It’s a leap year so that big career break is a surely a certainty – isn’t it?

At the start of January, the thoughts of many people turn to their tedious and unsatisfying jobs and they resolve that this will be the year they finally grasp the nettle and turn a decisive corner in their professional lives.

If I call them, then their problems are at an end, because I have a new and exciting job that I’d like them to take a look at.

If I don’t call, then at some point later in the day they’ll remember that they said exactly the same thing this time last year and, by Valentine’s Day, they were back in the same old, familiar routine of apathy, perennial disappointment, and bleak, dignity-shredding compromise.

But there’s nothing like a leap year to inject a sense of blind optimism into proceedings, to convince otherwise intelligent and reasonable people that this time they genuinely are on the verge of a major career change.

That extra day in February can only mean one thing – that you’re just a job application away from a new and exciting life, when you will finally command the unstinting and unqualified admiration and respect from friends, family, and colleagues.

Bold, fresh challenges and responsibilities await, along with a six-figure bonus and share-option package, a flash new company car and a limitless expense account.

And if that flies in the face of all logic and past experience, so what? Now is the time to start rummaging through the attic, to dig out the old Amstrad computer that gave-up the ghost in 1996, to retrieve the floppy disc on which the latest version of your CV is stored.

After finally tracking down someone online, who lives 300 miles away but who owns a PC old enough to recover the data from the disc, you’re suddenly reminded of some of the career disappointments from your past.

Back in the day, all those rejection letters and failed job interviews seemed like a bad and inexplicable joke.

Why did none of the companies want you, when you’d spent so long inventing such impressive, well-rounded and articulate versions of yourself?

How could they have turned you down when you delivered interview performances of such brio and erudition that they verged on the cinematic?

As you read deeper into the applications it becomes clear that how you imagined yourself then, now seems rather, er, Panglossian.      

Did you really include ‘smoking’ as a hobby? Surely you didn’t list ‘cocktail making’ and ‘lighting farts’ as key skills. Perhaps starting a covering letter with a breakout quote from Obi Wan Kenobi was, in hindsight, a bad idea.

As the memories return with greater clarity, you return to the scenes of the interviews that didn’t go as well as you’d expected. Like the time you lied in your CV that you were a fluent German speaker, only to find MD of the company was from Dusseldorf and wanted to conduct your interview in his native tongue.

Sheepishly, you’d had to admit that the only German you knew was ‘das sexspielzeug liegt unter dem bett, hat aber keine batterien‘ (the sex toy is under the bed, but it has no batteries).

Then there was the time you pulled out a pen from your jacket pocket to fill in a questionnaire and a half ounce lump of Red Lebanese dropped onto the HR Director’s desk.

You distinctly remember your JobCentre advisor later warning you that turning up to an interview half-cut and dressed in a yellow safari suit, with no socks, was almost guaranteed to end your chances of landing the job.

If the mistakes of the past don’t put you off, and to avoid becoming a cautionary tale in the jobs market, here are a few rules you might find helpful in following, that HR managers are more likely to find appealing in applications.

  • Customise your CV: Tailor your resume to the specific job opening to demonstrate genuine interest and relevance.
  • Prioritise the right skills for the job: List your key skills prominently on your CV to immediately showcase your qualifications.
  • Include a covering letter: Accompany your CV with a well-crafted cover letter that highlights your enthusiasm and suitability for the role. We use a Q&A matrix for the specific points in every project we work on. Whatever the format, it certainly helps to take five minutes to review the critical points in a job and come up with a coherent response to them.
  • Address the letter to the right person: Personalise your application by addressing it directly to the hiring manager, showing initiative and attention to detail. This is harder than it sounds sometimes but putting it in front of someone who might actually take an interest and make a decision rather than HR’s AI scanner (in reality a bored intern who’s there for three months work experience but would much rather be at Klosters).
  • Make sure you have an online presence: Include a link to your blog, portfolio, or website in your CV to provide additional insights into your skills and achievements. Also remember that your entire online presence is accessible to anyone who knows what they’re doing.

As a jobseeker, you should aim to stand out for the right reasons in the job application process (see online presence above).

Instead of resorting to gimmicks, focus on presenting your genuine skills, accomplishments, and enthusiasm for the role. My first boss in this trade had one very positive trait, he genuinely believed that everyone was employable and was capable of doing a job at least one grade above the one they had. And you know what? He was right.*

*In all other respects he was a complete bastard.

Posted on: 18th January 2024 by Ivor Campbell

Into his fourth decade of search Ivor has a voice with stories to tell, observations to make and the odd picture to share. Mostly related to the day job.

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