Around this time of year, many recent school graduates are looking for a part time job to pay the bills during university. Applying for jobs can be like looking for love on dating apps, (competitive, confusing and sometimes just strange) so here are a few tips to help:
1) Know what you want
Whether it’s jobs or dating online, with the sheer number of options out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially when it seems they are all out of your league.
Amy Webb gave an incredible TED talk on how to ‘hack online dating’ and one of her best tips was to start with a very specific list of what she did and did not want. That way, she could quickly and simply look at someone’s profile and know if it was going to work or not.
Some jobs are going to require more experience or time than you have right now, some are going to be too far away from you and some will be in the wrong industry entirely. Please don’t take this to mean you can write a “Mary Poppins” list and the perfect job will land in your search results. Chances are your job(s) during uni are going to be pretty basic, and only vaguely aligned to your studies at best. But there will be some roles that will definitely not suit what you need, and having a list of what you’re after will help you cross them off straight away.
2) Generic is dead
Anyone who’s been on a dating app, or the internet in general knows what it means to get a message from a potential match that just says: “Hey”. Even if they’ve included a smiley face, this person is probably just messaging everyone that has a pulse, on the off chance that one of them will respond.
Sending a generic application letter or resume to a recruiter kind of feels the same way; we know you’re going for other jobs, but there’s no need to actively point it out to us. Taking an extra 10 minutes to tweak your cover letter and resume to highlight some of the words in the job description can be what makes you stand out from the crowd and get the phone call. From there, it’s up to your winning personality.
Trying to stand out can go too far; I once had a person list “eating 57 McNuggets” as their proudest achievement, and they included a picture of themselves dressed as a superhero in their cover letter. It’s hard to find that line between showing your personality off and just being odd. When in doubt, always err on the side of professionalism.
3)Be cool, but not too cool
Talking about finding the line, this is another one that can be tricky for first time job applicants. How long is too long to wait to hear back? When do I assume they aren’t interested anymore and when do I call to check they didn’t lose my phone number?
There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to following up on applications. Recruiters have varying workloads; some might be only trying to fill one position, others have a range of different jobs they’re trying to wrangle like a herd of cats (true description). Some roles might not even have a dedicated person looking after it, and the person has to split their time between reading resumes and doing their other job in the office.
On the other end, you don’t want to be too cool either. Sometimes people do make mistakes, or spam filters decide to pick on you specifically and hide your perfect application from them.
Whenever they say they’ll get back to me, I like to add about a 20% margin of error before freaking out. So if they said they’ll call today and they don’t, I’ll give them until 10 the next day, rather than calling at 8:31 the next morning. When it’s about an application letter, check to make sure what the ad said about applicants being contacted and when the job closed. If there’s absolutely nothing to go on, use your best judgement and follow up after a couple of days with a simple, polite call or email.
4) Love hurts
I’m sorry to say this, but sometimes, most of the time, the answer will be no. Actually, it might be more of a deafening silence than a ‘no’, which feels even worse. I’ve been turned down for so many jobs before, and it never becomes a pleasant experience.
Recruiters are unlikely to give you feedback on why either. This might be because a hundred people applied and they could only hire one of them, and now they have to move on to filling the next role. Just like dating, if you really want to ask for feedback, that’s cool, but don’t expect much more than the recruitment equivalent of “I like you as a friend.”
If it helps, when this happens to me, I always tell myself it’s just not meant to be. If I’ve put my truest self into that application and tried as hard as I could to understand what they were looking for, I have to trust the people who actually know the job that I’m not the right person to do it. The only thing worse than not getting the job has to be getting the job that makes you miserable, or you lack the skills to succeed, right?