The Self-Sabotaging Job Application and How to Avoid it
Friday, 03 February 2012
Your application, i.e. CV and cover letter, is usually the first impression that you make on a job recruiter, a fact that should be as obvious as daylight. This first impression determines whether you get invited to an interview or receive a polite regret letter, making it imperative that you pay keen attention to detail in preparing your application - it is your introduction.

Despite this obvious fact, some job applicants seem to believe that the content of their CV is all that matters and that the presentation of it is irrelevant. It appears that they assume their qualifications and experience speak for themselves, and so it matters little   or not at all?   when the cover letter and CV are riddled with bad grammar, poor spelling, sloppy sentence structure and befuddled meaning.

When applying for a job, you must realise that your application will be one among tens or even hundreds that the recruiter will sift through. With that workload, the recruiter is unlikely to invest time in deciphering a poorly presented application. The reality is that the recruiter is more likely to set it aside and move on to the next, effectively denying you a fair assessment. However, it is not the recruiter’s responsibility to figure out what you intended to communicate in your application. As the applicant, you are responsible for ensuring that you present a crystal clear application that addresses the advertised terms of reference and candidate profile.

This week, in a shortlisting exercise, I encountered some glaring examples of bad spelling, poor grammar and worse syntax, which resulted in my questioning the interest (in the job) as well as the credibility of these applicants. To provide some context to the examples that I will share, the advertised position was Communication Specialist, creating an added expectation for excellence in presentation.

Several applications had so many spelling errors that although I managed to overlook them and focus on their content, I had to question the applicants’ apparent disregard for detail in preparing their applications. Setting aside the fact that the position was in Communications, an applicant who doesn’t take the time to prepare a meticulous application is probably not a person that a recruiter will be keen to entrust with organisational responsibility.

Several applicants demonstrated, through their syntax, what I could only interpret as an incomplete (or distracted) thought process. One applicant wrote: “I am compatible”. Yes, that was the end of the statement and I wondered compatible with what?‘ Another applicant wrote, “My goal is to proactively move you forward. To add value.” This statement told me nothing about the applicant and their suitability for the job. It succeeded only in puzzling me.

A final problem I encountered in this shortlist (and have encountered numerous times in the past) is that applicants not considering the meaning they would convey in their personal statements. Any effective communication is audience centered, meaning it is focused on the meaning that you wish to convey to your audience. One applicant described himself as “Capable of skillfully controlling and ordering others”. What interpretations do you think immediately came to mind? Overbearing, forceful, dictatorial, manipulative - not the attributes any recruiter seeks in a team member!

The steps to avoiding undermining your own job application are very simple:
  • Take your time; do not rush through it: Think through your application, carefully considering how best to present your skills, qualifications and attributes, in an effort to demonstrate your suitability for the position. Do not simply put words to paper. Think about what meaning your statements will convey.
  • Review your application thoroughly: Once you believe you have completed preparing your application, review it meticulously from the beginning to the end. Check for spelling errors, incorrect grammar and poorly structured sentences and correct them. Ensure that your sentences communicate what you actually set out to say. You will not do this thoroughly while you write your application; so do not assume that getting all your content on paper is satisfactory.
  • Consult somebody else: Ask someone else to read your application (both your cover letter and your CV) and ensure that it makes sense and responds to the requirements for the job. This should be someone who is fluent in the language in which you are submitting your application. There is a good chance that this person will pick up something you had overlooked earlier while reviewing your documents.

As the cliché goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and with a job application, your CV and cover letter make your first impression. Do not take yourself out of the running with a carelessly presented application that may cause the shortlisting recruiter to discard it without ever seeing just how well-suited you were for the job. Your presentation is just as important as your content.


 About the Author


Maureen Sande is a Communications practitioner and the principal at Engage Consulting Africa, an integrated strategic communications and sustainability agency. She has extensive experience in communications and sustainability gained over 11 years’ working with private sector corporations, public sector organisations and development agencies.



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written by Joshua.Q, February 09, 2012
This is a great lesson and I hope that there will be many who will take advantage of the resume tips in this article. Thank you for sharing this with us. You have done a great job putting it altogether. A lot of people forget that "When applying for a job, you must realise that your application will be one among tens or even hundreds that the recruiter will sift through" so this is a great reminder.

Sometimes people in japan think they have a good resume but the truth is that they really don't so it is interesting when someone can help us.




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written by Shane.E, February 09, 2012
This is a great lesson and I hope that there will be many who will take advantage of the resume tips in this article. Thank you for sharing this with us. You have done a great job putting it altogether. A lot of people forget that "When applying for a job, you must realise that your application will be one among tens or even hundreds that the recruiter will sift through" so this is a great reminder.

Sometimes people in Japan think they have a good resume but the truth is that they really don't so it is interesting when someone can help us.




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