5 Applying for a Job

We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success

Ariana Huffington, Founder of Huffington Post


Icon of a magnifying glass with an arrow intersecting it Learning Objectives

On completion of this chapter you should be able to:

  • Understand job seeking and develop a strategy.
  • Create your LinkedIn profile.
  • Develop your CV.
  • Understand the requirement for professional cover letters and responses to person requirements.
  • Reflect on the rules of the interview process and how to apply them in practice.



You’re just graduating, and you need to secure a job. You’ve decided that you want a new job. You want a promotion. You’re in transition and you have to apply for a new job. You’re bored and need a new job to ensure you grow and develop. Whatever the motivations, and there are many, the reality is the same: applying for jobs is a job in itself. It takes time and effort and should not be done any other way but well. Some industries are happy with a CV[1] only, for example if you work in the IT sector you look for a job on maybe SEEK.com, upload your CV and hit the Apply button. Then you’re done until the recruiter calls you. For other jobs, including higher education and the public sector, but also many others, the application process requires multiple documents including: a CV, a cover letter, and a separate document on how you meet each of the key requirements outlined in the position description.


I have been on more recruitment panels than I can remember and there are two types of people that stand out to me. The first is that some people obviously just send in a generic CV and letter, they clearly have not read the instructions and not tailored their application. The second is the people who have done all of the above. Why is this important? Some roles get hundreds of applications so please do not give the recruiter any reason to not read your application. If you have not followed the instructions for a job advert that results in 110 applications, what do you think will immediately happen? That’s right – in the bin you go! So, you definitely want to be the second type of person. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll get shortlisted for an interview – you may not meet, or other people may meet more closely, the key requirements. But you want to at least be in with a shot.


Finding a Job

From the work you did in previous chapters, you should now have a good understanding of your values and motivations and hopefully an interest in a particular career or job. Let’s put all of that together and start applying for jobs. The first thing to think about is job adverts. You might be using one of the large advertisers such as SEEK.com, or a specific website for your industry. If you’re trying to break into a new industry, then finding the place where organisations go to advertise is worthwhile, rather than just relying on generic sites, that way you won’t miss out. First, read the job advert closely. Does it really interest you? If you need a job, then this will be the over-riding consideration, but if you are moving jobs, think clearly about if this is a company and a job you could spend time at for at least two years. You don’t want to spend all that time applying for a role that you end up not really wanting. The application takes too much time and effort for that, let alone the interview process.


A caveat, most recruiters try to represent their jobs and companies truthfully, if a little glossily. After all, they are presenting themselves and putting their best foot forward to tempt you to consider applying to work for them. Read some of this information with a grain of salt, there may well be a terrible culture, a culture of overwork and so on, so some searching on the web might reveal more of what it is really like. There are recruiters out there of course, that will blatantly lie in their ads and there’s not much you can do about this. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Again, some research on the organisation, some LinkedIn ‘stalking’, and just believing your ‘gut’ is the best you can do here.


If you think the role is for you, find out more information. Most adverts will have a link to the organisation’s website, or the recruitment agency working on behalf of the organisation. Download the position description if there is one, and read it carefully; it will outline what the role will be doing, the context you’ll be working in and provide the key requirements of the role. If you’re still interested, read the list of person requirements. You need to meet most of these. There’s a rule I’m sure you’ve heard, men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the requirements, but women only apply if they meet 100% of them. This has been quoted extensively but isn’t quite what it seems. Research by Mohr (2014) found that both men and women do not apply for jobs at about the same rate (41% and 46%, respectively) if they don’t meet the stated requirements. Not because they don’t think they can do the job, because they think they won’t make the cut off anyway and didn’t want to waste their time. Women also were more conscious about following the stated hiring rules, whereas men did not report this as a major indicator of why they would not apply for a role. This tells us then, that women need to realise that it is sometimes worth applying for a role, even if they do not meet the stated requisites, because the hiring process is somewhat subjective.

An icon of a human head with cogs Exercise 5.1

Create a job search strategy by:

  • Going onto some recruiter websites and starting to review job ads. Some good websites include Seek, Indeed, Hays, Randstad, Adecco. You can refine your search by location, salary, key words and so on.
  • If you want to get into graduate trainee schemes (GTS) in certain organisations, go onto their websites and review all of the information. You should do this the year before you want to apply so you know the cut off dates for applications. Organisations that run GTS include the public sector, the big 4 consulting companies – KPMG, EY, Deloitte and PwC, the big banks, resource companies and so on.
  • Find a couple of roles that you want to find out more about and start to review the company. Go onto their website, their LinkedIn page if they have one, look for news items etc.


