For a number of head-bashing frustrating years I once worked in an HR department, where I had the dubious pleasure of perusing graduate and undergraduate applications for work experience and speculative applications for employment. In terms of advice to many of these young hopefuls I would, in a nutshell, have been able to offer the simple mentoring statement “go back to school, learn to spell and then start again”. A couple of others also spring to mind; here’s a basic list of what to include and what not to include on those all-important career starting CVs and letters.
Spell Check is your Friend
The spelling one is really top of the list; if you are applying for a professional role, whatever the level, basic inability to spell is not really excusable. Spell check, for a start, makes life easier; however the simplest rule to live by is if you aren’t 100 per cent sure on any word – look it up. Your letter or CV will, believe me, stand out like a close range supernova if you don’t. Spell check, double check then get a friend to check. You know what those pesky Meerkats would say.
“Career Objective” statements are, to say the least, pretty objectionable. There are, unfortunately, a lot of these about at the moment but they are not vastly interesting to most employers. The main point they’re interested in is why you’re applying for this job; not your long term career plans. In theory it shows commitment to a chosen career, in reality it doesn’t get read and seems a little cloying. The section is best ditched, in all honesty, but if you must include it, keep it short and explain why you’ve chosen this particular organisation to apply to. If your careers advisor suggests you put it in, punch them, for me.
Wow, a gold star
Again, probably the fault of over-enthusiastic careers advisors, but you really don’t need to list all and every achievement you’ve ever been awarded. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with adding an achievements section, especially if you are starting out your career and haven’t masses of relevant work history to display. However “relevant” here is the key word; applying for a role as a trainee accountant doesn’t mean you need to tell anyone you got a Gold Star for Adding Up when you were four. HR people like a laugh just as much as the next person, but they don’t have that much time on their hands. You may think I’m joking with the example back there. I wish I was.
Presentation is everything
Most young applicants today are from the slightly intimidating group known as the “internet generation”. Employers assume this means a basic familiarity with the computer. Poor document presentation is, therefore, not excusable. Badly formatted, overly formatted (please, no Gothic Script, even if you are applying to work with the local undertakers) unaligned dates or sub-headings and bullet points. These issues won’t appeal to anybody, whether you’re working towards a career in PR recruitment or a position as an artisan backer. These all indicate a high level of incompetence, unwillingness to ask for help, learn, or even care very much. HR offices have large re-cycling bins, strategically placed and there for a very good reason.
Waffle Free Applications
When you apply for a job pack you will get a job description. This tells you exactly what the employer is looking for – there really is nothing esoteric about the whole process. There will be a list of essential and desirable qualities. If you have the essential qualities the chances are you’ll be on at least the long list for interview. Take each point and bullet point your experience; there’s no need to wax lyrical, unless you’re applying for a job as a poet. If the job requires cash handling experience say on your application that you have cash handling experience. The form is for selection purposes, the interview is where you back up what you’ve said with examples. HR people like a good novel, which is why they also favour concise, short, application forms.
Carlo Pandian is a freelance writer and community outreach person for Media Recruitment. He blogs on media jobs, career advice and latest trends in the public relation industry covering everything from CV tips to the latest social media trends.