Applying for jobs

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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.

From research to cover letter

Mark Boonstra (MB) and Samantha Lawrence (SL), both of Impact Communities

Writing an application

MB – I want to suggest that when an older job seeker is wring an application for a job to do a fair bit of research first: know what you’re going for, know what employers are looking for and you can do that with a Google search or talk to another older job seeker whose just had a job. But I think for starters to know the company that your applying for to know what there’re about, what are their values, what drives the company, how many staff have they got, what’s their mission, what’s their vision. I think to get a really good, sound knowledge of the company would be a really good start and then to get your resume up-to-date and a resume doesn’t need to be pages and pages long. We know that employers will take the first look at a resume probably for about 8 seconds and then it’s either on the good pile or the bad pile and then they want to have another second look. But they are not going to wade through 20 pages of information. That’s 2-3 pages absolute maximum and to keep it to the point and relevant to the position that you’re applying for. So, for example, if you were applying for a role in aged care then it probably isn’t as relevant about a job you had 40 years ago on a farm so I think it’s part of what are your skill sets and how are they relevant to the job and particularly the aged care industry. So, I would say the best thing to start is doing your research and also researching on how to write a good resume. But always gets somebody as well when you’re writing a resume and putting together your cover letter or addressing the selection criteria, get a couple of people to look at it before you send it off, particularly people who have had experience in maybe interviewing people in the past or accepting people for positions.

SL – Or worked within that industry that you’re applying for.

MB – And someone who’s good at English as well to be able to read through to make sure that the dot points are right, and the paragraphs aren’t too waffly and things like that.

Writing a cover letter

SL – A cover letter is essentially a one page document, split into predominantly three sections, that has a little bit of information about yourself. Why you’re, I suppose, unique and identifying your strengths for that role that you applying for, giving a bit of information but ensuring that it’s relevant for the position that you’re applying for, and then having a closing paragraph at the end explaining again why you would be amazing for that role.

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.

The art of the phone call

Anne Kirkby-Fahey (AKF), Career Options Tasmania

Dianne Underwood (DU), formerly Federal Group

Before you apply

AKF – We always recommend where possible to actually make a phone call beforehand, but to prepare some dot points of what you can say and we do mock events with people so we’ll pretend that they’re making the call, pretend they’re doing the interview. And we’ll talk to them about smiling on the phone, about putting energy into their voice, about showing they have actually done a little bit of research about the organisation, and that they can highlight two or three quick things over the phone that they think that they’d be able to bring to the role. And certainly, they don’t go anywhere near talking about “I’ve worked for the last 40 years…”. You don’t need to do any of that because in a resume you only need to go back 10 or 15 years anyway. So, there’s not tricks but there are ways of presenting yourself, whatever your age is, that you can do right up front which will help you get to the next stage, which would be people encouraging you to apply. The phone conversation is actually really important if it’s available to do.

DU – And like everything that’s hard, you know it’s awkward to do a cold call to someone that you might not know and one of the things I think older people generally don’t like to do is reach out and seek help from people like Anne at Career Options Tasmania. Because it’s all in the practice of those phone calls and keeping it short and sweet, getting across how positive you are about the industry, and understanding what those questions to ask, and how you come across on a phone to someone. Because people do make quick judgements about that and it’s all about the practice and the coaching and I’d say that that’s a really good tip.

Resources to help your research

Work45+‘s “Industry snapshots” web page has tips to help you research and prepare for jobs in:

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”.

Downshifting by choice

Anne Kirkby-Fahey (AKF), Career Options Tasmania

Dianne Underwood (DU), formerly Federal Group

What if I want a job at a lower level than my last position?

AKF – You have to be very clear and upfront that you are genuinely looking and happy with an entry level role and I certainly, we’ve worked with some people who have had fairly senior roles but really now are kind of winding down a bit maybe or they’ve done all of the responsibilities and they are looking for. They don’t need a big salary. They want to perhaps contribute, so they’ll consider a lower level role or volunteering. So, it’s important that the person who is doing the recruitment really gets that right from the start and again a phone conversation when you can talk that through a little bit, then they’ll know when your application comes across the table they’ll know a bit more about you. You must put it them very clearly that you are genuinely happy with this level and also come across as somebody who is not going to be difficult to direct for a younger manager.

Resources to help you write a cover letter

  • Recruitment agencies may also be able to assist. We describe recruitment agencies here.
  • Libraries Tasmania offers help with writing in many local communities, based on what you want to learn. You may be able to use this to get help writing your cover letter.

Selection criteria

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

Your resume

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
  • skills
  • 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

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

  • teamwork
  • reliability
  • critical thinking
  • good communication
  • problem solving
  • adaptability
  • strong work ethic
  • resilience.

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.

Resources to help you write a resume

  • Recruitment agencies may also be able to assist. We describe recruitment agencies here.
  • Libraries Tasmania offers help with writing in many local communities, based on what you want to learn. You may be able to use this to get help writing your resume.

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Video credits
  • Mark Boonstra is the Manager of Impact Communities, which is part of Workskills, a jobactive provider.
  • Samantha Lawrence is Employment and Innovation Facilitator at Impact Communities.
  • “From research to cover letter” film maker: Lucy East
  • Anne Kirby-Fahey is a career coach and Board member of Career Options Tasmania.
  • Dianne Underwood is the former People and Culture Manager at Wrest Point and Country Club Casinos. Dianne is on the boards of Colony 47 and Westpac Rescue Helicopter Tasmania and at the time of interview was an older job seeker herself.
  1. Neville, Ivan 2019, What Employers Are Looking For (video), Australian Government
  2. Equal opportunity Tasmania, Guidelines When Publishing and Advertising, accessed April 2020
  3. Australian Public Service Commission 2020, 3. Applying for an APS Job: Cracking the Code
  4. Australian Government 2019, Transferable Skills (video)