Step 3: Applying for positions
Most job advertisements ask you to submit an application by email or post. Check for the ‘closing date’ — this is the date by which the employer must receive your application. You will need to allow time for your application to be delivered if you are sending it by post. Sometimes the employer will ask you to fill in a written or online form, or obtain an information pack. They might also ask you to ‘address selection criteria’ (see the end of this section for information about selection criteria). Read the job advertisement carefully and make sure you follow the directions exactly or your application may not be considered.
Always try to tailor your résumé towards the job you are applying for. If you state a career objective, try to match it to the job or organisation — a common mistake made by applicants is not changing their career objective from one application to another.
Most job applications are written in two parts. The first part is a short letter, called a cover letter, saying that you would like to apply for the job and the reasons why. The second part is a summary of your personal details called a résumé or curriculum vitae (CV).
The aim of a cover letter is to convince the employer to find out more about you by reading your résumé and meeting you for an interview.
A cover letter is your opportunity to let the employer know that you:
- can do the job — have the skills, qualifications and experience
- will do the job — have the motivation, attitudes and career goals
- will fit into the team — have a cultural match with the organisation.
An employer looks for:
What your cover letter includes:
- Your contact details
- Name and address of the contact person: Include their full name, title, company, street or PO Box, town or suburb, state or territory and postcode. If no name is given, try to find out by calling the organisation.
- Salutation: Begin your cover letter with Dear Mr/Ms/Dr and their last name — for example, Dear Ms Rae. If you cannot find out the contact person's name, use Dear Sir/Madam.
- Opening paragraph: Explain your purpose and give the reader a reason to read on. State which position you are applying for (giving a reference number if applicable), mention how you found out about the vacancy and briefly explain why you are interested in the position.
- Second paragraph: Demonstrate that you can do the job by matching your experience, skills and qualifications with what the employer has asked for. Use two or three selling points and focus on what you have to offer.
- Third paragraph: Show that you are willing to do the job and can fit into the organisation. Address any remaining details from the advertisement, such as availability, transport requirements or start date (for example, I am available to work weekends or evenings as required and can start work at one week's notice to my current employer).
- Fourth paragraph: Thank the reader for considering the application and refer to your enclosed résumé and other attachments. Indicate that you would appreciate an interview to discuss your application.
- Closing: If your salutation was Dear Sir/Madam, end with Yours faithfully. If it was Dear Mr/Ms/Dr Smith, end with Yours sincerely. Leave about four lines for your signature, then type your full name.
Final checklist — how to prepare your letter:
1. Create a fresh letter specifically for each application.
2. Type your letter on a computer using a plain font such as Arial or Times.
3. Leave space around the edges (margins) and between each paragraph.
4. Check the letter carefully for spelling, punctuation, grammar and typing errors.
5. Ask someone else to check it as well.
6. Fix any mistakes.
7. Check the job advertisement again to ensure all relevant information is included.
8. Print your final copy on clean, white, A4 paper, and sign it just above your name at the bottom.
9. If references, school reports or certificates are needed, send copies, not the originals.
10. Keep a copy of your application to refer to in the interview or for future applications.
It is always a good idea to get someone to read through your application before you submit it.
Click here to see an example of a cover letter
A résumé is a summary of who you are and what you have achieved. Your résumé may be an employer’s first contact with you, so you need to make a good impression. You must ensure that it is neat, well set out and includes all relevant information.
The layout of résumés varies greatly. However, you need to use a consistent format and style of writing within your résumé. Use easy-to-read fonts such as Arial or Times, and use a font size between 10 and 14.
Here are some suggested headings and the kind of information that should go under these headings:
- Contact details: Your name, address, phone number and email address.
- Education and training: Show the highest educational level you have reached, and where and when you studied. You may wish to include subjects you have studied and their results. Emphasise your accomplishments.
- Employability skills: It is important to provide evidence of these skills. See the heading ‘What are employers looking for?’ earlier in this section.
- Other skills: Add any other relevant skills that you have, such as speaking another language, typing speed and accuracy, driving and equipment operating licences or mathematical skills. Your skills show a prospective employer your range of abilities (keep in mind they need to be related to the job).
- Work history: Explain your past and present employment and what you have done or achieved. List your most recent experience first. Include the job title, employer’s name and location, dates of employment, a description of your responsibilities and duties, and a description of your achievements in each position.
- Activities and interests: Include things like community activities, sports you participate in and other hobbies. Consider what the activities and interests you include say about you and your values. This section is optional, but it helps an employer build a picture of you — particularly if you can demonstrate a link between your interests and the employer’s organisational values or the role for which you are applying.
- Referees: It is common to list two referees who can give details of your work experience and comment on your personal qualities. Include each referee’s name, title, employer, work phone number and email address, and briefly explain how they know you. Be sure to ask permission to list them and make sure they are comfortable with recommending you. If you are applying for your first job, it is okay to nominate a long-term family friend as a referee who can tell the employer about your personal qualities and interests. If you do this, it is important to specify that they are a 'personal referee' — not doing this may be seen as dishonest and could damage your prospects.
