Tackling job applications

When you think job applications, you usually jump straight to thinking about your CV and cover letter. Don’t you worry, we’re going to be tackling those two beasts later. But for now, we need to go back to basics, as Christina Aguilera once said. This is Debut’s official guide to tackling job applications. Essentially, we’re giving you the building blocks to sussing and planning a job application from the ground up. We’re going to explore job descriptions, the initial application, the dreaded interview stage and how to see a job application through to the very end. Ready? Let’s go.


Tackling job applications

To complete a successful graduate job application, you need to have a plan of attack. It's not just about creating a one-size-fits-all CV, or a customisable cover letter with an insertable 'name' field for different recruiters. We wish it were that simple! However, if you approach your job applications in an organised way, you'll be able to keep on top of things no problem.

You should have one place where you keep all of the application materials. It could be a big Google Doc, it could be an old-school physical notebook, or you could set up a folder on your computer.

Before you do anything else, we recommend setting up a personal filing system. It could be a big Google Doc you can use as a masterfile, it could be an old-school physical notebook you fill with print-outs; or, if you like, you could set up a folder on your computer. No matter what you choose, you should have one place where you keep all of the application materials and resources you come across.

Useful things you can keep in your job applications folder

  • A spreadsheet of all of the jobs you've applied to. Here's an example of what this can look like.
  • Your 'master' CV. Every CV you send out needs to be customised for the role you're applying to. Why? It shows an attention to detail and genuine care your future employer will look out for. To make this easier for you, create a really long version of your CV you can customise instead of starting from scratch every time.
  • Your 'master' cover letter. This is a similar concept to your master CV - but we'd advise you not to take it as literally.
  • Cover letters will probably take up the bulk of time spent on a traditional job application. Each cover letter should be expertly tailored to a new role. It is an exercise that will help you reflect on why you'd be perfect for the role, and should also fit the tone of voice for the company you're applying to. Instead, your master cover letter could contain anecdotes and examples of your experience.
  • A sub-folder of your customised CVs.
  • A sub-folder of your cover letters.

After that, the timeline for your job application plan of attack should look like this:

  • Research new roles and put them in your job tracker spreadsheet.
  • Dissect each job description.
  • Edit your master CV to create a copy for each specific role.
  • Write a new cover letter.
  • Send the job application and update your job tracker spreadsheet.


Dissecting a job description

Just putting this out there: not all job descriptions are made equal. There will be plenty of undecipherable, dull, lacking-in-detail JDs out there. Don’t let that put you off; being able to crack the job description code is key to making an informed, relevant job application. The job title is just the start, trust us. It’s amazing just how much you have to pick apart in a job description to get to the truth. There are often differences in tone and differences in content - heck some may have a clear indication of salary and some may skip over any mention of pay entirely. But this doesn't mean one is better than the other; what we're trying to say is not all job descriptions are made equal.

There will be plenty of undecipherable, dull, lacking-in-detail JDs out there - but don’t let that put you off.

There are a few key components to great job descriptions:

A clear and actionable person specification

What kind of person is the company looking for? This part is the most important piece of information for your application. Ideally, this section should be something you can break down into bullet points. Print it out, scribble notes all over this, and use it as a checklist. In your CV and cover letter, have you ticked off every single point in the description? Have you provided quantitative (number-based) and qualitative (anecdotal) examples as proof? A job description that isn't clear about who they see in the position will set the candidate up for failure. Swerve the job description with a really tiny person specification, as they perhaps haven't thought about this in enough detail.

An actual job description

Seems obvious, we know. But it can't be just us who've looked at a job description and said, "I don't know what a day in the life of this job actually looks like." Roles and responsibilities should be clear. Instead of vague, overarching goals like "responsible for social media strategy," take a look to see if they get specific. Will you be producing a weekly content calendar? Will there be a lot of client/outreach work? Are there any opportunities to manage a team? The job description is the best component to work from when deciding whether you're suitable for the job or not. You'll have to not only assess whether you have the skills to excel at the position, but you will also need to assess whether the role fits into your overall career strategy.

The company’s mission and values

Author Simon Sinek is famous for his concept 'Start With Why'. The man has sold thousands of books on the concept, which essentially suggests that successful companies don't progress on the basis of what they do, or how they do it, but why they are in business in the first place. Think about it this way: anyone can start a new ice cream shop, but the ice cream shop that exists because there aren't enough dairy-free options for lactose intolerant individuals will soar over the competition. Purpose helps drive business. This will usually be indicated in the 'about the company' section. Heck, it could be a one-liner; for example, Citymapper's one is "We're building the best app, with the best routing, and the best data in the cities where we can make a difference." Strong.

