BBC Media Action is continuing to grow. As we’ve recruited for new posts, hundreds of job applications have passed through our desks.
Many applicants demonstrate the breadth and depth of skills and experience they can bring to the organisation
But many continue to make common mistakes, reducing their chance of success.
So here are some tips to increase your chances of being shortlisted. I know it’s not an easy process. I’ve made many of these mistakes myself. But it pays to present yourself in the best possible light.
Read the job description
The best chance of getting an interview is if you possess the skills and experience required. I’ve been astounded by the number of people without relevant experience who have applied for a specific post. A good application takes a day or more to complete. Think about whether the job really is a good fit for you.
Show that you are qualified
Think about the short-listing process. Usually two people read through the applications and give each candidate a score based on how well they have demonstrated that they meet the skills and experience to do the job. Candidates are scored against a set of shortlisting criteria, drawn from the skills required. You need to demonstrate that you have all, or almost all, of the requirements, as listed in the job description.
Shortlisters cannot give you a mark for one of the required criteria if you haven’t provided relevant evidence in your application. Without a high score, you won’t be shortlisted. If it’s a competency-based application, then you’re providing evidence that you have the competencies required at the relevant level – it’s the same deal, but a slightly different way of presenting your evidence. In either case, do not waste your word count telling me what is in the job description.
Show, don’t tell
Imagine you’ve applied for a senior project manager position. If you tell me you have “significant experience managing projects”, I am none-the-wiser about what you’ve actually done, and won’t give you a high mark. If, however, you describe how you designed the project; negotiated the budget with a difficult donor; recruited the staff; developed an easy-to-use tool for monitoring multiple activities, and reported the positive impact of those activities with your audiences to a range of stakeholders, I’ll be more convinced that you know what you’re talking about.
Put yourself in perspective
If you have two years’ work experience, describe this accurately, there is no way you have “highly developed programme management skills” or “very strong analysis experience”. In the job application process, you may be compared with other candidates with 20 years’ experience, and if you meet the requirements of the job description, you may well get an interview, despite having 18 years less experience. But not by telling me you are “very strong”.
Count your lucky STARs
Competency-based applications, in which you demonstrate examples of having successfully fulfilled the key requirements of a competency framework, are still far from universal. We’re working towards them in BBC Media Action, but still short-list against evidence of particular skills and experience as well as competencies.
However, the principle of describing the Situation (S), Task (T), your Actions (A) and the Result (R) which altogether makes a STAR – is definitely good practice in application forms, and particularly in interviews. Just don’t spend too long on the situation and task, as I’m most interested in what you actually did. Which brings me on to…
There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM
If you don’t tell me what you did, I can’t give you a score for it. I want to know what you did, can do and will do. I have read several descriptions of interesting work carried out by a team – even by a team whose work I know well – in which the applicant didn’t once describe his or her role in the work. Without knowing what you did, it’s not possible for you to score highly, even if the work is fascinating and clearly changed the world.
Context isn’t everything
Too much context is a waste of your word count. Details such as the in-depth background to your project; that you worked with the highly acclaimed Professor so-and-so, or providing a long list of the workshops at which you have presented, are not as important as telling me what you did.
Make my life easy
Last time I shortlisted for a post, I read 67 applications. For the previous one I read 93. Sometimes we get 400-plus. So make your application easy for me to read: include paragraph breaks, headings, clear sentences. It won’t change the mark you get for each area of experience, or competency, but will help me read it more carefully.
Don’t give me more than I ask for
Only provide the information that’s requested. If the process doesn’t ask you to send in your CV or other additional material, please don’t send it. A busy HR professional will have to spend time deleting unnecessary documents. Don’t give me a web link for further information – I won’t have time to look at it, and even if I did, I couldn’t use the information as I must short-list based only on what is on the form. If the form doesn’t ask for your publications, don’t waste your word count with a list of your recent articles. I just want to know whether you can do the job.
More is less
Stick to the word count or page length. Word counts are there for a reason. I only want to read as much as I need to read to figure out whether you can do the job. If the application form doesn’t automatically cut you off when you have written too much, please make sure you follow the length guidelines. Respect your recruiter’s time, and they will respect you.
Spell check, grammar check
An application with spelling mistakes looks sloppy. Use British English rather than American spelling. I need to be convinced that you’re professional about your work and mistakes in your application create the opposite impression.
Some of these tips may seem obvious but I hope a reminder and steer will help you. Good luck and thank you for your interest in working for us!