The reality of the world we live in is one that favours the experienced over the inexperienced largely because there are some problems that require a certain level of expertise. Some of this expert or specialist knowledge comes with experience amongst other things.
Now the ability to solve those problems is what would bring business to the companies which would translate into part of what they pay out as salaries + keep them in the business world.
So as an entry-level Jobseeker or one seeking internship opportunities, it is of uttermost importance to be strategic with your applications. Finding a job is really not that mysterious, you can get the job you want and that is a statement of fact. Now, this can only happen with the right mindset backed by the right strategy and Grit. This 3 combination lock amongst other things would be crucial to helping you get that foot in the door.
Let’s start by looking at the application life cycle.
A typical application process consists of 4 stages. It can be more or less depending on factors like the seniority of the position, the type of role, internal requirements and so on. However, for the sake of this article, I’ll say let’s work with the 4 stages. This article would focus primarily on stage 1 however please find below an overview of what the 4 stages translate to.
Stage 1 is where your application undergoes a screening process.
Stage 2 is where the HR screening call/Interview is done.
Stage 3 (can be a combination of take-home tasks, onsite/virtual challenges and so on) This is generally where your technical expertise is checked a
Stage 4 is usually a culture alignment interview.
(Note: The stages can also be reordered meaning stage 4 may translate to stage 2 in another organisation.)
Let’s talk about stage 1
This is where your application for the role is submitted and at this stage, the review of your CV takes place. If your profile fits what the team is looking for, you will be invited to proceed to the next stage. However, a lot of entry-level candidates (in particular) have found getting past stage 1 to be a herculean task.
What is really responsible for all of these drop-offs? Why do you keep getting all those rejection emails without even having the opportunity to speak to a human being? Very good question! Keep reading.
I’ll be addressing the primary and most common reasons (based on my experience) why candidates fail to get past this stage because honestly speaking, a thousand and one things can happen in between when you push out that application to when the company gets back to you.
Please note that Stage 1 is a very critical point in your application process and you just might have only 5 minutes or less to convince the “Person” or the “Bot” (Let’s not forget that) who is charged with the responsibility of scanning through your CV.
Take note of that word, scanning because that’s what happens most of the time.
If you find that you are not getting any interviews, then we definitely need to take a close look at your cv.
To get an interview, you absolutely cannot afford to push out an unstructured cv and then sit back and expect anyone to call you for an interview. If they do, they will most likely realise what happened during stage 2.
A structured CV makes it easy for the recruiter or reviewer to see patterns and these patterns should tell a compelling story that is related to the job you have applied to.
Here are 3 tips that will help you position yourself better to get past the screening phase.
Tip 1 –Use a cv template if possible, use a paid one. I
’ll tell you my own story. A couple of years back, when I was also in the job search bubble, I got to a point where I was literally overwhelmed. I was just like I’ve applied to companies, done this, done that XYZ and nothing seems to be working out. I can’t continue doing the same thing with the expectation that something different would happen and fortunately at that time, I had attended an event at ESMT Berlin and someone reviewed my CV and she was like, you have a scattered resume.
So I knew that I had to do something about that. Also, I felt led to change my cv template to make it appear more pleasing to the eyes.
So after searching for tons of free cv templates on google (we all like freebies you know), I finally stumbled on the one I liked and then I invested a significant amount of time into building that CV (and oh my goodness, that cv looked amazing at least back then) and as I clicked on the download button, I received a shocking notification or let me say it nicely, a surprising notification. I was asked to pay for a subscription to enable me to download the cv.
Oh Lord, I was so upset, I was like, are you kidding me right now, pay for what. I’m not going to pay for anything and I’m going to download this cv because I have put in so much work to let all of that go to waste. Well, guess what? I paid then and I kept paying for a long time (so I basically use that to help the candidates I support to reproduce their cv’s) until I got introduced to a free cv template. Check out the free cv template here: https://flowcv.io/app/resume
Also, the good thing about the resume templates (at least as far as I know), is that they are mostly ATS optimised. An ATS optimised CV is one that is well suited for applicant tracking systems. An applicant tracking system is what companies use to manage their candidate pipelines. These CV’s are ATS optimised, meaning once your CV gets imported into the ATS of the company, the structure would be retained. A CV that is not ATS optimised may get into the ATS and then become totally unreadable because of the template used by the candidate. I’ve seen this happen countless times and in my heart, I just know that the candidates would be horrified if they could see their CV’s at that point in time. So as much as possible, use an ATS optimized cv.