A clear indication of salary

Now, this one is pretty controversial. Money is really, really difficult to talk about. It's awkward, especially when it comes to chatting about it with your potential new employer. In our experience, the more senior the position, the less likely you'll see salary displayed on the job description. Money isn't everything - at least it shouldn't be. But let's be real here: you're more likely to apply to a job if they're clear about what they're going to pay you. The reality is, most companies will either put 'Competitive' or 'Dependent on Experience'. If you've ever wondered what that means, it means they want to a) interview you to see what you're really capable of and b) will, in the right circumstances, be open to negotiation. The job application process is what it is, a process. Like we once said in the Debut Guide to Interview Etiquette, an interview starts the moment you begin initial communication with the employer. You won't stop selling yourself and your skills from the get go. When it comes to salary though, be realistic. Don't go ridiculously high, but don't sell yourself short either.


The dynamic duo

We're going to preface this section with this: not every job can/should be acquired using the traditional CV and cover letter combo. However, it is certainly the most common application method.  Nailing this could lead to a fantastic first job.

The CV and cover letter utilises two very different mediums to not only highlight an individual's skills, but who they are as an employee.

There is a reason why this dynamic duo has persisted as the most widely used application process for recruiters. The CV and cover letter utilises two very different mediums to not only highlight an individual's skills, but who they are as an employee. If you're looking for an in-depth guide to all things CV-related, head on over to our ultimate guide to creating a CV that will blow recruiters' minds. If you're looking for an in-depth guide to all things cover letter related, head on over to our ultimate guide to writing compelling cover letters.


Cold job application emails

So, you really want to work for a company. There's only one small problem - they don't have any available job roles on their website. You could choose to move on, and find opportunities that are currently available. Or... you could still go for it. Sending a cold job application email could be your ticket to working for the company of your dreams. You might have to accept you'll be starting at the absolute bottom rung of the ladder - doing admin, crunching numbers, and getting coffee orders. However, you'd be surprised at how many companies need that kind of help. We've written an article on perfecting the lost art of the job-hunting email we think could help you get on that radar.


The follow-up

Keeping it real here as we always do, we didn't want to sugarcoat this. There will be employers out there who will ghost you. There will be employers who won't give you feedback. You might wait weeks and not hear back about the application you worked so hard to put together. If you haven't heard back, check to see if the role has a deadline. If it has passed, it's probably alright to send a brief follow-up email just to check if they've received your application. There are a few loose guidelines to doing this:
  • Wait two-three working days after the deadline to email, if there is one. Often employers will be inundated with applications, and may not have had the time to get to your application.
  • Keep it short and sweet. If they haven't sent any kind of acknowledgement of your application, ask politely if it was the right email address/location of application and offer to re-send it for their convenience.
  • Following up once is probably enough. If you still don't hear back, it's probably best you move on to the next opportunity. There could  be a variety of reasons why they haven't responded, but your career can't wait for just one company.


Accepting job offers

Congratulations, you've been offered a job! After you're done doing a happy dance at your desk, it's time to read through the job offer carefully. Signing on the dotted line isn't something you can take back easily. Now that the hard part for you is over, it's time to pick apart what is essentially the company's job application to you. Make sure you check off all these important things before you accept the job offer:
  • Read the job offer. Then print it out, and read it again, this time with a highlighter pen. Sometimes your job offer will include a contract, sometimes it won't. If it does, repeat the steps.
  • There will undoubtedly be things you'd want to clarify. Do you have any upcoming holidays? Make sure your probation period allows for them. Will there be an appraisal after six months to evaluate your salary? If this is a priority for you and isn't in the contract, you could ask. Write down a list of questions after evaluating the offer.
  • Don't have any immediate questions? Great! It's time for you to evaluate the job offer and how it fits you. Ask yourself: is the salary sufficient? We chatted about this earlier, of course, but if it's grossly under what you expect, it might be something to bring up. Will the commute be bearable? What is their stance on flexible working? A company has to fit you just as much as you have to fit them.
  • Send the company a response. If you have questions, this is the time for you to ask them prior to formally accepting the offer. If you don't, and you're happy enough to accept, make sure you clearly do it in the composition of the email.
There you have it! Job applications, tackled. Good luck Debutants, and let us know how it goes on our Twitter @DebutCareers.

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