You can use the same résumé for several applications, but it is a good idea to make small changes to highlight special skills or experience that apply to a particular job. This might be as simple as changing the order of information to highlight the most relevant points. Be sure to update your résumé when you gain new skills and experience or undertake new work.
Check and double check your résumé for spelling, grammar and typing errors. Ask someone else to check it as well.
Click here to see an example of a résumé
Have a go at creating your own résumé using the Résumé builder.
Many employers ask applicants to ‘address selection criteria’ in their job application. The employer will provide a list of skills, experience, qualifications and attributes called ‘selection criteria’. To address the selection criteria, the applicant prepares a statement that explains how their experience matches each of the criteria, usually by giving examples.
It is unlikely you will need to address selection criteria early on in your career. However, preparing responses to selection criteria is a useful skill to develop, and one that you will probably need later in your career.
The best way to address selection criteria is to use an example to demonstrate your claims. The STAR method is a commonly used and easy-to-remember method for addressing selection criteria.
STAR describes the:
Situation — What was the challenge or situation you faced?
Task — What was expected of you or what did you need to achieve, or what was the overall goal?
Action — What did you do? Why did you decide on this course of action? What were the advantages of this action over other actions?
Results — What did you achieve? What was the result of your course of action?
The interview is your chance to convince the employer in person that you are the best candidate for the job. As with your cover letter, employers look for people who have suitable skills, qualifications and experience, motivation and those who will fit into the team. Treat each job interview as an opportunity to learn something and improve your interview skills.
Preparing for the interview
As the interviewer will be comparing your skills and abilities with those of others, it is essential that you prepare so that you can present yourself well in order to convince the employer that you are the right person for the job.
Careful preparation for the interview will also help you to feel more confident. It is a good idea to:
- research the organisation, its products and services
- prepare some questions to ask the interviewer that show your knowledge of, and interest in, the industry
- practise interviews with friends or family
- re-read your application letter, the job advertisement and your résumé
- be sure you know how to get to the interview location.
At the interview
Most interviewers realise that you will be nervous and will make allowances for it. However, you can create a good impression by being:
- punctual: Be at least 10 minutes early (this will also give you the chance to familiarise yourself with your surroundings, which may help you relax).
- well prepared: Take your job application folder to the interview.
- polite: Look attentive, smile and shake hands when you meet the person who will interview you. Try to make eye contact during the interview, especially when listening to and answering interview questions.
- thoughtful: Take time to think a question through and then answer in a clear and logical way.
- positive: Being positive about your skills and abilities shows the interviewer that you can do the job, will do it well and will fit into the organisation.
- confident: Ask the interviewer to repeat or explain a question if you do not understand it.
- calm: An interviewer may ask you a difficult or unexpected question in order to test your ability to remain calm in a stressful situation. Try not to get flustered. Answer in a calm, polite and positive manner.
If you feel that tension is spoiling your performance, then the best way to relieve it may be to admit the problem: ‘I’m feeling a bit nervous and I’m not really doing justice to the questions you are asking me’. This is an honest admission that may improve the atmosphere of the interview.
First impressions count
Turn your mobile phone off (including vibrate) before you enter the interview room. Dress suitably — wear your best work outfit and keep jewellery, make-up and bright colours to a minimum. Be aware of your body language. Your mannerisms, gestures, body movements, posture, eye contact and tone of voice all communicate as much as your words do.
Research shows that most decisions are made in the first two minutes of an interview. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression!
Questions employers might ask
Employers are not looking for a standard response to the questions they ask. There is no right or wrong answer. Rather, each question is an opportunity to show the interviewer what is distinct and unique about you. You may find it valuable to have answers prepared for some of the following common interview questions:
- Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
- Why do you think you are suitable for this position?
- Why would you like this job?
- What are your strengths/weaknesses?
- Do you work well with others, as part of a team?
- What have you got to offer us?
- What do you know about this organisation?
- Are you a member of any clubs or organisations? What do you enjoy about this?
If you do not understand a question, politely ask the interviewer to rephrase it.
Try to use action words such as achieved, managed and improved.
Answer the questions in a positive way that shows you are the best person for the job.
Questions you might ask
At the end of the interview, the interviewer will often ask if you have any questions for them. Be ready for this — asking questions is one way of showing that you are well prepared and interested in the job. Try to keep your questions to the point and short, and always acknowledge and listen to their response.
Some of the things you might want to know about are:
- what the job actually involves, including details such as daily duties and hours of work
- what the prospects are for advancement and training and whether training is on the job or after hours
- what the next step in the selection process is and when applicants can expect to hear whether they have been successful or not.
After your interview
It is important to restate your interest in the position. Thank the interviewers for their time, by name if possible. If the interviewer offers their hand, shake it firmly and sustain eye contact.
If you have not heard from an employer after a reasonable time, it is a good idea to follow up and ask if they have reached a decision. It shows you are still interested in the position. If you were not successful, try to get feedback about your interview performance, as this will help you next time. If an employer is willing to give feedback, try to find out what you could have done differently or better. Use this information to learn from each interview and develop a better interview technique.