Want that Job? 10 Tips to Avoid Shipwreck

By Catherine Cunningham - Career Specialist - Australia

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People buy on emotion rather than cold data.

Yet, time and time again, I come across candidate behaviours that are perfect… for alienating their prospective buyer, aka future boss.

So, here is my somewhat tongue-in-cheek guide to increase your conversion rate the next time you apply for an advertised role.


’Ho hum, as if I’d do THAT!’

Now, I’d love it if reading this blog was a total waste of time for you. It’s worth checking, though. Each tip is a quick read, so scroll down and make sure that you don’t fall into these traps.

1. Don’t use Semi-Colons in your Cover Letter

Most applicants construct their Cover Letter to appear as superhumans.

If you think about it, there’s nothing appealing about that. Yet, part of your task as an applicant is to make your prospective boss start to like you.  I call it Passing the Aeroplane Test, as in, ‘She seems nice. I’d be happy sitting next to her for 5 hours on an aeroplane.’

How can I like you if you show off with semi-colons?  It actually makes you look very stiff and, dare I say, overly pedantic. When you litter your Cover Letter with them you are sending a sub-text that could well be read as ‘I’m a punctuation guru and you’ll never match my skills’. Do you really want to send this message to your prospective boss?


2. Address your Cover Letter to a person

Check the ad properly.  If you are specifically asked to address a person, do so!

Sometimes, it can be hard finding the name of the person to whom you need to address your Cover Letter. In this instance, you are left with the choice of ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To whom it may concern.’ 

Neither choice is particularly nice, so if you are given the name of the organisation but not the person, make the effort to phone and find out the name. It’s a small touch, but it will set you apart from other applicants.


3. Take off those one-inch long false eyelashes in your résumé photo

Putting photos on your résumé tends to be a cultural thing. 

In Australia, it is generally viewed with disfavour, so don’t risk it.  If you really want people to know what you look like, make sure that you have a good LinkedIn photo.  Everyone will check out your LinkedIn profile so this is where you can shine.  Mind you, it’s still not a good idea to have the one-inch long eyelashes on LinkedIn either.


4. Obey the rules of a Cover Letter

Cover Letters are at a very awkward stage these days. 

Distant formalities such as putting your name and address details on the top right of the page are long gone.  However, many other ‘old’ rules still apply. If you haven’t kept up to date with current norms of a business letter, then consult Ms Google. Just check that the advice you are reading is pertinent to your culture, as some societies are more formal than others.


5. Don’t apply for a part-time position if you are half way through a Uni degree

No-one will believe that you are going to stay in that advertised part-time role once you have finished your study. 

If you actually intend to do so, you will need to be very convincing in your Cover Letter.  In, fact, follow up your letter with a phone call to subtly or not so subtly reassure the employer that you never want a full-time position.


6. Don’t mention that you are studying in a different technical area to the advertised role

Equally, no-one will believe that someone studying Physiotherapy, for example, will continue to work in a Banking job, once they have completed their study. 

You are totally wasting your time applying, in this instance. Save your emotional and intellectual energy for a role where your application will be taken seriously.


7. Find a believable reason if you are trading down

Don’t apply if you are a senior manager with an MBA and the role is more junior.  

Most employers will struggle to believe that a former Manager would be willing to accept a more junior role. If you really do wish to trade down, take your qualifications out of your résumé, make your case in the Cover Letter and try to phone to an employer to convince him/her that you are at a different stage in your career.


8. Highlight common text so that you don’t send the wrong letter to the wrong person

Most people will use a base Cover Letter as a pro forma for different job applications. That’s normal.

However, it will be obvious to all readers if you neglect to change details that are specific to one letter when you write the next one. Yes, of course, you should be proof-reading your letter very carefully.  However, it’s much easier to highlight common sections of your letter in the first place so that no possible error can occur.


9. Write a separate Cover Letter when you are applying online

It is extremely unprofessional and unattractive to construct a ‘letter’ within the text box of the online job site. 

The font will look awful, you will be unable to use standard Cover Letter layout and the content will be very difficult to read. It makes you look lazy and it makes the reader wonder why you even bothered.


10. Always write a Cover Letter

Here’s your chance to start the ‘Wow’ process, as in…’He looks great! Can’t wait to read the résumé!’

Cover Letters are one of the most difficult documents in the world.  I always dread helping clients to construct one and it usually takes us a full hour together to fix up their initial draft, the first time we look at one. 

However, done well, they are invaluable.  Yes, I know that some people say they take no notice of them. But then you get other people who say that they are much more important than the résumé. 

The bottom line is that you have no idea what the response of your reader will be.  Thus, it makes total sense to complete BOTH documents to the highest standards.


It’s simple really

Put yourself in the shoes of your prospective employer. 


Who are they?

What market are they in?

What are their values?

Where does the role fit in?


Sit down and take a good hard look at your documents. Taking into account all of the above, ask yourself, what would you think of your application if you were them?


Then, make the necessary changes.




Catherine Cunningham is the author of My Career Rules! and is one of Australia's leading career experts. She appears regularly in The Weekend Australian Careers section, in The Advertiser's Careers, as well as in online publications such as news.com.au, thenewdaily.com.au and womensagenda.com.au


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