Let’s start thinking about getting our materials ready so that once you find a job, you’re good to go.



An important activity around managing your personal brand is having an up-to-date and professional LinkedIn profile (as discussed in Chapter 4). LinkedIn can also be used to job hunt, and you can set your profile to ‘actively looking’. One of the good things here is that you can set a privacy setting so that only those registered as recruiters can see this flag, so your employer does not see that you are job hunting. Setting up your profile is easy, and LinkedIn guides you through this. One of the most important things is to get a professional looking photo, so do not use one that is outside of the work context. A professional looking headshot is what you need that takes up most of the space. You should also ensure that it is a recent photo – the number of people I have seen with 10-year old photos – it is not helpful if going to meet a recruiter for instance, and they can’t recognise you! You can also add a background image that speaks to your story.


You can then write your ‘About’ section. This is the first thing that recruiters and people looking to connect with you will read, so spend some time thinking through the key factors you want to highlight. This is your career story, and it can be presented in various ways, none are wrong if it speaks to who you are. Have a look at other people’s profiles to get some ideas and write a few drafts. You can then also list your relevant skills. You can also edit your URL, so it is more user-friendly; I altered mine for instance to MichelleGanderPhD, rather than one with several numbers and letters.


To elevate your LinkedIn profile, you need to start growing your network. If you are a recent graduate, look for your lecturers and ask to connect. Connect with your colleagues and ex-colleagues. Many people still do not like to be asked for connections outside of their wider network. I still turn down requests to connect if the person has nothing to do with my industry, or if they are just recruiters. I curate my connections around the higher education field.


You can also share content. However, it is better to not just share but to comment on people’s posts, and to engage with debates around your industry. You can also write longer articles and publish them on LinkedIn, which will provide an opportunity to show leadership in an area you’re passionate about and engage more people.


The next thing is to then ensure that your profile matches your CV. I sometimes add a bit to the job title if it is very specific and other people might not understand it, but apart from that, be entirely accurate in your profile. You can add qualifications and certifications, projects, and ask for recommendations.


Curriculum Vitae

Writing a CV for the first time can be a daunting prospect. However, a full CV is necessary, and it should be short, accurate, provide key industry and job highlights, and be formatted so it is clear and easy to read. A well-presented CV will make the recruitment panels job easier, in that understanding your skills and experience will be easy. Whatever you do, do not make it hard for someone to figure out where you work, what you do, and what level of responsibility you have. If writing is not your strong point, there are some free applications that can help improve your writing. A very good one is Grammarly, there is a free version with basic benefits, where you can cut and paste text to check for grammatical and more complex structuring mistakes; you can also upgrade to the full version for a relatively small monthly fee.


A CV is also a living document. At the start of your career, you want to be able to add a line to it every three months or so. Even for people in more senior roles, new professional development and achievements should be added regularly. Word has a CV builder, which can make setting out your information easy but be warned it does not necessarily provide information in the clearest way for the reader, dependent on which template you choose. There are also CV templates available from online resources. I should say that most recruiters suggest not using these templates as they do not necessarily translate well when you upload them to the specific HR software that companies use for recruitment. A Word document manually formatted will have better results; you can also pdf this if required (this also keeps the formatting as intended).



A quick note here, I am giving generic information that may not work exactly for some jobs. You need to understand your own industry and build your CV accordingly. For example, I work in higher education and an academic member of staff’s CV will look very different from most CVs. It will include all of the sections I detail below, but probably in a different order and will have many other sections such as grants, teaching experience, publications and so on. If you have not seen many CVs, you can often find peoples’ online, so it’s worth having a Google.


Your CV does not need to say CV at the top – it is obvious what it is. You should start with your name, including any post nominals you want to add in such as chartered accountant or Fellow, and basic contact details. In some industries include your citizenship and/or permanent residency details, police clearance, and/or working with children clearance.


Next, add in a short summary of your skills and experience. This is a key section to tailor to each job you are applying for as you need to add some key words important to the role. If you have professional qualifications include them here so they stand out, for example Scrum Master or PRINCE2 Practitioner, etc. Always write in the first person on your CV because it is yours. Talking about yourself in the third person is just weird!