Tip 2 –Use industry titles to describe your previous roles
Now before we address this further, let’s talk about the issue of lying or exaggerating on your cv. Please and please, don’t do that, don’t use the concept of adapting your cv to say you did what you did not know, that’s not right. An experienced and thorough interviewer would find you out and usually interviewers run away from dishonest candidates because that just becomes a question of values so please don’t do that.
However, what you can do, is to make use of the industry titles that represent your role to make your CV more understandable and relatable. For example, your internal designation may be: Tech supervisor, now to someone outside your organisation, that sounds very vague. The question then is, what were you responsible for? And if you do a quick search for Jobs on google or other job boards, what Job title would describe what you were responsible for. Now you may find tons of Job titles but the best approach would be to use the most common one. So using the tech supervisor example, I may find that a tech supervisor in my organisation is actually an engineering manager in the industry, so what I would then do is to present my job title as an Engineering manager instead of a Tech supervisor. What you find is that when I apply for engineering manager roles, the recruiter or hiring manager would already from my job title see a pattern that is well adapted to the role I have applied to.
Another issue is that sometimes (particularly for experienced candidates) you might have worked in different unrelated roles (at least that’s what most candidates think) and then the question is how do I create a pattern out of this without lying or exaggerating. I can confidently speak about this because this was also one issue I had. Remember I told you about the person who told me my CV was scattered?
So basically in my scattered CV, I just put all of those roles into my CV and I expected the recruiter or the hiring manager to do the Maths. Well, the maths always returned a rejection. So this is basically what you need to do.
Now you need to carefully think through all of your previous positions and then draw a pattern. Let’s go back to the Tech supervisor example. In company A my designation is Tech Supervisor and I was responsible for leading a team of software engineers. So basically I was responsible for all aspects of tech and non-tech support in a nutshell.
However in company B, my designation was Tech coordinator, I was also responsible for leading a team of software engineers but I also had the additional responsibility of functioning as the product manager for the team. From describing both roles, I hope you already see that both roles were the same thing. The only difference here is that in company B, I also served as the product manager for the team.
In my CV, my designation for company B would be written as Engineering manager/Product manager so basically when the recruiter looks at my CV, they would see the pattern from company A to company B.
So the goal here is to use industry-relevant titles that are well suited or adapted to the positions that you are applying to without having to lie or exaggerate.
Tip 3 – Declutter your CV
Whatever does not add value to your CV should not be there. Some basic things to take out would be your list of references, your hobbies and some fancy jobs that are totally unrelated to what you have applied for.
This is particularly relevant when your CV is already into 3 pages and is still about to spill over. I once reviewed a 10-page resume for a mid-level/senior-level position and really, that was just too much information. You can of course talk about the relevant aspects of some of those in the actual interview but our focus is to at least get you to that point.
Now some people may say, oh I don’t want to show any gaps in my cv so I might as well put in all of those other jobs to show that I was actively engaged. Well, you can but maybe use a general title to describe the role: something like Part-time Job, Student-Job, Side-Job and so on but if for example, you worked as a Chef, then as a Musician and then as a Fashion designer and you fit all of that into your application for a software engineer. Ohh! That’s just too much. Let’s keep it simple.
Another part of decluttering your CV is not to list all your roles and responsibilities as it was advertised. Please don’t do that. The world as we know it has evolved beyond that.. Simply present your accomplishments or the highlights of your career under each role and if possible add some data to it. You can of course make use of estimates in case you don’t have access to the actual figures.
Now for people who have zero experience, i.e candidates who have no work experience. What you can do is to highlight your projects, volunteer experience, extracurricular activities and your activities within any NGO that you belong to, including religious organisations. Sometimes we underestimate the value of those things but these are the places where a lot of our soft and even some aspects of our tech skills are built.
In a nutshell, take a look at the kind of roles you are applying to, what are the requirements and the expectations for the role and have you done anything in those areas? Either directly or indirectly? If Yes, then those aspects of your experience should be very visible in your cv.
In conclusion use, an ATS optimised cv template (even if you have to pay for it), make use of industry-relevant job titles to make your cv more understandable and relatable to your recruiter/reviewer (but please don’t lie and exaggerate) and finally declutter your cv (anything that adds no value should be put in the icebox).
All the best with your applications and remember all you need is just one yes! Please don’t stop until you get it.