Top tips for job applicants

Recently we went through the process of hiring new staff and, excitingly, we’re due to do some more soon. I did not want to have to fork out huge amounts of money to a recruitment agency, which we have used in the past. So after lots of research on the best (and most cost-effective) ways of recruiting, I decided to go it alone using free or cheap online tools.

We received huge numbers of applications, which was fantastic, but there were a few recurring issues. Here we share some top tips for applying for jobs which can hopefully be applied to most industries:

Send a personalised cover letter

While reading through the huge numbers of job applications I was very surprised to only receive cover letters in about 5% of applications; and <5 addressing Helpful personally. Personalising a cover letter shows that you care about the job, have done a little research about the company (even if it is just including the name) and that you’ve properly read the advert when they have requested one.

Don’t include irrelevant information on your CV

This is partly about ensuring your cover letter is customised for the job you are applying for but also simply not including information that isn’t of importance. Although you can be keen to show that you started working at 18 (I definitely used to be guilty of this), if it isn’t relevant then don’t put it in.

Don’t send Word docs – PDFs only

Maybe this is just a pet-peeve of mine, but Word docs are slow, show spelling mistakes in huge red marker, have poor formatting and just don’t look pretty. PDFs look far more professional and are nicer to read (especially on a phone) and share. Also, not everyone has Microsoft Word and you may be excluding your potential next employer!

Read the advert and send what they ask for

This drove me barmy. In big, bold writing we’d ask to send a cover letter and CV but I think we had around 30% of responses include a cover letter. Those who didn’t were immediately discounted in my mind for not reading the advert properly before responding. A colleague did point out that some people use their CV introduction as a cover letter instead, which is fair, but if the recruiter has asked for something specifically it’s best to just spend the 5 minutes tweaking it before you send it.

Don’t call yourself an expert when you’re not – just be honest

I think there’s a desire to call yourself ‘experienced’ or ‘an expert’ or you think you will be ignored. I’ve certainly done that in the past. Instead, people referring to themselves in this way was a red flag for me. Your experience should speak for itself and if you don’t have any, just be honest and instead focus on what you can offer.

Turn up on time

Turning up late is a huge bugbear for me (just ask the rest of the Helpful team) and would be very hard to come back from. However, turning up early is sometimes just as bad. If we had back-to-back interviews, or an adjacent meeting, it is frustrating when people turn up early and someone in the team has to welcome them. Find a cafe and wait. I’d personally recommend turning up no earlier or later than 5 minutes away from your interview time. As someone who tries to turn up everywhere early, this has been a big lesson learned for me!

What I’d do differently next time as a recruiter

  • Time is valuable, especially with job seekers. As soon as we reduced the job description down to the key facts we received a much higher calibre of application
  • Speak to as many people as possible on the phone. I had some serious surprises over the phone and you can tell a lot in a couple of minutes. I’d speak to more people but keep it concise – around 10/15 minutes – so it doesn’t take up too much time
  • I’m not sure I’d use generic free services like Indeed again. I spent a lot of time going through huge numbers applications which weren’t relevant. Our hires came through LinkedIn or Twitter and I’d like to try more dev focussed channels, like Github