Not getting interviews? This could be why
I’ve applied for many jobs in my time, but it was only when I started recruiting that I really understood how the process works, and gained some valuable insights into what I would need if I were to become a jobseeker again.
On the most recent recruitment drive I was involved with, I was surprised at how many candidates we had to reject almost instantly. Why? No cover letter.
Cover letters: don’t act on bad advice
A good cover letter is absolutely critical, and this is something that we don’t share enough with jobseekers. Many excellent organisations provide CV workshops and CV review services to jobseekers: while this is incredibly valuable, there is a risk that such focus on CVs unintentionally creates the impression that your CV is all you need.
We’re also so often told to “keep it short.” You shouldn’t ramble but letters which consist of nothing more than “As you will see from my CV, I am the perfect fit” risk coming across as arrogant, and while I’ve seen multitudes of cover letters like this, I’ve yet to see a single one go through to interview. We ask for cover letters to get information, and those very brief notes give us nothing.
The other problematic advice we get is to approach jobhunting as a numbers game, that the more irons you have in the fire, the better your chances. This is true to an extent, but only if you give yourself the time to craft high quality applications for the roles to which you are best suited. This may mean you don’t follow as many leads as you could with the simple click of a button, which can be difficult when you feel under pressure to get as many applications out as possible. But the applications most likely to succeed are always the ones which are thoughtful and well-researched, and those are things you can’t rush.
Play for scores
When a job is created, if the organisation is functioning well, staff will put a lot of thought into what the job entails, and what skills and experience you need to perform it well. This information will be detailed in the advertisement, which gives you a massive advantage: you already know what we’re looking for. Every listed criteria will be scored, and the best cover letters go through the job ad, point by point, and concisely state how the candidate meets the criteria, with examples. Examples don’t have to be work-related, particularly for an entry-level role.
It’s as simple as the candidates with the highest overall scores progressing to the next round, so treat every point you can address in the JD as an opportunity to score 10 out of 10. If you don’t meet all the criteria, a statement that you’re willing to learn counts for a lot, and you could still be in with a chance if you’ve addressed enough of the other criteria.
Remember: we can only score based on what you put in front of us, so if you don’t say it, we can’t count it.
An understanding of what the role entails and your feel for the organisation is something else that employers will be looking for. If we invest time in creating a positive working environment, then we want to hire someone who shares our values, so we can safeguard that positive culture for our current staff.
This makes an application seem like a lot of work. But there are good reasons for it. Bias is real, and can be unconscious, so the more we can do to design it out of systems, the better. When a number of people on a panel independently work through an application and score based on merit and experience, it increases the fairness of the system. Skills-based tasks and advertising salary upfront are other good signs that a company is serious about recruiting fairly.
You should be careful when asked what you’re currently earning. My organisation doesn’t ask for salary history, and has pledged not to in future. Many people don’t realise that this single question disproportionately contributes to maintaining the gender pay gap. Women are more likely to take career breaks, work part-time, and to experience pay discrimination, which can follow us from job to job if our last salary is used to set our next one. In the US, this question being banned led to an 8% pay rise for women and a 13% pay rise for Black people who switched jobs. There is a petition you can sign to build momentum for this question being banned here. If you’re asked this question, you should feel free to politely and confidently reply that it’s not relevant, or, in lieu of answering, ask them what their budget is — many women I know have used this tactic and ended up with a higher offer than what they had hoping for.
This blog contribution was made by Dr Naomi Elster.
Dr Naomi Elster is Director of Research and Communications for a cancer research charity. As a scientist she was previously involved in getting a new breast cancer therapy to clinical trial, as a journalist she covered science and women’s health, for which she was co-recipient of a national award. She campaigned for abortion decriminalisation in Ireland and led a mental health-themed creative magazine. She is passionate about the potential of research to improve lives, healthcare disparities, and gender equality.
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