3 quick steps to the short-list ...

“If my CV or application is only going to get around ten to twenty seconds of attention, what are the things that I should concentrate on putting in there to get me through to the interview stage?”

Although Mia was smiling at the thought of what could possibly be achieved inside only ten seconds, her underlying concern was easy to see. It greatly helps to understand how reviewers commonly attack piles of applications.

  1. They’ll initially scan for reasons to reject applications, sorting them into ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ piles. It really doesn’t take that long to scan one or two pages of A4 for problems, so your first task is NOT to stand out for the wrong reasons.
  2. The reviewer will take a deeper look at the ‘yeses’ and check the extent to which a candidate matches the listed requirements for the post. Here, you simply need to conform to the maximum extent possible.
  3. The reviewer will go through the remaining applications and rank them in rough order, so as to arrive at an interview short-list. It’s here where you need to stand out for the right reasons.

From my own experience, and comments made by other reviewers, your odds of not standing out for the wrong reasons can be improved considerably with the following:

  • Do what is asked. For example, if the advert requests a covering letter which explains why you’re suitable, it’s a very bad idea not to include one.
  • Use a scan-able layout, clear titling and a logical structure. If you’ve got ten seconds, don’t use them up by hindering or confusing the reviewer from the start.
  • Check, check and check again your spelling, punctuation and grammar. If your CV or application looks poor on the surface, it’s unlikely to get better with deeper reading.
  • Ditch the shallow clichés, exaggeration and hyperbole. Stating, “I’m an excellent communicator,” suggests otherwise. Excellent by what measure?
  • Tailor your application correctly. Using the wrong organisation’s name will be fatal. A lack of any tailoring will be thoroughly unengaging, but attempts at ingratiation will be a complete turn-off.

Matching the requirements listed in the advert or brief is fundamental to your chances of surviving the second stage review. The biggest causes of rejection are:

  • Failing to match the stated requirements. Applying for a post that is obviously beyond the scope of your abilities is a waste of everyone’s time.
  • Failing to show that you match the requirements. Your qualifications, experience and personal qualities must all dovetail neatly into the list of requirements, during a quick read-through.
  • Having unexplained date-gaps. These cause anxiety. There’s no problem having a gap in your work experience, just explain it, don’t leave the reviewer wondering what you might be hiding.

Standing out for right reasons is the final step up to that short-list. Previous responsibilities put you in the frame, but they won’t swing it for you. So what will?

  • Show some added value. For the role, what one extra skill or area of expertise would put the candidate above the others? Find it, show it.
  • Show previous achievements, in context. Achievement is good, achievement that has relevance to the work that you hope to be doing in the future is much better.
  • Demonstrate your proactivity. Being successful at meeting targets set by others, perhaps your boss, is one thing but showing that you met targets that you identified and set moves you well up the scale of desirability.

These last three points are easy to say, but very hard to do. However, any effort you put in will pay you back a thousand fold.

So, there you go – 3 quick steps to the short-list!

Good luck.