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How to write a job application

You’ve found the perfect job. Now you just need to nail the application.

This is the third installment of our quarterlife career change series, created in paid partnership with TalentPool, the new way to hire and get hired. Don't forget to check out the first and second pieces: how to quit your grad job and how to find a job that makes you happy.

When you find the perfect job listing after years of working in post-uni roles (that you promised yourself wouldn’t last longer than a few months), actually submitting an application can be easier said than done. 68 per cent of you say there’s a job you secretly want but are too scared to go for. Career change fear is real and it’s perfectly normal if you’ve had a few years out of the jobs market. That’s why I decided to speak to talent scouts from the UK's leading start-ups and people who’ve made that tricky transition in their quarterlife. Here are their five pearls of wisdom for writing a killer application.


1. Talk about your transferable skills


If you’re making a career change in your mid-twenties, it’s likely that you won’t have direct experience in the job you want. But, worry not! You don’t need to be fully qualified in the specific role you want, you just have to show you have skills that can be transferred to the new position. In some industries, such as advertising and communications, it’s actually desirable for candidates to have well-rounded and diverse experience outside the industry. 


I spoke to Simon Houston, HR manager at the Insta-worthy stationery brand Papier, who tells me that it’s really important to, “highlight experience that might help depending upon the role”. You should tailor your portfolio of skills - which are more impressive and varied than you probably realise - to make it relevant for that job. Be sure to include skills you’ve gained from doing side projects as well as from your employment. For example, if you’ve done an online course or some volunteering in the area you want to move to, this shows really valuable initiative to any potential employer.


It’s good to be honest about the move you’re making. 


Simon advises, “in your first paragraph feel free to add that you’re looking to move into a different role”. Being upfront about the change of industries will help contextualise your CV and make it easier for the talent recruiter to evaluate your application.


2. Find a job site that makes the process easier


There’s really no need to put up with crappy application sites that make you input all your experience AND upload a CV (I mean, really? It’s 2020). Now there are sites out there to help make that quarterlife career move go more smoothly. 


Chatting with George Shaheen, an NYU Interior Design grad who now works as a programme coordinator in a London architectural school after a few years of teaching English and working as a chef, he told me about a site he used to apply to his dream job. George says, “I knew I would always go back into the design/creative type of business”, but it wasn’t until he found TalentPool that he said he finally applied for the perfect job. 

TalentPool is an online job matching tool that encourages you to define your “work personality” when you sign up for the free service. 


This function not only helped George to find the right roles, but also took the pressure off communicating every detail about himself in that one page application. George explained to me, “they collected information about my background, my interests and expectations and they found the perfect job match. It was very easy to work with”. 


3. Be positive about your previous work (even if you hated it) 


An inevitable part of gradlife is doing a series of jobs that are wrong for you to figure out what’s right. We’ve all done less than ideal work to pay the bills. But, what’s important is that you big up your past experiences, despite them being a bit crap at the time.


“Even if you’re changing career path because of a negative experience try to be positive about why you want to do something new - spin “I hate my job” into “I’ve realised that I’m passionate about…””, Simon from Papier explains. There’s always a learning you can take from challenging times that has helped you to learn and grow; focus on that element. It’ll also help you answer the dreaded question, “tell us how you’ve handled a problem at work”, when it comes round to the interview stage.


4. Avoid jargon & keep it simple


The most important thing to get across in the application is a sense of who you are as a person and why you want to work at that company. Too often people get bogged down in talking about how they’re experts at HTML Javascript, rather than stuff that’s really personal to them. You should, as Simon explains to me, “build into your CV essential skills you’ve learnt and remove the jargon associated with any current role”. 


Spelling is also a massive issue when it comes to applications. It sounds simple and, to be frank, bloody obvious. But, you’d be surprised how often people forget about the little things. Simon tells me that he’s surprised by how many people struggle to spell “stationery” correctly when applying for roles at a stationery company. You hate to see it.


5. Make it personal to the new company


This final point is a classic piece of advice that applies to any type of job application, not just career change ones. It’s easy to tell when someone has just copied and pasted a different name and company into their application, and sent it to lots of businesses in the same field. This is an unforgivable error. You have to show why you are passionate about working at each company in particular. 

The old 3-paragraph: “why your company”, “why this role”, and “why I fit” structure always works a treat for any cover letter. 


Simon from Papier says, “It’s always brilliant to hear when applicants are already fans of our products / brand. It often helps to explain why you’re attracted to us for your next career move”. Look on the website for each company to see how they talk about themselves. This will give you a sense of how they view their company and offer you something to respond to in your application. Maybe there’s something specific about the service they offer that fascinates you? If you put in this extra effort to make each application feel special, your success rate will skyrocket.


A secret additional tip is to think about the formatting of your CV. Employers don’t usually spend more than ten seconds looking at a CV, so it can be really off-putting for them having to skim through three pages of lengthy paragraphs. Ensure your CV stands out by making it short, punchy and easy to read. 

Your CV should fit onto one page, and the formatting should be clean, visually-pleasing and subtly distinctive. 


Include stats, keep every single point relevant and linked to the job you are applying to, and make sure the sections are the ones that employers expect to see. Learning which of your "darlings" to kill is also increasingly important. Whilst it might have been important back in the day that you volunteered as a school assistant for a week, or that you worked at three different cafes between the ages of 14 and 21, you can leave out anything that isn’t additive, or that you can’t make relevant to the field you want to move into.


With these six tips from people who’ve been through the process recently and are hiring 20-somethings like you and me, I hope you feel better equipped to face the quarterlife career change. If you’re not sure if you’re ready to make a career change yet, be sure to read the first installment of this series and the second. Whatever stage you’re at, trust your instincts and believe in your ability to do something new. It’s easy to stay in a role because it’s alright for now, but there’s nothing like taking the steps to find the one that’s perfect for you.

So, this concludes our career change series. Let us know if we’ve left any of your questions unanswered and we’ll happily share more advice content on changing or landing jobs. Feel free to set up a TalentPool profile here, even if it’s just because you’re curious and want to see which roles you get matched up with.


This article was created in paid partnership with TalentPool, the new way to hire and get hiredDISCLAIMER: We use affiliate links.

Image by Emily Parker.

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