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Success - at a stroke

The right type, the most apt words and a thorough read. Alastair McFarlane guides you through the application maze to your ideal job

The right type, the most apt words and a thorough read. Alastair McFarlane guides you through the application maze to your ideal job

The right type, the most apt words and a thorough read. Alastair McFarlane guides you through the application maze to your ideal job

You've got everything the job demands, and more. Your only hurdle now is bringing it all together in the most positive, persuasive manner possible.

You take pride in the professionalism of your approach to the job. Why let yourself down with your application paperwork? This is your personal shop window, your passport to the future. The appropriate investment in time, energy and effort in the process can reap valuable dividends.

If you approach the task as something of a pedantic chore, rest assured, it will be reflected in the final result. Everyone knows that at an interview the applicant who really sparks is the one normally selected. Get into the same frame of mind while you are putting together the paperwork. Bring in the "I'll wow them" factor at this early stage. It is this can-do attitude that must come through.

Every word, every phrase must be checked. Can it be improved upon? Has your passion for the role come through in a meaningful way? Bring in your own touches, but keep convention on your side. Let someone else check the paperwork. Their role is to assess objectively what you have said and how it has been said. Listen and take action.

The covering letter

Ideally this and your curriculum vitae must be on 100g paper (just a little thicker than the standard 80g). What does a mere 20g matter? Your application is instantly of better quality than the average, the touch of class starts here.

No matter how many type faces you know and love, or how clever you are at underlining and changing font sizes, use only ArialTimes New Roman or some other similar plain 12 point presentation format.

If instructions advise that a reference number be quoted, make sure you do it. Start your letter with your address, contact number and date; and on the left, the name and address where it is being sent.

It is a formal letter, so use "Dear MrMs", and end with "Yours sincerely" followed by your signature with your name typed underneath.

Its content relates to your interest in the role. It is usually short and sharp, free of waffle. If you are asked to indicate why you consider that this is the ideal role for you, then work on it. Kick out any weak words, bring in stronger, more appropriate ones. There is only room for words that truly contribute.

Beware the "I am looking for ..." approach. No one is interested in what you are looking for: what they want is the added value that you can provide. Read over what has been asked for, and then read it again.

There is nothing more frustrating for the person receiving applications than, for example, salary being omitted when it is specifically requested.

Be courteous and let your referees know that you have named them on your application. Send them details of the role. Think about how much more powerful it is when asked for information if they can start with: "I was expecting a call from you, the job description is ideal for x because of their involvement in ..."

The CV

There is no need to label a curriculum vitae. Open with contact details followed by a profile of about 60 well chosen words to persuade the reader that you are right for the role. The justification for this comes later with a clarification of what you have already achieved.

Use darker type and capitals for the side headings only - career history, qualifications and personal information, with the employing organisation and role held similarly in dark type.

Everything else must be in normal type with formatted bullets to highlight each element of each job. A CV should comprise two pages only. Adjust the margins to ensure that there is ample information, but remember how powerful good use of white space is, setting off the rest of the wording.

Take time to consider extra-curricular activities from across the years: the club of which you were secretary, the committee on which you served. Interests are important to give a clearer vision of the overall contribution that you can make. If you are serious about them, then let people know.

Do not just quote "football" as one of your hobbies, but instead, if appropriate, "member of 5-a-side league". Keep constantly in mind the fact that you are positively selling yourself and, in this process, the more Brownie points that can be totted up, the better.

The application form

There is one essential preliminary step: photocopy it. It is too easy to start on these boring boxes and find that you have not got it quite right.

Practice makes perfect, even if it is only in thinking through your A-level achievements. Initially filling in that copy form makes the original form's completion so much easier. Do not ignore instructions that forms should be completed in block capitals in black pen. Complete online completion if you can.

And finally

Think constantly of the person receiving your application. Doing so encourages you to project yourself as the best candidate there is.

Alastair McFarlane is a companion of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and has worked in human resources for the past 15 years. He can be contacted at


- Make the necessary time investment in your application: it could well pay considerable dividends.

- Keep the CV to two pages. Move the margins to leave plenty of white space.

- Remember that "Curriculum vitae" means "circle of life". Concentrate on that with no heading or referees in the document.

- Get in the right frame of mind when making that positive presentation on your achievements.

- Take the appropriate care in reading over all of the instructions.


- Depend on your spell check; let the dictionary be your only guide.

- Let yourself down with stationery; use 100g paper and a large envelope.

- Claim anything that you cannot prove, whether in qualifications or achievements.

- Display your computer skills: use an easily read type and stick with it.

- Leave anything to chance, whether posting the paperwork or sending it electronically to meet a deadline. The buck stops with you.

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