With the employment market still tight getting your application over the first hurdle in the human resources department is a serious challenge. As recently as 18 months ago we only needed a pulse to get an interview. Now we have to find a way to rise above a swag of well qualified and experienced rivals.

Many advertised roles are getting 100 plus applications and we have to be in the top 10 percent just to have the chance of an interview.

A typical recruitment process in a medium to large organisation flows like this: Applications are received and logged by an HR assistant who may send us an acknowledgement letter or email if we are lucky. An HR advisor will match the applications to the key criteria required and divide them into ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ piles. The ‘maybe’ pile is really ‘no’ but PC etiquette dictates that we have different levels of ‘no’. A shortlist is formed and passed on to the recruiting manager to review.
 
Around 8 candidates will be chosen for a phone interview. This is an informal call to suss us out and see if we warrant a face to face interview. From there 3-4 candidates will receive a face to face interview. After this we get to ‘heir and spare’ – a preferred candidate and a backup option. Both these candidates may be put through psychometric testing in personality type and literacy, numeracy and comprehension skills. From there an offer is made to the winner and they all live happily ever after.
 
With getting a job being so difficult it is surprising that so many candidates make so little effort in their applications to get hired. Here are some tips to help put you in the top half of the draw before you start.
 
Tip #1 – Be choosy in what you apply for. Some job hunters spread their CV around like an annoying STD applying for anything that vaguely matches their skills. Recruiters are using a checklist of core skills and experience required. If you can’t tick all the boxes don’t waste your time, you won’t make the first cut.
 
Tip #2 – Don’t tell them what they really want to know, but can’t ask. All the bigger organisations will have an application form. It captures all your essential information and probes for the stuff that they really want to know but aren’t allowed to ask. Stuff like – How old are you? What sex do you like? What crimes would you most like to commit? Are you a nutter, trouble maker or malingerer? While it may be many employers dream to find out this information, it pays for us to maintain some air of mystery.
 
Tip #3 – Be careful of the ‘Health’ Question. Most application forms have a ‘health’ question. This asks if there is any injury illness or disability that may affect your ability to carry out the work the job requires. Remember that they can only ask in the context of the position you are applying for. If you are going to be sitting down all day, it doesn’t matter that an old rugby injury prevents you from running. If you suffer from mild depression from time to time but it is well controlled and won’t affect your work, leave it out. Most HR practitioners are good when it comes to equal employment opportunities. The same can’t be said for all recruiting managers. Don’t take the chance. Be truthful but only reveal what you have to.
 
Tip# 4 – Fill out the duplicate stuff. Application forms will normally ask for a summary of qualifications, work experience and previous employment details. It’s tempting for us to just put ‘refer my CV’ in all these sections. Don’t do this. If you are serious about getting the job, then take the time to fill out all these sections. Make it easy for the recruiters to see that you are the right person for the role.
 
Tip# 5 – Don’t be afraid of the ‘optional EEO questions’. Since your name often gives your gender and ethnic background away anyway it’s worth filling these out. Avoiding it can give out subtle messages of being defensive. Be proud of your gender and race. Don’t tell them your age though. Recruiters usually have an ideal age range in mind. Being too old or too young could be the thing that tips you into the ‘maybe’ pile. 
 
Tip #6 – Include a covering letter. No covering letter no job. If your letter is riddled with spelling mistakes and waffles about anything other than why you are right for this role – you are toast. Txt speak and make it up yourself grammar might show that you are a pop culture guru, but it will make a recruiter feel nauseous. 

Watch the length. Recruiters also don’t have time to work their way through the various episodes of your life that have brought you to the point of thinking you might be interested in working for the organisation you are applying too. They want to know NOW why you are the right person, not on the final page of your epic tale. If you can’t grab them in the first paragraph you are…..toast.
 
So that’s the first two hurdles over and done with – hopefully you are well on the way to the ‘yes’ pile. If you have got any questions for me post them on the comments page.

Author – Dave Griffith has over 25 years experience in management and recruitment. The tips given in this article are based on his experiences of what makes or breaks a job application