is, most of us find writing job applications time consuming, stressful and difficult. Don’t put yourself through that only to be passed over because you didn’t follow the basics.