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Job Hunting in a Recession: Tips on Applications and Covering Letters

Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith
The Job Hunt

Only a year ago it was easy. We see a job advert, fire in our CV and wait for the call to arrange an interview. Enter the great recession. When the Government starts laying people off we know it’s a bad one.

The number of people looking for work has mushroomed. No longer do we only need a pulse to get an interview. Now it's nigh on impossible.
Most small/medium businesses are in survival or wait and see mode. The best opportunities are in the outer reaches of larger organisations that have not been tickled by the tentacles of recession. A place where departmental managers keep their headcount allocation up, lest it be taken from them by evil accountants. This land of opportunity is still difficult to navigate. Getting a job there is like the Grand National horse race. It is a bit of a marathon with a lot of hurdles to leap to get to the finish line. Fall at any one of these fences and our application is toast. With most vacancies attracting 100+ applications what is going to make us the chosen one?   
A typical recruitment process in a larger 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 ourselves in the top half of the draw before we start.
Tip #1 - Be choosy in what you apply for. Some job hunters spread their CV around like an annoying venereal disease 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 our time, we won't make the first cut.
Tip #2 – Don't tell them what they really want to know. 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 our 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 race 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 want to vomit. 
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. They want to know NOW, 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 post them on the comments page.
Our Next instalment will cover that famous testament to your impact on the planet – your CV.

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