Next comes the most important part, your employment. Start with your current, or most previous role, and work backwards. Include the dates you worked there, your exact job title, and organisation. If you have had time out of the workplace, do not skip this as it will seem suspicious, just add dates and provide a short description such as maternity leave or made redundant. If your job title is really specific to your organisation, you can adapt it so it’s clearer for an external audience. I know someone who once had the job title of ‘Major Projects Manager’ which sounds a bit like he built bridges, so when he applied for another job, he changed it to IT Project Manager, which is a much clearer title for what he actually did. The next step is to write a short description, that is one sentence, about the company. Then describe your role within it highlighting your areas of accountability and including items such as the size of the team you directly and indirectly managed, and any budget responsibilities. One of the most important aspects that many people do not include is a list of key achievements in the role. This allows recruiters to understand your contribution and value add that you have offered to your current employer. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make these sections short and to the point. Too much information, putting in every little detail, actually obscures the important aspects. At the beginning of your career, you may like to include more details as your CV will be shorter and sometimes it is important to say exactly what you have been working on, however, as you progress these statements should become pithier and high-level, to keep your CV as short as possible.


The next section should include any other activities that you undertake that contribute to skills and experience in your work. For example, I list the non-executive director positions I hold, which shows that I have work with boards leading those organisations and the skills and experience that comes from that. You might include for example, if you volunteer somewhere, what you do and the skills you have gained. I also list other activities that I do for the ‘community’ such as my journal editorships and reviews, you could list student roles you held.


Next comes your formal qualifications, what they are, when you got them and where from.


The next section should highlight any professional qualifications and awards such professional body memberships, or a Dean’s medal for your thesis, or other micro-credentials.


The penultimate section should be for anything else you really want to include. I should note here that many CVs include hobbies. It can perhaps make you look like a well-rounded human, so include if you want to, but most people don’t really care. Finally, list your referees.



I have seen some terrible CVs in my time. I feel both annoyed and sorry for the individual. You need to think about layout and formatting from the perspective of the person reading your CV, nowadays probably on screen. Therefore, as I mentioned above, clarity is queen. Firstly, do not include a photo. I never understand why people do this, your appearance has nothing to do with your capabilities for the job and in fact can result in discrimination. I’m sure most people have heard of the research that has been shown time and time again that the exact same CVs, dependent on whether it has a woman’s or man’s name attached, get selected for interview differently (clue, it’s the men getting through; Cortina et al., 2021). People of colour also get called to interviews less often (Quillian et al., 2017).


For ease of reading on screen, I suggest the following: use Times New Roman, 11 point minimum; make sure it is all in the same font size; use bulleted lists where appropriate to break up long sections of text, for example your narrative summary could be followed by a bulleted list of your achievements; add some white space, but not too much; 2 cm minimum margins; bold in moderation, for example for your job title and employer; section headings to ensure clarity, for example Professional Development, Professional Experience; some colour but not too much; make sure your use of capitalisation is consistent; ensure that you don’t leave orphans on a page – that means, if you have one sentence of a new section at the bottom of the page it is better to put another couple of returns in to start that section on the next page.


This is of course, all quite subjective. What I like may not be what you like but it is clarity and ease of reading that we’re going for. Ultimately, your CV should be a shining beacon for your skills and experience, to show the hiring committee that you’re worth talking to further.


Finally, remember to spell check. Print it out and check it, for some reason typos and errors are more visible in print than on screen. Ask someone to review it for you for errors, they can also feedback on ease of reading.


Really finally, remember to spell check (yes, again)!


Cover Letter

Think of a cover letter as a personalised introduction. It works to introduce you through your CV and your document on how you match the person requirements. There are many examples of cover letters online, just do a search so you can review a few. However, there is also a lot of bad advice out there and what I write below is gleaned from actual experience on many hiring panels over the years.


The cover letter should be addressed to whoever is hiring, no Dear Sirs/Madams here please. On the job specification there is often the title of the person who will be your supervisor so that you can search their website and find out the name of that person (if you’re lucky their name will be on the document). Once you know their name, address your letter to them formally, that is ‘Dear Ms Jones’; a good idea is to include a nod to the fact that most people are hired by a committee so ‘Dear Ms Jones and the hiring committee’. Now, if you can’t figure out whether that person goes by certain pronouns, Dear Ms/Mr is a good solution. If they hold a title ensure you use it, Dear Associate Professor Gander, for example. For the first few sentences of the cover letter, I’m going to be controversial here, because if you Google how to write a cover letter, good examples are held up to be quirky and individual, telling a story about you. I’m here to tell you everyone I’ve worked with does not give this the time of day. Your cover letter needs to be professional, well-written, concise and informative. It is perfectly adequate to start your letter with the ‘I’m applying for the role of Bookkeeper at ABC Ltd because I feel like this is the next logical step in my career and I am fascinated about how you at ABC make X widgets’. Unimaginative? Maybe. A good starter? Definitely.


