At Stopgap, we believe it’s really important to send everyone a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ when they apply to a role through us. We understand just how demoralising it is to spend time on an application only for it to disappear into a black hole, with no response either way.
As much as we’d love to, due to the sheer number of applications we receive, we simply don’t have the time to provide detailed feedback for every candidate on why you didn’t make the shortlist.
So our Lead Consultant for agencies, Eloise, has put together this simple guide that might give you some insight into why you’ve had a rejection, what you can do about it, and how you can improve your chances next time.
1. Do you have most of the required skills and experience that the ad has specified?
It may sound obvious, but when we write the selection criteria or ‘must-haves’ on our job ads, they are there for very good reasons. For example, ‘Must have agency-side experience’: This may be because you’ll be leading a team of juniors who will need you to show them the ropes. Or ‘Must have tech sector experience’: perhaps this role needs you to be a subject-matter expert to have credibility with their clients from day one. I will always discuss with my clients what's really essential, and where there's wiggle room, and while we always look for transferable skills, sometimes there just isn’t scope to bring someone into the team without the fundamentals.
2. Is it obvious why you're a good fit?
Take a really good look at the job ad and your CV side by side. Look objectively at your CV – ask a friend if you can – and put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. Would you shortlist your CV if you were them? If it’s not obvious in 30 seconds why your CV should make the cut, then it’s time to tailor your application and make it easy for the recruiter to spot your talent. So what are the things that make it clear that you are a good fit? Say the role is for a Brand Strategist at a design agency to work on retail clients. In my inbox I see an application from a Junior Strategist at a creative agency working on FMCG clients. You have some similar sector experience and it’s clear you’re looking to make a step up. Yay! You’ve made the shortlist. But what if you applied for the same role and you’re currently a Digital Project Manager who’s worked on B2B clients? Maybe you have some very relevant strategy experience and a passion for retail, but if you don’t highlight it to me, I’ll never know!
3. Have you explained what your current/previous company does?
Unless you work for a household name, it's really helpful if you can give a one-liner of what your current company does, and a link to its website. The same goes for any clients that you've worked on, so that I can see what sector experience you have. Your recruiter may have dozens of CVs in their inbox, so if you can save them time and, again, make it obvious that your background is relevant, you're far more likely to get onto the 'yes' pile.
4. Have you written a covering letter?
All job boards allow for you to write a cover note and this is the first thing I look at. If you don’t take the time to do this, it can make your application look like you’re not really bothered whether you get this job. It’s also the place where you can tell your story and highlight those transferable skills.
5. Have you pitched yourself at the right level?
I often receive applications from candidates who flag their 25+ years of experience for a relatively junior role. Having many years of experience is something to be celebrated, but it won’t be appropriate for every job. If you’re applying for a role that’s a step down in terms of level and salary, you’ll help yourself enormously if you demonstrate your ability to work as a team member, not a team leader, with the same energy and appetite to learn as less experienced candidates. I know how frustrating it is to be told you’re ‘too senior’ for a role. So make sure the hiring manager can see that you are willing to take direction, and that you’re not going to jump ship as soon as a better paid job comes along. Take some time to craft a profile summary at the top of your CV that outlines positively why you’re open to a step down.
6. How does your LinkedIn profile look?
These days, the CV is only part of the story. I will typically always look at your LinkedIn profile alongside your CV, so make sure that these two complement each other: LinkedIn gives you more space to make your CV come alive, so make sure you have a professional-looking photo (no drunken party selfies please), job titles and achievements that are consistent with those on your CV, some active engagement with your industry and ideally some recommendations. If I’m undecided on your CV, and spot that you have a glowing LinkedIn reference, you’re far more likely to get onto my shortlist.
7. Have you made a good first impression?
My last point shouldn’t really need to be said, but here goes. You’re in the communications industry, so a CV that demonstrates that you have good, concise written communication skills is an absolute must. That means there’s just no room for poor spelling and grammar, or an untidy layout and inconsistent fonts. You may not be a creative, but it’s expected that in this industry you at least have an appreciation of good design and tone of voice, and a long, rambling, messy CV will raise questions about your marketing ability and creative judgement. There’s tons of great CV advice online, along with some really lovely, free templates, so start Googling and get your CV looking awesome.
Finally, if you've checked all of the above and still get a rejection from a job that you think you’d be perfect for, do give us a polite, friendly nudge. We want to find the right person for every role, and if that’s you, we definitely don’t want to pass you by!
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