Top tips for writing job applications that will get you shortlisted

Recently, I was approached by a friend who has been applying for jobs but hasn’t had much success in securing interviews and was wondering how he could increase his chances of getting through the paper stage to increase his chances of getting the job. When I had heard that he was finding the application process challenging, I offered to take a look for him and see if I could offer any suggestions for improvement.

Eventually, he decided it might be worth me taking a look and I could immediately see the problem. Whilst he was doing a great job of showing what an impressive person he is and the wide range of skills he could bring to the post, he wasn’t managing to demonstrate how he could meet the skills and competencies set out in the role description. It wasn’t necessarily that he didn’t mention these but he didn’t do so in a way that made his application easy to shortlist so I showed him a few techniques that he could use to make it easier for the recruiter to see how he could meet the requirements of the role.

With just a few tweaks, he was able to transform his application into something that got him shortlisted and could then start preparing for the main interview.

I understand well the confusing process of job applications and have myself had to figure out the right way of approaching them. Feedback I received years ago was that the way I presented the information made my application difficult to shortlist and I was lucky to be shown a better way to set out the information which increased my level of success.

So here are my top tips for successful selection:

  1. Focus on the person specification – when tackling the application, you should outline your suitability for the role, making sure you refer back to the person specification. In fact, using each line of the person spec as a heading and providing evidence of how you meet this requirement below makes the application easier to shortlist. You should give examples of how you meet that requirement, using bullet points to separate them so the recruiter can stop reading once satisfied and move on to the next one.
  2. Know your USP – I always find it useful to have clear in my head why I think the panel should choose me over everyone else. Think about what you can bring to the role that is unique to you and sets you out from the crowd. Make sure you get this across in the application and then in the interview.
  3. Use the STAR approach – the best way to structure your evidence is the STAR approach – Situation, Task, Action, Result. This allows you to provide examples that illustrate your skills, telling a story that demonstrates your ability to do the job. Don’t forget to end these examples with the ‘so what?’ – what was the impact or what would have happened if you hadn’t taken action?
  4. Sell yourself – if you want to get the job then you have to present yourself as the best. This means celebrating your achievements and being clear about the role you have played in the success of your previous projects. Many people find it difficult to do this and perhaps feel that their previous workplace wins have been part of a team effort but job applications are not the place to share the credit and instead you need to show how your contribution was critical for any collective achievements.
  5. Be concise – you need to get your point across in as few words as possible. This is especially important if you have been given a specific word count or page limit but regardless, a recruiter is likely to have a number of applications to read so don’t send them your own version of war and peace, demonstrate your ability to meet the requirement and move on. At times, the word count is so challenging and it isn’t possible to address the whole of the person spec so in these instances I recommend picking out your main achievements that demonstrate your suitability for the role and say that you hope to be able to discuss further at interview.
  6. Address any weaknesses – if you can’t do something they ask for, you need to show how you would overcome this. Just giving no answer will mean the recruiter is unable to score you for that skills or competency. However, if you say you don’t have direct experience but have shown how you can get up to speed quickly, they might give you extra points.

Finally, if you find that you are following these tips and still not getting shortlisted, make sure you ask for feedback so that you can continue to improve until you are achieving success on a consistent basis. Of course it might be that there are particular skills you need to develop or experience still to gain so seeking constructive feedback will allow you to identify areas to work on so that you can improve your chances for the future.

Have questions about the application stage of the recruitment process? Something of your own experience to share? Let us know in the comments below.




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