It’s 3.29 am on a Saturday morning and I’m sitting at my computer applying for a job. It’s a consultant job at the United Nations, and pretty much the only kind of job that I’ll do these days. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I don’t need the money, because I do. I have big dreams, and I am boot strapping those dreams, so the money will always be welcome.
The reason why it’s the only job I’ll ever do these days is because it gives me time to work on my other pursuits. In the past 4 weeks I have applied to 3 positions. All part time consulting positions, all squarely in my area of expertise, that I absolutely enjoy. It’s like how we used to break out the crayons as kids to color on white paper, the web is my canvas and html snippets and web apps are my crayons. And I have been called for an interview on 1 of them, and by the time you read this, it may be 2 of them. (Update: I got called for an interview for 2 of them).
I realize that being called for a job interview 2 out of 3 times is not exactly every time. But it’s the times that I don’t get called that I realize I should have trusted my gut instinct and not applied for that position. You know the feeling I’m talking about. That feeling that warns you that buying that lottery ticket is setting you back a few dollars and is most likely not going to pan out. Or that feeling that if you spend this money on this trip, you may be in the red for a long time. Or that feeling that tells you that you really should get that crack in your car windscreen fixed now, or risk paying way more if you delay. I’ve learnt to listen to that instinct and it’s served me well. In my job applications, it’s the one that tells me that the job is either not really open for candidates, or that I’d be a poor candidate for the job.
1. Find out if they are really looking for someone to interview someone for the job
Case in point, I have been hired in the past by an organisation that had already identified me as their preferred candidate. All they needed was a rubber stamp to show that I was the best, or to meet an organizational rule so they had to put out a job advert. In these cases, organizations can go one of two routes. They can either make the requirements ridiculously specific such that no one else will come close to qualifying. Or they will make them so broad that there is really no hope of finding a candidate in the pool that actually fits the job. Which means their preferred candidate still comes out on top. And that’s only in cases where the position is already spoken for. If you are in doubt, it’s best to apply and ask questions later. Or if you are really bold, find the hiring manager on LinkedIn and get their email address using Hunter.io. Then drop them a line asking if they have someone in mind already or if you can apply. I always say, it makes your name familiar to them, and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
In most cases though, it will be a genuine recruitment. And the number one way they will use to filter you out during shortlisting is your years of experience. Please note that while they have said they’d like 3 years of under/post graduate experience, what they actually mean is this. Look at your current or previous job roles and pull out the exact things you do or did that match this particular job you are applying for. Next, figure out what percentage of time you spent doing these exact things. For example, I developed web modules as 30% of my tasks as a Knowledge Management Officer at UNDP in 2012. Next determine how much time you spent on the job if it was part-time. If it was full-time, then add up the number of years on that job and get 30% of those years. That will help you figure out how much experience you have in that area. For me, that would have worked out to 1 year of experience, if I was working full-time for 3 years at that job. It gets tricky when you work part-time as a consultant which I do alot of these days. You’ll start dealing with fractions and the like, so make an estimate and round it up or down to the year. When in doubt, round it downwards. The main point is, your 2+ years of experience, well, it’s not quite 2+ years of experience. Unless you are applying to a role that is exactly like the one that you have right now. Oh, and you can do the same for your post graduate study, it does count towards your years of experience, but only if the job calls for a Bachelors degree. If it calls for a Masters, and you’ve studied full time to get your Masters, then no can-do. If you studied while working, throw that time you worked in there, you earned it!
So for starters, when certain organisations, like the UN, call for a certain number of years of experience, take it seriously.
2. Trust your gut, do you meet the requirements for the job interview?
Next, trust your gut. Once you’ve trained it to be brutally honest and once you start to actually READ the job requirements, it will guide you will. Yes, you do need to speak French for this role. Though this too you could bypass in the rare situation – one of the jobs that I applied for and got 5 years ago required French, but guess what? I applied (after the deadline) and got the job without French. I’m still working on my French though, you never know when it will come in handy.
The one trick that you need to know to get called for a job interview every-time is simple. Write your cover letter like a sales letter. And yes, that means you can tease your readers to want to meet you to find out that one trick to increasing their ranking in google search results. Or why it would surprise them which hosting you would choose over cloud hosting and on-location hosting. Or how you envision some new modules that will get their site in front of the right users. A disclaimer though, this will only work if you meet the least requirements that will get you past the shortlist. That’s because human resources will do the shortlist and they have no idea what you do, what you could be capable of doing if you got the job, and they frankly don’t much care. To them you are one name among hundreds, and they need to be able to tick all checkboxes to make sure that you qualify to get to the next stage. Be brutally honest, and as clear as you possibly can about your years of experience, your academics and your skills if any of them are in the list of requirements. In fact, put them in the exact same words that the job advertisement needs, that’s you free checklist right there. It’s like having the answers to the exam questions. I’m not saying lie, because that won’t work. When you are caught out you could be blacklisted by the organization which would be much worse than missing out on one little job interview.
3. Write your cover letter like a sales letter, the one thing that will get you your next job interview
So back to the one trick that you need to know to get called for a job interview every-time. Write your cover letter like a sales letter, and tease your readers to want to meet you to find out that one trick you know. See, the reason for this is that no likes to miss out, also known as FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). And not least your interviewers. Since the position is open for hire, that shows you that there is a skill that is missing from the organization that it is hiring for. So when you are hired, you should be an expert in your field.
Even if they are not too impressed with your CV, and they better be, if they have even a small inkling that you have information or knowledge that is critical to their organisational process, they will call you in. That does not necessarily mean that they think you are the one for the job, but that’s where what you say at your job interview is very important. That’s where you let them know that you ARE the one for the job because if they don’t hire you then they will not have this intelligent, versatile, creative and driven individual who is as passionate about their organization as you are. Because you’ve read at least 3 or 10 of their recent reports on the area they are interviewing you for. Heck, reading a company report in ANY area will put you head and shoulders above most interviewees.
So in a nutshell, the one trick is write your cover letter like a sales letter, learn how to write a sales letter here, it’s a book on How to Write Copy that Sells by Ray Edwards that is now my bible when it comes to writing copy. And what better way to apply this than through selling yourself as a candidate. With some tweaks of course. And then make sure you also do the below to make sure you are not chasing up the wrong tree.
1. Find out if they are really looking for someone
2. Trust your gut, if you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach that you don’t meet the minimum requirements, don’t apply
3. Reach out if you have questions
4. And don’t forget to write your cover letter like a sales letter
What’s your one trick for getting called in for an interview?
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An interesting article and spot on the essentials of ensuring that one stands out for possible selection. However, I have had three experiences of receiving email confirming that I had been shortlisted for the next round which either entailed a written examination or responding to the email to confirm my availability for a Skype interview. (These jobs have been in overseas locations).
All my attempts to respond to these emails have borne no fruit as the mail is rejected and this has been the last I heard about these jobs. Are these hoax job application sites or what other explanation can there be as there is no other way to progress with the job application process.
Hey Cathlynn, thanks for sharing your situation and sorry to hear about your troubles. Without more information about the emails in particular it would be hard for me to make a definitive assessment. Your thoughts that they may be hoax job applications may be the case here, I’ve never had three emails that I sent back to the recruiter bounce back, let alone one. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that the email domain they are sending from is of a reputable company, if not the company that is hiring, then of a professional recruiter. You can check out their company page on LinkedIn and see if there are employees that are also legit in the organization as one way to verify.