Don't let getting the company name wrong be the excuse for dropping you off the shortlist. (Photo: Getty.)

Seven golden rules for getting yourself the job you want

Recruiting can suck, both for job seekers and employers alike. In the interests of improving the experience, HR expert Sylvie Thrush Marsh offers her top tips for winning the employment game.

Job hunting is a pain in the proverbial. At worst, it’s stressful, discouraging, and an emotional roller-coaster ride.

Until you’re established enough in your industry for word-of-mouth and shoulder-tapping to be your mainstays, scanning various job boards and creating elaborate resumés are the most popular tools for seeking gainful employment.

(Which, speaking frankly from the other side of the table, is one of the worst ways to try and connect potential employees with potential employers. And yet, here we all are. Don’t hate the player, hate the game, etc.)

The good news is, the game has rules. Rules which you’d think would be common sense, rules which need a bit of repeating, and rules which HR people keep secret because we’re a bunch of power-mad narcissists who were bullied at school and want to see the rest of you suffer.

To make life easier for all involved, I present to you my top tips for job hunters.

1. Don’t spend too long on your CV and cover letter

Remember that your CV (and cover letter, if appropriate) only have to get you to an interview. They won’t be responsible for getting you a job – your actual, real-life usefulness and how you perform at interview/s will do that for you.

That means that your CV only does about 20% of the heavy lifting to get you to an interview. It’s a tool for communicating your aforementioned real-life usefulness in a clear and industry-appropriate way.

The other 80% you build up over time (qualifications, work experience, soft skills, networks, etc) and is largely within your control (albeit over a much longer period of time).

Don’t spend too long on your CV and cover letter (and as a rule of thumb, anything longer than 4 pages for a CV is too many).

2. Spend some time on your CV and cover letter

Twenty percent is still the difference between a C+ and an A-, so you want to make sure that you do a bang-up job of communicating what you’d bring to a vacancy.

For example: please God, get the name of the company and the position right. On a human level, I get it – you’re applying for lots of jobs and keeping them all straight can be a challenge. On a hiring level, you’ve just lost points against the other candidate who got our company name right and did a bit of research on who we are then tailored their pitch accordingly.

Particularly, when a recruiter or hiring manager has received lots of applications for a role, the easiest way to cull applicants is to look for reasons to keep you off the shortlist (rather than for reasons to include you). Don’t let shitty proofreading be one of those reasons.

3. Tailor your application and make human connections

Surprisingly, recruiters have hearts, and we’re susceptible to personal touches just like the rest of you.

If you know someone at the business, name-drop them. If you saw the CEO speak at a conference and liked the cut of her jib, mention that. If you’re particularly keen on a project the company is working on, share your enthusiasm.

Not only does this catch our attention, it puts you miles ahead of those other chumps who sent in a bland document that they clearly cut-and-pasted from their 42 other job applications.

Don’t be a copy-and-paste Chris. Tailor your documents.

4. Work your networks and put yourself out there

Something like half of all job vacancies get filled without an ad ever being placed.

Recruiting is costly, time-intensive and can go badly wrong, so recruiters and businesses owners would obviously much prefer to suddenly have the magic candidate arrive in front of them rather than having to sift through dozens of CVs.

Being in the right place at the right time has a lot to do with the success of this method, so make sure that you:

  • Keep your LinkedIn and other profiles up to date. (Yes, we look at your Facebook and Instagram pages. Put some pants on.)
  • Reach out to people in your industry and let them know you’re looking for a job.
  • Invite senior people for a coffee to better understand their business or the industry (especially helpful if you’re a student or new grad trying to decide on your direction).
  • Attend industry networking and coffee events. (In my experience only about one in four of these delivers anything immediately useful but you have to go to all of them to find the good ones.)

5. Be prepared for interviews

If you get a call for a phone interview and you’re not ready, say that now’s not a good time and reschedule, then quickly brush up on who you’re talking to.

If you have to ask me where I’m calling from because you’ve applied for so many jobs that you can’t remember which one this is, you go straight into my bin list. If you’ve not done the mahi when I’m the gatekeeper between you and the next stage, I don’t trust that you’ll do the mahi when you’re in the business.

There are a million articles out there giving you tips on preparing for interviews; my contribution is my favourite candidate questions below:

  • What does success look like in this job?
  • What do you like about working for ABC Inc?
  • Do you have any hesitations about my application?

That last one’s a gem – it gives you an insight into their thinking as well as a chance to discuss any miscommunications or misunderstandings before they get too embedded in the interviewer’s head.

Whatever you do, have some questions prepared! Even if they’re straightforward, it allows us to get to know each other better and make sure that this is going to be a good fit.

6. Negotiate when it comes to pay

This is a big one. I’m consistently surprised when candidates don’t ask for more money.

The worst we can say is “no”. You’ll never get a black mark for at least asking if there’s some more moolah available, and I’m always slightly disappointed when you don’t.

If you’re not yet comfortable asking for more money, that’s fine, but be prepared to get better at it. Lots of businesses (especially big ones) have very clearly defined pay grades, and good employers will always want to treat you fairly and remunerate you competitively, but don’t let your financial fate rest in the hands of people who have lots of competing priorities and may not put you at the top of their list.

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“I’d hate for money to be the reason that we don’t work together” is a good line to bring out if you feel the need to pad your negotiations a bit.

7. If it doesn’t work out, stay positive and ask for feedback

You got interviewed, maybe made it to the final two, but they’ve gone with someone else. Bummer.

This can be gutting, especially when you had your heart set on a job or company. Take a moment, work through the bad feelings, then remember the positives:

  • You’ve made a valuable connection in your industry. Add them on LinkedIn, message them every 12 months or so, and cultivate the relationship. I promise you that in less than five years they’ll bear fruit.
  • You have a valuable opportunity to ask for feedback about your interviewing skills and your application. Ask, and take note of what’s in your power to change (if they go with “you didn’t do anything wrong, the other candidate was just better”, ask what you did well, so that you can describe this as a strength in the future).
  • You only have to be better than everyone else applying ONE TIME and bam, you’ve got yourself a job.
  • You’re second in line if that first person sucks and gets fired. Of course, out loud, you wish them all the best, but I can’t tell you the number of times a preferred candidate didn’t work out and I went back to the second choice to bring them into the fold.

Sylvie Thrush Marsh is head of HR at outsourced HR provider MyHR.


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