When you’re putting together a job application for the first time, or the first time in a long time, it can be hard to know where to start. Three things you will need, though, are a good resume, a tailored cover letter and a response to the position’s selection criteria. Doing these three things well will put you in a good position when it comes to communicating your skills and experience to a recruiter or potential employer.
Prepare a succinct resume
A strong, succinct resume is crucial for a successful application. Essentially, it should distil your relevant work history, qualifications and experience into a succinct document. The person reading your resume should be able to quickly scan it and see what you do and how you got there.
Maybe you haven’t written a resume for a while or never needed one before. What should you include? Including your work history is important and should be presented in order, with your most recent position first. Education, including qualifications, training and certifications, is generally listed, again with the most recent first. You should also include any professional memberships. In each section, if space allows, consider adding some dot points to provide context or highlight achievements. However, aim to keep your resume to 3-4 pages and no more than 5 pages, unless the application process specifies otherwise.
Write a tailored cover letter
A good cover letter should introduce you and explain your interest in the role and why you are worth interviewing. It’s your chance to make a strong and positive first impression. The goal of your cover letter should be to make the reader want to interview you for the role. For this reason, generic cover letters are to be avoided. Your reader is looking to get to know you and why you want the role. It’s okay to show a bit of your personality, without being too casual. If you’re excited by a specific aspect of the role, mention that. If you have experience that is particularly relevant, highlight that in your letter, even if it’s in your resume as well.
A 1-2 page letter is usually sufficient, although sometimes a page limit is specified. Remember that the person reading your application is probably reading many similar letters. If you learn to write succinctly, your reader will appreciate it. Another thing your reader will appreciate is a summary. To do this, finish with a short paragraph that summarises the main points in your letter and reaffirms your interest in and suitability for the role.
Addressing the selection criteria
Often, candidates are asked to address selection criteria as part of the application process. Sometimes this is required to be part of the cover letter. Other times, a separate document is requested. Either way, it is important to take the time to respond carefully and succinctly to each criterion.
There are various models that help in responding to selection criteria, but the best approaches typically use practical examples. Rather than just saying you have the skills required, the aim here is to show it. Find examples to support your claims. Be careful not to assume that the person reading your application will understand the significance or context of your previous work. Explain what you achieved and the circumstances in which you achieved it. Then link this information to how the skill or quality you have demonstrated will be valuable in the role you’re applying for and how it meets the selection criteria.
Although preparing an application might seem a little daunting, making sure you include these three essential elements will see you well on your way to a strong application. Always have a succinct resume. Write a cover letter for each role, rather than using a generic one. Use examples to demonstrate your skills and experience in action. You can also find other posts on this blog about preparing resumes and cover letters, if you need further guidance.