What to look for in a job application – a step-by-step guide

January is traditionally a busy time for recruiting. And if you’re advertising for new people to join your team at the start of 2024, it’s likely you’ll get a lot of applications. It can be tough to find the best candidates if you have a sea of CVs to look through though. Don’t worry though – we’ve put together this guide to help you streamline those applications into a manageable shortlist, and make sure you don’t accidentally lose the perfect candidate to the recycle bin.

1. Read the summary at the start of each CV

A good CV should include a paragraph or two at the start summing up a candidate’s skills and experience. Scan this to get a basic understanding of what they can bring to the role. Great CVs will directly address the goals and requirements of the job you’re advertising in this section, so 

you can discard any that don’t do that.  
You should also check they’ve included their contact details at this stage – there’s no point in shortlisting someone then later realising they’ve forgotten to give you their email address or phone number!

2. Check their work experience

Next, it’s time to go in to a bit more detail and have a look at their experience. Start by checking it’s relevant (but do bear in mind that lots of skills are transferable – if they’ve worked in a different industry, for example), and disregard any CVs that aren’t.

Once you’ve found the ones that match, the next step is to look for candidates whose work history has an upward trajectory when it comes to roles and responsibilities. Keep an eye out for promotions, growing leadership responsibilities, projects they worked on or managed that increased in size, and so on. This will give you an idea of whether someone has a track record of taking on new challenges and growing their career over time, as well as an appetite to add to their skillset.

Keep an eye out for any gaps in CVs at this stage as well – a good application should account for these, e.g. say if they went on maternity leave, or took time out for another reason. That doesn’t mean you should immediately disregard anyone who doesn’t do this though, especially if they tick all your other boxes. But it’s something to consider if you’re having problems deciding who to shortlist. If you do shortlist someone who has a gap in their CV, remember to ask them about it at their interview.

3. Have a look at their skills

Now it’s time to make sure your potential new employees have the technical, soft and job-specific skills you need. Exactly what these are will depend on the job you’re advertising, of course. But a good CV will showcase skills that directly match the ones you’ve asked for in the job description.

Don’t automatically discount people who don’t have a particular skill that you could train them on though. For example, someone who has all the right work experience but hasn’t used a specific piece of software might still be perfect for the job.

You should also have a look at their education at this stage, as well as any certifications or professional memberships. If you’ve specified a particular level that you want (e.g. if you’re only looking for graduates or people with a certain qualification), this could also help you eliminate some candidates.

4. Check they’ve tailored their CV to the position

You can do this by identifying key words or phrases in the job description, and making sure your candidates have included these (or similar ones) in their application. Ideally, you’ll want to find CVs that show a direct alignment between the person’s experience and the requirements of the job. Great CVs will also emphasise achievements in the work experience section that show the person’s ability to meet the specification in your job advert, so keep an eye out for these too.

If they’ve included a covering letter, analyse its content for specific references to your company, the job role, and how the candidate’s skills and experiences match the job requirements. Generic covering letters are almost always a red flag.

5. Look out for mistakes

Hopefully you’ve now whittled down your application pool to something a bit more manageable. But if you still need to cut a few, you might want to disregard any applications that have lots of spelling or grammatical mistakes in them, or are badly formatted or hard to read. If someone hasn’t taken the time to check these things (or even use spellcheck), they might not be the best person for your company. 

6. Review their online presence

This stage is optional, but could be useful if you’re looking to shorten your shortlist even further. You can review candidates’ professional profiles online (for example, on LinkedIn), to see if you can get any more insights into whether they’d be good for the job or not. This might also help you decide if someone shares similar values to your organisation too.

Let us do the work

We’ve spent years reviewing CVs, creating shortlists and matching the perfect people to the right organisations. If you’d like us to do the same for you, get in touch with your nearest office to find out how we can help.

You might also want to have a look at this article for more information on how to improve your interview process this year.

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Written by

Aimee Pope

Since graduating with illustration in July 2022, Aimee now works in our head office as our Marketing Executive. She specialises in digital marketing, campaign delivery and content creation.

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