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Australian experts reveal how to get on the short list for that big job

Donny Galella wearing a beige suit and black tie and weekender bag at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Sydney. Christian Vierig/WireImage

The aim of any job application is to get that interview, be on the final shortlist and get that opportunity to pitch in person rather than doing battle with online application forms or email attachments to people you’ve never met.

Recruiters talk about many candidates letting themselves down by failing to quantify accomplishments (if you say you are a leader, you’ve got to back that up with examples).

“A lot of career advice looks at what you need to do to gain a new job, but there are a lot of candidates who are doing things that jeopardise their chance of being successful without even realising it,” says Nick Deligiannis, the managing director of Hays in Australia and New Zealand.

“Hiring managers don’t want to read or hear about what you think of yourself, they want to learn about your results. Add numbers to your CV and use examples in an interview to demonstrate how your skills have added value to your employers.”

Susan Ferrier, the national managing partner of people, performance and culture at KPMG Australia, says she doesn’t rely purely on academic results and degree discipline for making decision on appointments to the graduate program.

“Of course, results are important, but this is really just one piece of the pie,” she says.

“A CV needs to show a candidate as a well-rounded individual with strong career motivation.

“We’re looking for people with excellent communication skills,” she says.

“People who can demonstrate natural leadership, with a strong ability to influence and collaborate in a team environment. All our graduates are in client-facing roles, so strong problem solving and strategic thinking skills are vital.”

The qualities now in demand

Anthony Mitchell, co-founder and chairman of strategic leadership firm Bendelta, says it’s important to be attuned to the qualities on which businesses are putting the highest premium and ensuring that the CV provides clear evidence of strengths in these areas.

“At the highest level, organisations are now emphasising capabilities such as agility, collaboration, creativity, decision-making and customer-centricity,” he says.

“Find out which of these skills your potential employer is most keen to acquire. Then ask yourself: what have I done in my career that shows me to be a high achiever in these fields and how can I communicate the evidence in the most cogent fashion possible?

“It’s not enough to include the information. You need to make it so visible, emphatic and persuasive that the person sieving the applications notices you amidst the masses. Then back that up with stories at the interview that show what you achieved.”

A recipe

Ben Hutt, CEO of Search Party, an online recruitment marketplace, says there’s no standard recipe for success but there are a few key practices that will help.

“Visualise where you want to be, fulfilling your dreams and doing stuff you’re awesome at,” he says.

“Do some research on the type of companies you’d love to work for. Using culture matching sites such as JobAdvisor is a great way to investigate the type of companies out there that align with your preferences for a workplace.”

Then start shaping a CV to stand out. Be clear about your achievements and focus on strengths.

Hutt’s recommendations:

  • Make it short and sweet, but convey the important, relevant details. Most employers will first skim a resume so if you make it easy for them to do that, you’ll increase your chance of making the shortlist.
  • Use white space on the page. Keep the layout clean, neat and with large margins makes the document easier to read and gives the employer space to take notes.
  • Keep your personal details short and include necessary information to avoid unconscious hiring biases.
  • Ensure you provide skills that are relevant to the role. A CFO won’t take the time to read about your excellent waitressing skills acquired in 1998.
  • Focus on communicating your key competencies, and back it up with evidence. Use metrics where possible and clearly focus on the contribution you made to achieve them.
  • Employers want to see a little personality and personal achievements and interests are highly relevant indicators of potential to include.

Those jobs not advertised

Mike Haywood, the founder of LiveHire, a platform which creates pools of pre-qualified candidates for companies, says only 20% of jobs are advertised.

“So if applying to job ads is your only approach to living the career you love, you are seriously limiting your chances,” he says.

“With every job ad you apply for you are competing with on average, 120 other applicants, so your chances of getting on a shortlist (or even having your CV read) is very slim.”

But finding those 80% of jobs never advertised can be challenging.

“Recent technology advancements mean many of the big brands and forward thinking companies are now launching Talent Communities,” says Haywood. “These are destinations that allow candidates to join and register their interest for future opportunities, and have one-to-one conversations with the recruiters inside the companies.”

Haywood says you need to think not just about the skills you have but the positive attributes you are known for.

“Recruiters inside the best brands are looking for people that are conscientious, humble, driven, clever, and emerging leaders, so try to emphasise these characteristics when you are describing what you like to do, and what you are good at,” he says.

“A good way to write is to talk about ‘how’ you achieved things, rather than ‘what’ you achieved.”

Get referrals

Michelle Gibbings, a change and leadership expert, founder of Change Meridian and the author of Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work, says it’s all about fit.

“That is, that the person aligns with the organisation’s culture and the recruiting leader is comfortable the person will work well in the team,” Gibbings says.

“This comfort is elevated if a person comes with strong recommendations and referrals. So, securing a job is not just about applying for it and having the right technical skills. A large part of it comes down to a person’s network and having people who are willing to advocate for them.”

The seven second CV scan

On average, most employers give a resume about seven seconds of attention, according to Todd Pierce, co-founder of job matching platform iRecruit.

“When it comes down to getting shortlisted for the job that you really want, it really is all about presentation of information,” he says.

“From my previous experience and our current work at iRecruit, we know employers are bombarded with applications and very quickly try and cull anybody that doesn’t make the cut.”

Pierce’s tips for building a CV:

  • Who you are. A short, sharp summary of you and why you believe you’re right for this position. Be confident and really sell yourself.
  • What you can do. Outline your skills and competency
  • What you’ve done. Showcase your experience, what you’ve achieved in previous roles and your previous duties. (This should support your listed skills and why you’re the best person for the job).

“More often than not, if your work in the past is relevant to what the employer is looking for and you have some great achievements under your belt, then you are well on your way towards the shortlist,” he says.

“Add in some extra skills and competencies that match the role description and that’s another tick in the box.”

Another way to stand out above the rest is to pay attention to spelling and grammar. Be sure to proof read your work and triple check what you are submitting.

“Remember you are fighting for the recruiter’s attention — we just want all the information in a clear, concise and engaging manner,” he says.

“You’re communicating your value and relevance to the job. Present all the relevant info so we [employers and recruiters] don’t have to search or think too much at the screening stage.”

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