You then go on to draw attention to your key skills that you bring to bear in this role. (I have a separate document with my key skills listed so I can cut and paste the relevant ones on my cover letters.) You should then discuss one major achievement that you think would transfer to this organisation. End on a positive note of what you can bring to them, what you can learn from them, and how pleased you will be to discuss your application further. Keep your cover letter to 1-page. Don’t forget you must customise your cover letter for each role, it is noticeable if it is too generic.


Key Requirements

This is arguably the most important part of the application, if you have to do one. The position description will give the key requirements for the role, and perhaps some desirable requirements. You need to cut and paste each of these into a document and address each one individually.  The first requirement is probably going to be related to the qualifications you will need to do the job, an easy one for starters. They will then go on and will be varied from one role to another and from one employer to another. Applications that stand the best chance of getting selected for interview will give a concrete example under each requirement. For instance, if there is a requirement for good verbal and written communication skills, an answer that is written in some way like the following is needed:


In my current role, it is critical that I have excellent verbal and written communication skills. For example, I am required to write project plans that are presented to the senior leadership team for approval. I also run stakeholder engagement sessions on projects I work on to ensure good communication with the business throughout the life of the project. I have been praised for my effective communication style.


This example shows how well I can communicate effectively to different audiences in both ways – written and verbal. I have also shown that this is not just my evaluation by including a feedback sentence.


Keep your document to the minimum number of pages you can but on the understanding that you do need to respond to all of the requirements. Some instructions will ask for not more than two or three pages, if they do ask you must stick to that length as I have heard of some recruiters dismissing applications because of documents being over-length (again, probably when receiving hundreds). I always include page numbers and I add my name in the header of the document. This is only helpful if applications are printed out, but some people still do this (me, sometimes!).


A word on formatting again, Times New Roman, 11-point, 2 cm margins – no tiny font and minimal margins to gain more space. Again, the same holds for the cover letter and CV – spell check, and spell check again.



You’ve done a great job and you’ve got an interview. How exciting! How terrifying! Well, yes, normally both of those things but being prepared will take some of the terror out of the process. An inside tip, no one on an interview panel is trying to trip you up, we’re there to find the best person for the job, we know people get nervous, and we try and put you to ease. Well, most panels do this, but of course there will be some outliers. If someone is terrible to you at interview think what they might be like to work for and perhaps say a polite ‘no thanks.’ The old adage stands I believe, if someone is not on their best behaviour through this process on either side of the table, it’s just an indication of workplace and individual values and culture. I was once interviewed just after lunch, and one of the guys fell asleep. If people would not respect my time enough to, at a minimum, you know, stay awake, then I had already made the decision not to work there.


So, you’ve got the date and time. First thing, make sure you know where to go, who to ask for, and have a phone number handy in case something goes wrong. Next, choose your outfit. I know this shouldn’t matter but it does. The formality will be organisation dependent. In my line of work, I always wear a suit. In my husband’s line of work, he will interview in smart trousers and a shirt but no tie – we live in Australia, but back in the UK this would be too informal, and a suit and tie would be required. You need to understand the rules, however employers do know, and especially for more junior roles, that not everyone can afford a designer suit. It is important to look polished and smart rather than expensively attired. There is privilege at work here of course, being able to buy a smart outfit isn’t in everyone’s ability. There are charities that can help supply interview clothes such as Dress for Success.


At interview, greet everyone and look them in the eye. You can shake hands or not, it doesn’t matter. Make yourself comfortable. The panel will ask a number of questions and you need to answer each thoughtfully. Most panels will require the STAR method of answering – situation, task, action, result. For each question you need to:


Situation: outline an exact situation you were in or task you needed to complete either in your current or previous role. Be specific and not general.


Task: outline what goal were you actually trying to accomplish.


Action: outline the exact actions you took to meet the task. Make sure the panel understands what your role was and what you did. It’s very easy to use ‘we’ in these situations, and to be fair much work is team-based so it seems natural. Your team is not trying to get this job though, so the panel needs to understand exactly what you contributed.


Result: summarise what the result of your action was. Was it successful or not? What did you learn, what might you do differently?


For example:


Situation: staff told me that the curriculum approval process in the faculty is unclear.


Task: I wanted to review and improve the business process of faculty curriculum approval.


