Job Applications – Strutting your stuff

Have you missed career opportunities because you were not assertive enough when it came to promoting your own talents in job applications? I was recently asked to help a former colleague who was re-entering the job market after a period of being self employed, following a redundancy caused by some upheaval in their industry. My colleague (let’s give him the alias of Geoff) is  a very capable person and has had a long and illustrious career during which he could boast some significant achievements despite the demise of his most recent employer. After failing even to get interviews at his first few attempts to respond to job advertisements he was feeling a little despondent and asked me to look over his application and CV to advise on any improvements that he might considered.

Promoting your own achievements

Although Geoff was quite pleased with his application and had taken pains to ensure he addressed each of the selection criteria published for the new job, I noticed at once that he had fallen into the trap that I see so often in job applications. Although he spent a lot of time and many words arguing his case from the perspective of his qualifications, his skill profile, his personality type, the responsible level of positions he had held, the various important projects he had been associated with, Geoff failed to really articulate his answer to the one burning question that every employer wants to know….”Yes, but what have you actually done?

Appius Claudius Crassus was a Roman Censor around 300 BC. and was able to boast two particularly great achievements – the building of the Appian Way and construction of the first aqueduct in Rome (the Aqua Appia). He not only had the confidence of being a Roman Patrician but he could back it up with deeds – which he was not shy about promoting. His is famously remembered for the quote: “Every man is the architect of his own fate“.

In our urgent intention to present the most positive impression we can in a job application we often get too bound up in describing our personal attributes at the expense of elaborating on our track record. The words that speak loudest for us are those that tell of the contribution we made personally to important business achievements. The most cogent argument we can present is that not only can we do the job , but that we have done it before and done it well, or even exceptionally.

Blowing your own trumpet in a job application only receives a negative reception if you can’t back it up with specific examples. In Geoff’s case he had plenty to call on and once I negotiated the minefield of pointing out to him diplomatically the shortcomings in his application, he set to work enthusiastically to modify it accordingly. Even more important was the result that, as Geoff drilled down into his experience to add more and more gems to his track record, his very attitude to the task of job search improved significantly. He was now in a position to speak confidently about what he had achieved and to honestly express pride in his own efforts.

Lessons about promoting yourself in job applications

So, the lessons for job seekers from this little homily are:

  • Always seek advice on your application or CV writing – even though it may risk some pointed critique. That’s better than plugging away with something that is less thanJob applications adequate;
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about your achievements. That’s what employers want to hear most;
  • Concentrate on your positive contributions to the success of your former employers and the confidence will show in your face and your words.

And what about Geoff? Well, he still had to submit a few more applications but he did start to get interviews and enjoyed them, as each one gave him more encouragement. It wasn’t long however and he did land the “plum job” he was hoping for ….and it did happen as a direct result of Geoff learning how to effectively “strut his stuff”.

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