How to Build a Strong Application

A good job application package gets you in the door, and a great one can convince an employer you’re worth keeping.

For tips and pitfalls, we consulted the experts: Steve Bareham, business communication and marketing instructor at Selkirk College in Nelson; Drew Railton, managing partner for Western Canada at executive recruiting firm Caldwell Partners International; and Len Posyniak, vice-president of human resources at ICBC.

 

Find your style

Employers sift through hundreds of resumés and cover letters, and the entire package is the first indication of your professionalism. “If a cover letter or resumé is drab looking or ragged,” explains Bareham, “that suggests lack of attention to detail. And if you can’t pay attention to the job application, what are you going to do on the job?” The way you organize your information is also key. The chronological resumé is best suited for those with more extensive experience; a functional resumé is best for showcasing relevant, if limited, experience; and a combination of the two will focus on what’s relevant to that company and that job description.

 

Demonstrate a real interest

Even if you’re sending out dozens of applications, make sure each one is specific to the job at hand. “What does this employer want delivered?” asks Posyniak. “Lots of people have been head of human resources, but have they done A, B and C, the specific things that need to be addressed under these business circumstances?” Some key things to focus on are communication skills and productivity, says Bareham. “If you suggest you can be productive and hit the ground running, that gives you an edge.”



Know your stuff

It seems obvious, but read the job description. “People just have their standard cover letter and resumé they send out because it’s easy,” says Bareham. “Once you know what employers are looking for, it’s much easier to find strengths, knowledge and aptitudes out of your training and background to match that job.” Job descriptions also give you a chance to prepare, “like taking some training, so you aren’t knocked out of the running by something that a few weeks can fix.”



Mind your gaps

Took a sabbatical? Decided to travel for two years? Have a past job you’d rather not focus on? Don’t ignore it. “You’re best to be upfront about it instead of trying to hide it,” says Railton. “Usually, the gap is for a perfectly understandable reason.” Be prepared to discuss it during the interview process, says Posyniak. “If I see a resumé that has a substantial break in it, it’s probably one of the first things I ask about.”


M
easure your success

Your accomplishments are your currency. Cut vague statements and clichés and focus on quantifiable accomplishments. “If I see someone who’s done, say, six major accomplishments that are really meaningful, all of a sudden you’re paying a lot more attention,” says Railton. Don’t declare that you have good management skills or are results oriented; show it. “It needs to be accomplishment-based,” agrees Posyniak. “Don’t tell me what you did; tell me what you got done.”