This year looks like being a tough one, economically, and large numbers people will be looking for jobs for one reason or another. Many have been made redundant and are looking for new jobs. The public sector is facing up to half a million job losses, and many will be applying for their own, or somewhat modified, posts in the next few weeks. For young people, each job or graduate scheme has hundreds of applicants and even an interview seems more or less impossible to achieve. More people than usual are on the job market so it's a good time to brush up your techniques for applying for jobs.
This tip just looks at the initial stages of applying for a job. If you would like to read more about applying and preparing for interviews you will find help in 'How to shine at interviews: A guide to preparation', or if you are a doctor, 'How to shine at medical interviews' (see right hand column).
In an employers' market it is tempting to overlook the first pre-requisite of applying for a job, which is that you should want it.
It may sound obvious, but applying for jobs that you don't really want is at best a waste of your time, and at worst damaging to your reputation and your morale. You make less effort for a job that you don't really want, and that will come over in your application and interview. You're very unlikely to get it. Worse still, you might get it!
In an ideal world most people will choose a job for reasons such as enjoyment, challenge, meaning, pay, status, geography and so on. In a tough job market, though, you may want a job because you desperately need one and this is the only one currently on offer. Even if this is the case, being clear about why you want it is still important. In fact, if it is to do with paying the bills and not having your home repossessed then you could argue that the reasons are even more compelling. What you don't want to do is go for a job thinking, 'what a lousy job but I'm going to have to apply for it anyway'. You don't have to apply - we have a welfare state that will look after you if you fall into poverty. You are choosing to apply in order to avoid penury, or to avoid unemployment, or to be able to keep your home. Remember those thoughts and use the energy in them to drive you.
How do you know if you want the job?
One way to assess if you want a job is to notice your gut reaction when you first see the job advert. Excitement tells you you want it, but negative feelings may be an indicator of issues such as confidence, and stem less from whether you want the job as from whether you think you can get it. So it's worth getting a more objective view.
One way to do that is to draw up a personal job specification. Spend a bit of time thinking about what you want from a job and make a list of your essential and desirable elements. For any job you are considering, score each item.
Another way of finding out if you want a job is to imagine yourself doing it. Visualise what it would be like walking into the workplace every morning, who you would see, how you would enjoy the work, and so on.
Once you have done this, and you decide you do want the job, write down precisely why you want it. This list will come in handy when you're writing the covering letter and at the interview.
If you know you want a job, you need to think next about why you should get it.
The first step is to study the person specification, look at each requirement and write down precisely how you satisfy it, with examples. So if they're looking for management skills, give an example of how you've made a change in your department, or organised an event, or written a policy document. If they're asking for specific practical skills, say what training and experience you have had plus any relevant qualifications. These points should all be noted in your CV or application form, and the most important ones highlighted in your covering letter.
If you study a specification carefully you will often find hints about what the last person in the post didn't have - it's especially important to satisfy these requirements.
There are bound to be some areas where you feel weak and you need to think about how you will address those weaknesses, either before or after you start the job. In fact very few people go for jobs with a full house of its requirements. Research has shown that while women prefer to feel competent in 75% or more of the areas listed in the job description, men happily apply for jobs in which they meet only about 40% of the requirements. The important thing is to know where you fit, and know what to do and say about where you don't.
Why should they appoint you?
Finally you need to think about what is special about you. What are you going to bring to the job that no-one else can bring? Often people try to hide what they consider are potential weaknesses in their CV - things like having taken unorthodox routes in their career, taking breaks, coming from overseas, having a disability, being a parent. There are no experiences in life which are not useful in some way, and if you think of them as assets you will soon start to see how they set you apart from other people in positive ways. People who come from overseas, for example, have insights that indigenous people do not have, they speak other languages and have a broader perspective.
Deciding to apply
You now have everything you need to make a decision about whether to apply. Nevertheless, being armed with a clear idea about why you want the job, and why you are well suited for it, may not be enough to stop that little voice in the back of your head saying unhelpful things like 'I've got no experience at x', 'this job's too prestigious for me', 'there's an internal candidate', 'I'm not the sort of person who...'
If you have a tendency to do this to yourself, my advice would be:
Do not be put off applying for a job because there is something they want that you don't have. It's very unlikely that anyone applying will have absolutely everything they want.
Do not be put off because you think the job is too good or prestigious for you. If you think that, consider putting your efforts into tackling this limiting belief. Do not be put off applying because you know there is an internal candidate. Internal candidates often only have one internal interviewer on their side and are unlikely to have an advantage with external members of the panel. Also, internal candidates are in danger of being too complacent and not doing the necessary legwork and preparation. However popular they may be, if someone else performs much better at interview, it would be very difficult for a panel to justify not appointing that person. And if you are the internal candidate, take note!
If you want the job, and can do (most of) it, then apply!