Action: I spoke to a number of staff including the Associate Dean Education, Heads of Department, and lecturers to gather feedback on what they thought the process was in the faculty. I also spoke to staff in the central registry to ensure what the process should include and some good examples in other faculties.


Result: I created and documented a new process, including process flow chart and presented it to the faculty’s executive team. This was approved and was implemented immediately including a communication plan to ensure all staff understood the new process.


Often because you are nervous, your mind will go a bit blank around the examples you will want to give so preparation is a good strategy to overcome this. Review the person specification again. Obviously, when you wrote your application you gave some examples of how you met their key requirements and at interview you can use these examples again, or if you can, you can use some new ones. You can note these down on a notepad if you think you will forget, the panel will generally not mind this.


At the end of the interview, you will possibly be asked for any questions you have. I always think this a bit unfair as by that point your brain is overloaded. However, there are a few questions I’ve heard over the years that are quite good, including:


  • Is there anything that you feel I haven’t answered in full?
  • What’s the first major priority for this role?
  • What would success in the first three months look like?


If they don’t offer it automatically, then do ask about the next steps in the process and when they will let you know the outcomes.


Don’t overdo this part though. Most panels have asked everything they need from you and also want to stop to get coffee, go to the bathroom and so on!


Thank the panel and depart. You can send a follow up email to thank the panel for their time, but in my experience, this doesn’t hold any weight. In organisations that take HR seriously, how you perform at interview is really the overriding factor on if you will be offered the role or not. To be honest, I think – except for an outlier here and there – most people who reach interview can do the job. The interview then is about persuading the panel you’re the best person for the job, and some of this is in the examples you give  to their questions, but an important part of it is that you’ll make a good colleague, so build rapport with the panel, if you can.


To note, phone and video interviews are starting to become common especially with jobs that have many applications and recruitment committees need to whittle down who they are actually going to interview in person. If you are asked to do a video interview, don’t panic, you will be guided through the process. It might be a set of questions that you will need to answer, or it might be as simple as saying what your motivation is for the job. The key is to prepare as you would for a face to face interview, and follow the instructions they provide.


Assessment Centres

Sometimes organisations will use assessment centres as part of their recruitment process, especially for graduate trainee schemes. This format was originally used by government to recruit defence personnel, although eventually, other sectors picked this process up and it became particularly popular from the 1950s through to the 1970s; they are still used today, although it is much changed. Assessment centres have proved to be an effective way to find the best candidates for a job, compared with interviews alone, as they simulate real-world situations and allow employers to assess your:


  • performance,
  • skills (e.g., teamwork, communication, problem-solving),
  • behaviours,
  • interaction with others,
  • preparation levels.


Generally, assessment centres run over half a day and there are at least three or four different sessions to allow for evaluation. Activities could include group discussions (which lets you see how the individuals interact and who takes a natural lead), a role play, a problem-solving task, an ability or psychological test, and a structured interview. Most professional assessors operate a standard rating scale against each candidate for each exercise, and then the team of assessors consolidates their findings at the end of the session.



As you may gather from this chapter, applying for a job is not quick, or it shouldn’t be. There is a lot of work in preparing all the documentation but once you have got everything once, that is the most work you’ll ever have to do. Each job I have applied for I have kept all the documentation for a time because many jobs have very similar person requirements, therefore you can cut and paste into new applications with small tweaks here and there. If you give yourself enough time to apply well, then your chances of getting an interview increase, that way you do not necessarily have to apply for lots of jobs to be successful.


Icon showing bullet points with a key above it Key Takeaways

  • Establishing a job search strategy is critical.
  • Finding out as much as you can about the organisation you’re applying to before you apply and definitely before the interview is important.
  • Ensure you have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile – recruiters do use this.
  • Ensure you have a clear and concise professional CV.
  • Ensure you have prepared examples to give at interview based around the person specification.



  1. Cortina, C., Rodríguez, J. and González, M. J. (20210). Mind the job: the role of occupational characteristics in explaining gender discrimination. Social Indicators Research, 156: 91–110 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-021-02646-2.
  2. Mohr, T. S. (2014). Why women don’t apply for jobs unless they’re 100% qualified. Harvard Business Review, 25: 2–5.
  3. Quillian, L., Pager, D., Hexel, O. and Midtbøen, A. H. (2017). Meta-analysis of field experiments shows no change in racial discrimination in hiring over time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(41): 10870–10875. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1706255114.



[1] I use the term CV throughout, but this also means resume.



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Building Your Career: A Guide for Students Copyright © by Flinders University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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