How To: approach a job application

With the cooler weather and the trees shedding their leaves, come the heated brows and shedding of tears from students as they turn their minds to the future and those two dreaded little words: job hunting. I’m here to give you a quick run-through of how to approach job applications, and why they shouldn’t be something to dread. This is mainly in response to receiving lots of questions via LinkedIn, Instagram and in person.

If you’re looking for help for things further down the line like: assessment centres, interviews and case-studies click the links for LOADS of hints and tips!

I’m going to break it down, and keep things short and sweet, because I imagine if you’re reading this – you may already be feeling overwhelmed by information.

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  • Keep your CV updated. Even if the job application doesn’t allow you to attach your perfectly crafted (!) CV then you can still use all the information on it to fill in relevant sections of a job application. CVs take time to write, and I’ll be writing a post soon on the subject. But make sure once you have the bare-bones of one, that you keep it up-to-date as you gain experience, marks, etc. so that it saves you time and stress in the long run.
  • Do your research. This is something that comes up time and time again in these types of posts, and it can’t be overlooked. If you’re writing about how much you like a specific firm, sector, practice area or location – make sure you back it up with something. Having said that, don’t drive yourself mad by thinking you have to know everything about the company down to the number of toilets they have in their office! I have had so many questions about this, and my main tips are to use online resources to help boost your knowledge: The Times, The Financial Times, the firm’s website, The Economist, Chambers and Partners (great for law students), etc. are really great tools.
  • Check for grammar, spelling and other mistakes. Another simple, but deadly thing. I know some firms will immediately discount you if you have typos, bad grammar – or heaven forbid, have clearly copied and pasted a response from one application to another leaving in the other firm’s name (yes, that really does happen!).
  • Read the question. A lot of job applications now ask you to write and respond to specific questions, rather than just writing a cover letter and attaching your CV. It may sound like a simple point – but making sure you read the question or statement carefully and answer it fully is so important. Pay attention to word limits too – it never looks good if half your answer is cut off because you haven’t paid attention to the details.
  • Be real, be passionate, be you. If you’re asked to write about a recent case, news story, business development, area of your life, etc. that you find interesting – then choose something you actually find interesting. A well-trained and experienced HR/recruiter will no doubt easily spot a genuine answer compared to something that sounds stilted. Plus, if you make it through to an interview there is a very high chance you’ll be asked about your answer.
  • Don’t be worried if you don’t have related experience. Everyone has to start somewhere. Chances are that you don’t realise that your babysitting job, summer spent pulling pints, time working in a shop, etc. is hugely valuable. You can easily demonstrate that you have good time-keeping, team-work skills, leadership attributes, ability to problem solve, etc. without having been the CEO of a FTSE 100 company! Even if you have no job experience at all there will be something to talk about and draw on – you just have to take some time to reflect on the different events and roles life has thrown at you.
  • Ask someone to proof-read your application or talk you through the questions. This is something I have never been good at; asking for help. I didn’t make the most of the people around me when I was applying for jobs, so please learn from my mistakes! It’s so useful to reach out to someone to ask them to run their eye over your application, or to brainstorm ideas. It can really help fine-tune your responses and get rid of some of that writer’s block. It’s also great to talk to someone as we can all struggle to ‘sell’ ourselves and identify our strong points – something that is pretty essential to convey in an application.
  • Do one application at a time. I would recommend this for many reasons, but mainly it is so that you are focused on just one set of criteria and one company. This will help you feel less overwhelmed and create satisfaction when you have fully completed one, before moving onto another.
  • Apply to companies and jobs you actually want. Again, this may sound obvious, but I know lots of people who bashed out ten to fifteen applications last year and got nowhere. Quality over quantity is a good phrase to bear in mind. You’ll get exhausted and demoralised if you are just constantly churning out ‘pat’ answers without really being ‘into’ the company or job you are applying for. Believe me – passion for the company and the work will come across and be keenly looked for by the recruitment team. Besides that, life is way too short to slave to get a job you don’t really want at a firm you don’t really like.

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I hope this has helped you feel more comfortable with making a start on your job applications, and been a little like the comforting hug above. I think the main thing is to allow yourself the time to submit something that is as good as it can be – showing you at your best. Knowing yourself (and your attributes), knowing the company (and why you want to work for them) and having an eye for detail are the three biggest pieces of advice I can give. I know that is easier said than done, but believe that you can get where you want to go – and as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just to take the first step.”

(Don’t be shy…click ‘Leave a comment’, share this post if you like it; email, tweet and generally pester me if you want to hear more/share your stories/say hi)

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