A lot of the articles I’ve read on job search are long-winded and outdated. I wanted to write a short one that focuses on the highest impact advice. I’ve helped 100s of candidates since starting Otta, and there are a few points I always make that seem to resonate, so I’ve written them down with extra detail to try and help more people.
When making applications, you need to balance quantity with quality
Most people acknowledge that applying for jobs is a bit of a numbers game. No matter how skilled you are, landing the right job at the right time requires a bit of luck. This means that it’s no good finding one dream role and pinning all of your hopes on it. You need to make plenty of applications to increase your chances.
At the same time, there’s a worrying trend being pushed by a lot of job search products, where candidates are encouraged to focus purely on volume and make as many quick applications as possible. For example, LinkedIn makes it easy for you to go on and apply to 50 jobs by pressing the ‘Easy Apply’ button. Unfortunately, every candidate I’ve spoken to tells me they very rarely (if ever) hear back when making applications like this. Recruitment teams at companies are so overwhelmed with 1-click applications that they will sometimes ignore candidates coming through these channels altogether.
Try putting yourself in the shoes of the person that’s hiring for the role. Imagine you have 100 applications to look through. 90 of them came via Easy Apply with a 1-sentence answer to 'Why do you want to work at this company?'. The other 10 people have spent time crafting really thoughtful answers. Which applications would you give more of your attention to?
With this in mind, my advice is to send fewer, better applications. This may feel unnatural, as you might feel like you’re not making as much progress because you're sending fewer applications. At the same time, you’re spending more time on applications that may lead to nothing. However, I’m confident you’ll see better results for the same amount of time investment.
How do you write quality applications?
Writing quality applications requires taking a bit of extra time. Most people don’t think about tailoring their applications, so making the effort can really help you to stand out. Again, it’s worth putting yourself in the shoes of the person on the other side: If you were hiring for the role you’re applying to, what would you be looking for?
When it comes to your cover letter or question responses, I’d recommend spending 30-45 minutes for each role:
- This part of your application should always be tailored. Don’t use generic text and change the company name, as it will be obvious. You're better off not sending a cover letter at all rather than a generic one!
- Try to be as concise as you can. Don't feel the need to fill up a whole page for your cover letter or reach the maximum word limits for question responses. For a cover letter, I'd recommend aiming for no more than 300-500 words
- When it comes to content, a simple structure that I find works well is as follows: 1) briefly introduce yourself and explain why you're applying for the opportunity, 2) write one paragraph on why you're excited about the company, 3) write one or two paragraphs on why you're a great fit for the role (expanding on the most relevant experience from your CV)
- It's important to spend a bit of time researching before you write your cover letter. Try to reference recent developments about the company or the market they operate in. You could also mention what you love about their product. This will help demonstrate your genuine interest in the company
When it comes to your CV, I’d recommend spending 5-10 minutes tailoring it for each role:
- In nearly all cases, I would recommend keeping your CV to 1 page. It demonstrates your ability to be concise and recognise what’s important. At the same time, hiring managers don’t have time to read multiple pages per person, so try and do what you can to make it easy for them
- Does your CV directly address the requirements mentioned in the job description? e.g. if the main requirement is great communication skills, how can you get this across in the first bullet point of your experience section?
- Before you send off your application, read through each bullet point and ask yourself ‘does this help demonstrate why I’m a good fit for the role?’. If it doesn’t, take it out or tweak it to make it more relevant. Ideally, your CV should be thought of as a sales pitch for that specific role, and not as a complete overview of your work history
- I used to have a long version of my CV with lots of extra bullet points incorporated. For each application, I would go through and remove the ones that weren’t highly relevant to the role I was applying to until I got it down to 1 page of the best bullets. This is a fast way of producing tailored CVs
How many applications should you send? How long should you spend on each?
If you are looking to make your next move as soon as possible, but are balancing your search with a full time job, I’d recommend sending 2-5 applications per week. I think this is a good balance of quantity and quality. The main thing is recognising that 1 a week isn’t enough, and if you’re managing to send 20 a week then the quality probably isn’t great.
I’d recommend spending roughly 45-60 minutes per application, writing solid answers and tailoring your responses (as you write more, you should be able to move faster). Don’t get carried away and spend many hours on each application - you need to make your own luck by applying for plenty of roles!
I would use the weekdays for searching and shortlisting your favourite opportunities, then dedicate proper time at the weekend or weekday evenings to writing your applications.
Don’t be put off from applying to roles where you’re unsure if you’re suitable. Companies don’t expect applicants to meet all the requirements they list, and often they don’t know exactly what type of person they’re looking for. There’s very low downside to applying for some roles that feel like they could be a stretch - think about what a difference it could make to your career trajectory if you get the job!
How do you get your application in front of the right people?
However you originally come across a role, spend a few minutes trying to find the job directly on the company's website. This is always where they’re explicit about all the information they’re looking for, e.g. asking you to submit a response to "Why do you want to work for us?".
At the same time, a company’s careers page will usually give you clues about what the company thinks is important, such as their values. This insight will help you write better applications. At Otta, we always link you directly to the company’s page.
If after a week you don’t hear back and it’s a role you’re really keen on, don’t be afraid to follow up via email or find someone in the recruitment team on LinkedIn and message them. There’s very little downside to being persistent and showing your enthusiasm for the role - the worst that can happen is you don’t get a response!