Application no-nos

Potential, experience, talent and enthusiasm are meaningless if you can’t fill in an application form properly, or submit a decent CV and covering letter. Read this guide to avoiding job application crimes and, with luck, you should stay out of trouble for the rest of your career.

1. Recklessness
They told you at school: read the instructions carefully before you start. Sadly, not all of us remember this invaluable lesson when it comes to filling in application forms. If the form says ‘use black ink’, don’t make your prose purple. If it says ‘write in block capitals’, don’t present a joined-up scrawl. Putting your qualifications or work experience in chronological order ‘with the most recent first’ may seem illogical, but if it’s what they ask for, it’s what they want.

Ideally, you should photocopy your form and practise rough versions before filling out the original. This will give you ample time to iron out mistakes and see how best to make use of the available space. But if you realise you’ve messed-up the one you’re going to send, ring up and ask for another copy.

Sentence: Failure to read instructions could see your application form dropped straight in the bin.

2. Bribery and corruption
Typing your CV on pink/flowery paper or worse, spraying it with perfume, will not impress. One, it’s not original. Two, it’s tacky. Three, your potential employer might have an allergy to Calvin Klein (or it could remind them of their ex/mother). And never, ever enclose a gift. A decent employer won’t accept it.

Sentence: Public execution. Your CV will be the subject of office derision before finding its way to the shredder.

3. Ignorance is no excuse
Every employer knows you’ll be applying for several jobs. That doesn’t mean they want to be reminded of it when they receive your application form/CV. Never write ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. Never ever get their name or title wrong. Don’t, for example, put ‘I’d love to work in publishing’ when the company is actually a book distributor. Tailor each letter/application to individual jobs in individual organisations. That means doing thorough research, on the internet and in your local library. Don’t be afraid to call up to check names, ask for information packs or annual reports.

Sentence: Exile from the company.

4. Applying without due care and attention
Messy writing might be a sign of genius, but it won’t help you get a job. Neither will lots of crossings out, overwriting or creative use of liquid paper. As far as an employer is concerned, a sloppy application form equals a sloppy employee. Practise in rough first (see recklessness, above). If you can, type your form or letter, unless the job ad specifically requests a hand-written application (beware – they may analyse your handwriting). CVs should always be typed.

Sentence: Your form will go straight to the bottom of the pile.

5. Illiteracy
All employers expect prospective employees to have a basic grasp of the English language. A poorly spelled application will make them seethe with frustration, however fantastic the content. Always check for misspellings, grammatical errors and typos. Beware computer spell-checks which may Americanise some words and ignore other errors. Tip: ask someone else to read your application before you submit it.

Sentence: Go straight to the dole queue.

6. Fraud
Research shows the practice is rife, but lying about your qualifications is a mug’s game. Many employers now demand exam certificates or make thorough background checks. If your lie is discovered some years down the track, your successful career could be over.

Sentence: You might get away with it… then again, even the Krays got caught eventually.

7. Impersonation
Don’t lie about your hobbies and interests. Say you speak fluent Russian and you can be damn sure that your interviewer will turn out to be a former KGB agent. Worse, you might find yourself posted to the company’s Moscow office. Claim you enjoy reading? Make sure you can talk about the last book you read (and that it wasn’t Peter and Jane Book 12A).

Sentence: Your interview could come to an embarrassingly abrupt end.

8. Being over the word limit
Your CV should not resemble the first draft of Crime and Punishment. Unless you’re nearing retirement, a CV should never exceed two A4 pages – one if you can manage it. A letter shouldn’t be more than one page. And don’t try cheating by using two-point type. As a general rule, 12-point type is the minimum you should employ in most fonts. Invest in some good quality, white paper (a torn-out sheet from a notebook won’t do). Don’t enclose supplementary pages in an application form unless you’re asked to do so.

Sentence: As for manslaughter. You’ll have bored your prospective employer to death. Or GBH (by eyestrain).

9. Submitting a mug shot
Unless you’re applying to a modelling agency, sending in a photo won’t aid your job application. Holiday/party snaps will make you appear frivolous, passport photos will make you look like a real criminal. Do you really want to be passed around the office and awarded marks out of ten? If a company wants to see what you look like, they’ll ask.

Sentence: Your photo will be put up on the office noticeboard – either as a pin-up or a dartboard.

10. Confessing to past crimes
So you failed your Biology GCSE? So you got a ‘U’ in your General Studies A-level? Keep it to yourself. However good the rest of your exam results, the failures will stick out like a sore thumb. Leave them out – this isn’t the same as lying. Sacked from your first job after three months? You still worked there for three months – it’s still experience (don’t write that you were sacked). Avoid unexplained gaps. If you started a course, then transferred, an employer will understand.

Sentence: A month’s confidence-building course.

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career, CV, HR, jobs