Applying for jobs
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If you’ve never applied for a job online, check out the beginners guide by Ray@jobactive before you start researching and writing your application.
TasTAFE offers a comprehensive short course in writing applications and building interview skills as part of the SKILL UP program. You can find out more about SKILL UP here:
Making a good impression when you apply for a job involves more than sending in your resume. In the video introduction below, Impact Communities’ Mark Boonstra and Samantha Lawrence recommend researching each job, then tailoring your resume and cover letter to fit. After you’ve watched this video, you can move on to the other parts of this web page for more detailed information.
Researching the job
Once you find an ad for a position you like, it’s a good idea to learn a bit more about the role and organisation. This will help you make a strong impression in your application.
Some ads give an overview of the organisation and the role, either in the ad itself or in an attached “position description” and/or “selection criteria“. If these are available, read them carefully. They’ll help you write an application that shows you have a good understanding of what the employer wants.
Most employers are looking for the following three key attributes in people they recruit:1
- relevant qualifications and training to enable them to do the job
- the right skills and technical expertise for the job
- personal qualities and attributes that make the individual a good fit for the job or business.
If you’re applying to work in an organisation that has customers or clients, you can also visit its office or shopfront. You’ll learn a lot from the mix of customers and staff you see there, and the way the organisation represents itself in its marketing.
Some ads are very short, but it’s still important to do your research. Impact Communities’ Samantha Lawrence says the more you know about the company or industry you’re applying for, the more successful you’ll be. She recommends finding out the manager’s name and learning about the company’s vision and purpose. These might be listed on the organisation’s website or on an office door or wall.
Remember, company websites and annual reports contain all sorts of information. You’ll stand out in an interview if you know about the organisation’s recent achievements and current priorities, projects and partners.
It’s also important to know a bit about the workplace’s industry or sector. Try visiting the websites of industry organisations and any related government websites.
The art of the phone call
If a job ad includes the name of a contact person, you can ring them to find out more about the job and tell them a bit about yourself. There’s an art to doing this well. In the following video, career coach Anne Kirby-Fahey and former People and Culture Manager at Wrest Point and Country Club casinos Dianne Underwood explain that doing some preparation before you ring can make all the difference.
Your cover letter
Cover letters are a great way to make yourself stand out among all the other applicants. Not all employers ask for a cover letter, but if you are able to submit one with your resume, you can use it to introduce yourself, express your personality and describe why you would be fantastic in the job. If the job ad does not tell you how long your cover letter should be, it’s best to keep it to a single page.
The following outline is one general overview that might give you some ideas for writing a simple cover letter.
- Include your name, address, phone number and email address, and the date.
- In the first paragraph or two, introduce yourself. Mention the position you are applying for, why you are keen to work for the organisation, and why you would be great in the job.
- In the next section, highlight the experience, qualifications, values or other attributes that you know from the ad or your research are important to the employer and the role. Be concise, positive and above all relevant. And don’t forget to include volunteering if the type of work you did as a volunteer is relevant to the job. Include any other information the ad requested that isn’t in your resume,
- In the closing paragraph, briefly restate your interest in the position and thank the employer or recruiter for their time.
Another structure is provided by the website SEEK here. This is a great example, because it lets you compare a good and a bad cover letter.
If you’re an older job seeker who’s held a managerial position, it’s possible you’re now looking for a lower level role so you can have a better work/life balance. This is perfectly reasonable. In fact, Equal Opportunity Tasmania advises employers against referring to jobs with a low pay grade as “junior positions” precisely because you don’t have to be junior in age to apply for them.2 Even so, it may be helpful to let a prospective employer know you really do want a job at a lower level, as career coach Anne Kirby-Fahey explains in the video below. But remember, it’s not your age that’s the subject of discussion here, it’s the career path you have chosen as someone in a higher position who wants to “downshift”.
Some job ads ask you to “respond to” or “address” the selection criteria, especially if it’s a job in the public service.
Selection criteria are the specific qualifications, experience, capabilities and other attributes the person in the position will be expected to have. They help job seekers understand exactly what the employer wants from the applicant. More importantly, they are used by employers or recruiters to rank applications and interviewees.
Follow the instructions in the ad. For example, you may be asked to respond to the selection criteria in a separate document that you then upload to a website as part of your application. Alternatively, there might be separate places on the website for you to respond to each criterion.
If you are given a word count for each response, be sure to stick to it.
Selection criteria are especially popular in public sector and community sector recruitment.
The Australian Public Service suggests following the STAR method when addressing selection criteria:
- Situation—Set the context by describing the circumstance where you used the skills or qualities and gained the experience.
- Task—What was your role?
- Actions—What did you do and how did you do it?
- Results—What did you achieve? What was the end result and how does it relate to the job you are applying for.3
A resume is a clear, easy to follow summary of what makes you a great applicant. It usually includes the following sections, in this order:
- personal details: name, address, email address, phone number etc.
- a brief overview of your career and personal attributes relevant to the job
- relevant work and volunteer experience (starting with the most recent and working back from there), and what you did in those roles
- education and qualifications
- licencees etc. relevant to the job
- names and contact details of people who have agreed to be your referees.
In many cases, employers today prefer resumes of just one or two pages.
“Having pages and pages on your resume is not ideal when job-seeking in today’s market,” says Impact Communities’ Samantha Lawrence.
If you have many years of experience in many different roles, it is probably a good idea to leave out experience that is not directly related to the job you are applying for. This usually means you have to adjust your resume for each application, but it’s worth it.
Rather than “dumbing down” your experience, creating a highly targeted two-page resume is an opportunity to show employers that you understand the position and have good judgement.
Transferable skills are skills you already have that could be useful in a different job. You probably have more than you realise. They are sometimes called personal attributes.
Some common transferable skills are:4
- critical thinking
- good communication
- problem solving
- strong work ethic
According to the Australian Government, transferable skills are valued in many jobs and industries. If you feel one or more of them are among your strengths, make sure you mention those ones in your resume and interview.4
As with any skill you list in your resume, you may be asked in an interview to give an example. Make sure you have examples ready that show you using your transferable skills.
Writing a strong resume is not only about leaving out experience that is not relevant. Samantha says many people forget to include volunteer experience that is highly relevant to the position. As Samantha tells job seekers all the time, “Volunteer work IS work, and particularly if it is aligned to the job or career that you’re applying for, definitely needs to be added.”
- Include the names of referees in your application if requested. In some industries, however, you will only be expected to provide the names of referees if you are shortlisted or interviewed.
- At least one of your referees should be your current or most recent manager, if possible. And remember, it’s absolutely fine if they managed you when you were a volunteer.
- If your current or most recent manager is not able to comment on the particular skills and attributes the employer is looking for, try to make sure your second referee is able to do this.
- Ask you referees if they are happy for you to nominate them, and make sure you have their most current titles and contact details.
- It’s a good idea to let your referees know a bit about the job you are applying for, particularly if you are invited for an interview and it seems likely your referees will be contacted.