Avoid common mistakes when applying for a job.

It’s the time of year when new graduates and returning students alike are all looking ahead to graduate jobs or internships. Make sure you avoid some of the top application mistakes. iStock_000018416955Medium Girl ticking checklist

What does the employer want?

The employer has a job to fill, they know what makes a good employee and will have a list of skills, experience and attributes they are looking for. Your job is to correctly identify these and provide evidence that you have them AND information about why you are right for the job. How many boxes on my checklist can you fill?

Most job applications will use a CV, cover letter, application form or some combination of these.

Lets start with the CV

  1. A good clear layout, tabulated nicely.  Dates easy to find, clear chronology and headings. Bullet points usually help. I’m not fussy about the order of the headings or what you call them so much, as long as it makes sense.
  2. Don’t get too creative with boxes, fonts, underlining etc. It’s just distracting.
  3. TAILOR TAILOR TAILOR.  This is the biggest mistake and the most common.  You see a perfectly nice CV and when you read it, there is nothing relating to what you asked for. It’s not because the applicant has no experience, it’s they just haven’t bothered to match it to the skills you are looking for.
  4. Don’t waffle on about responsibilities and duties of the role you were in, tell me about the actions you took and what skills you used.

Cover letters

  1. …and in at number 1 the most common mistake is not telling the employer why you want THAT job.  It’s all very well banging on about the company and the wonderful work they do, but why does that interest you. More importantly why does that particular role interest you.  It’s called motivation and it shows that you have correctly identified what is important and that it matters to you too.
  2. What skills do you have that are relevant?  Entice me to read your CV.
  3. Please don’t just cut and paste from your CV , I’m going to look at that too and who wants to read it twice.
  4. Dont be negative about yourself, I don’t want to know what you haven’t done and skills you don’t have, I can work that out for myself. Tell me what you have done successfully so that I see you in a positive light.

Application forms with competency questions or personal statements


This will help you identify the breadth of what they are looking for and what sections you can use to highlight which evidence.

  1. If there are strength or competency questions – try to understand why they are asking them. They relate to the role somehow,  this will give you some context and help you think about how to frame your answers.  Perhaps one of your skills examples is better than others?  For example if they are asking about communication skills and it is a job where you have to be able to communicate to different stakeholders or to a particular group, have you got an example of where you have done something similar?
  2. If the bulk of the application after basic details about your education and previous employment is given over to the why do you want this job section then aim to write 1-2 page A4 UNLESS they state otherwise. It can be useful to write down all the elements of the person specification as headings and then write a short paragraph for each one. You can decide if you remove the headings later.
  3. Don’t leave any questions blank
  4. Don’t say  – see my CV

Some applications will involve all 3 elements CV, cover letter and application form. It may be a judgement call how you split the information in a personal statement out from the cover letter.  Be led by the phrasing of the questions and don’t leave any information out.


Recruiters are not stupid, we know it’s time-consuming to write a great application and we appreciate it when it is done well.  It makes our job easier and gives you more chance of getting an interview.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s