It’s been a long hot summer and like many organisations, there was a lot of recruitment happening at Student Hubs. From interns to Hub Managers to Trustees, we’ve read a lot of applications and met a whole host of wonderful people who we were able to invite to join our staff team. We also met many great people who weren’t able to shine in their interview, or who had potential but were unable to showcase their skills in their applications as well as they probably could.
As a recruiter you can only work with what you are shown, so if you want to dazzle in an interview, you need to nail the application process. In this blog we’ll be focusing on your first impression, your application. We’ll cover some top tips for making your application shine based on the hundreds of applications we read this summer.
If you’ve already aced the application stage and are preparing for interviews, you can check out this blog by ex-Student Hubs team member Peter McNally for top tips for third-sector interviews.
1. Make sure you understand the organisation
It’s really clear when you haven’t done any research into the organisation before you apply. Use your cover letter to show that you understand what we do and what we care about. Many organisations, not only in the third sector, will have their values, vision and mission statements clearly outlined in job packs or on their websites. So when these key elements go unacknowledged it makes it seem like you haven’t done any research or aren’t able to clearly draw a line between your interests and the organisation.
2. Review the application pack at least once more time before you submit your application
Once you’ve looked into an organisation and you have decided that their values and vision matches yours, it’s important that you take the time to dig into the application pack. Not all application packs are created equal, but at Student Hubs, we try to be as upfront as possible and provide all the information you need in one place. Our application packs cover everything from our history and approach, to your role descriptions, and even include all the information on next steps at interviews and alternative methods for applying. One thing most application packs include is an essential/desirable requirements table. You should use this as a checklist when scrutinising your application to ensure you’ve covered the bases. If the role is asking for experience delivering training, and you know you have this experience but don’t mention explicitly anywhere in your application, we’re going to assume you haven’t got that experience.
3. You don’t need to meet the essential criteria 100%
When we don’t meet the essential criteria completely for a role, we tend to try and cover it up by highlighting all the stuff we’re really good at, often drawing from the desirable criteria heavily or focusing more on one or two of the essential criteria. We do this in the hopes that it will distract the assessor and they’ll appreciate the detail we went into. However, more often than not, it actually highlights the gap more. We don’t expect every candidate to meet the entire criteria, that’s a fictional person who does not exist. But it’s far more helpful if you can be upfront in your application and show us some self-awareness. Okay, you don’t have any previous experience fundraising, but showing us a willingness to learn and how you’ll make time to develop the skill in the role will help the assessor look more favourably on your application.
4. Your cover letter should be a taster for who you are
We ask for a cover letter because your CV is often very general and doesn’t highlight the specific skills you might bring to a role. This is the perfect opportunity for you to give us a taster of what you might share at an interview and provide context for your CV. You should be answering these questions: why does your experience specifically translate to the role we’re hiring for? What skills did you learn? How will you bring them to this role if hired?
We saw a lot of people not tailoring their cover letters for the roles we were recruiting for, or just not providing a cover letter at all even though we followed up with them and asked them for it. We can’t take individuals through without a cover letter as it means we can only do half of the screening required. We know that it can seem like a lot, especially if you are applying for multiple roles at the same time, but cover letters really do help us understand your CV and give us the opportunity to want to learn more about you in an interview.
5. Don’t be vague
We know what we have done in the past and things we have achieved. In fact you could say we have intimate knowledge of it because we were the ones who did it. However the people screening your application won’t. They aren’t you, and all they have to go on is what you have written in your CV and cover letter. So this isn’t the time for modesty or being vague. We want to know about the impact and achievements you’ve had in your previous roles. If you worked in sales or fundraising, tell us explicitly what you did? What did you sell? How much did you raise? How many customers/donors did you engage? By being explicitly clear about what you did, you are giving us hard evidence to progress your application. We know you have the skill we need because you’ve shown us how you’ve already used it.
6. Get the basics right by doing your research
Recruitment is a tiring process so you don’t really want to waste your time on applications that aren’t the right fit for you. Make sure you do research not only on the organisation but on the specifics of the role. Does the recruiter need you to work in a specific location or can you work flexibly? We’ve seen a massive rise in remote working over the past two years, but you can’t always assume that’s a given. Make sure you enquire before you apply to cover any questions you may have that aren’t clear in the application pack or on the website.
Recruitment is a tiring and challenging process for both the person applying and the recruiter, but it can also be an exciting time, an opportunity for you to learn a lot about yourself and what you want from your career. Make sure you manage your energy well so you can complete applications without it draining you, and ask for feedback from friends and family.
If you’ve just graduated from university, you should visit your university careers teams who will be able to provide tailored advice for all stages of the recruitment process. You will find your next step, it’s out there waiting for you, so make sure you’ve done everything you can to stand out in the crowd!
Student Hubs is running a series of free webinars and workshops sessions for students, and you may be interested in signing up for the upcoming sessions:
This blog is part of our Summer of Recruitment 2021 blog series. We’ll be sharing more top tips and learnings from our recruitment process over the coming month.