The right application for the right job

Employers do not want applicants submitting CVs and application forms with information that has no relevance to the role at hand
Barry Shannon

Ernest Hemmingway is attributed as writing one of the most famous short stories ever; six words only. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. Genius. Six words provide the reader with a multitude of possible backstories, theories, nuances and interpretations.

What has this got to do with HR you ask? Let me tell you:

I recently attended a workshop hosted by the Department for the Economy and the Department for Communities, which was designed to solicit views from a panoply of local employers regarding (among other things) recruitment of new staff. Now normally I approach these meetings with a sense of dread, however on this occasion the presenters and facilitators provided some thought-provoking information, which was ably supplemented by practical insight from the participants.

While the event had some wide-ranging discussions, one of the themes I noted that seemed to unify the employers present was the frustration at common mistakes being made when people apply for jobs. In particular there was a collective despondence around the submission of CVs and application forms with information listed that had no relevance to the role at hand.

Recruitment is a pretty straightforward process. The company agree what the essential (and sometimes desirable) skills and experience for the role are and they document these in the advert, job description or person specification. Once these are published the employer uses these to shortlist applicants and invite them in to interview. If you don't meet the essential criteria you will not be invited for interview (and any employer who disregards this runs the risk of litigation). Desirable criteria may be used to refine the candidate pool even further. Being clear on how you meet the essential criteria is therefore vital.

With that in mind; here's what to think about before applying for a job:

::Read the advert carefully (and any other associated documentation) and identify the essential and desirable criteria and highlight these. Keep referring back to them.

::When drafting your CV or filling in the application form make sure that you address each of those criteria independently and provide clear evidence of how you meet them. There is no harm in actually writing out your response underneath each.

::Do not make the mistake of thinking employers will automatically assume anything from the information you provide; be explicit.

::Be wary of simply regurgitating material; the CV or stock application form that you used for one role might not match the requirements for a similar sounding position. You should ensure that the information you provide satisfies exactly what is requested. Don't be lazy, cross your fingers and hope that one size fits all.

::Try not to waste time on content that is not directly linked to essential or desirable criteria. Here's a hard truth; the vast majority of employers have no professional interest in whether a candidate has travelled the world, likes sailing or has perhaps built a cathedral out of matchsticks.

As per point three. Employers will not assume you have relevant management experience because you managed to navigate your family of five through a road trip in America.

So, in closing the circle; remember that Hemmingway was remembered as a great novelist, not as an expert CV writer. His ‘iceberg' style of writing was lauded because it allowed the reader to read deeper into the stark prose he supplied; employers on the other hand will want you to be specific and detailed, clearly showing up front how you satisfy the criteria listed. They have no time for second guessing or imagining what you mean.

Barry Shannon ( is HR director at Cayan in Belfast.

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