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You may be curious about how the role of a recruiter works: there is a lot involved, but essentially, businesses pay recruiters to find people that they cannot themselves. And to narrow down the large number of applications to a manageable number who can be interviewed.

A large part of the service a recruiter offers businesses relates to the sourcing and screening of applicants; this takes a lot of time, as there are generally dozens to hundreds of applications for each vacancy. Some will have been proactively sourced and contacted as they are a good match, but may not be aware of the opportunity; others will have responded to adverts.

The ultimate aim is to create a shortlist of the best and most suited so they can be interviewed. Various factors go into determining who is on that shortlist.

It’s impossible and unrealistic for a recruiter to speak with each applicant – particularly as they usually have several roles open at once. If each call takes 10 minutes, and there are 1,000 total applications in a week, it’s a full-time job in itself, and does not leave time for the other things a recruiter does, such as contacting new businesses to get more jobs for graduates to apply to.

So the initial application is essentially with the aim of demonstrating suitability and interest; those who look a good match on paper will then be contacted to progress their application, with a call to discuss further and expand upon some of the key areas.

The employer does not have time to interview everyone, they want the ones who are most suitable and interested, so ultimately the aim is that between 1 to 5 will interviewed. So, if there is a pool of 100 who apply (it’s usually much more), and 5 are to be interviewed, then each applicant has a theoretical 5% chance of being selected for interview. However, in reality many have a 0% chance, as they do not have the right skills, degree, or knowledge; others have a nearly 100% chance as they are such a good match.

There are many others who lie in-between, and who look very similar on paper; for these in particular some extra time invested in the application can significantly increase their chances. I do generally give these students and graduates a second-chance, and ask them to update their CV (or send me more information by email) once they have applied; some don’t do this, but many do. It doesn’t need to be anything hugely in-depth, certainly not a cover letter, but it needs to at least cover the key criteria, as this is what the advert requests. You can find out more here.

An employer (or the agency who is representing the employer, and putting their reputation on the line according to which candidates they put forward), needs someone who can do the job, wants to do it, and who has the commitment to stay long-term.  Taking on and training a graduate requires a significant investment in time and money, and it’s only fair that businesses get a return on that investment. They don’t want a graduate who won’t be able to contribute effectively due to lacking key-skills; or who will take their job as a stop-gap, leave after a year, and have to start the process again. This is why it’s important that you demonstrate that you want, and are suited to, THAT job, not just A job.

If you do get the call from a recruiter and it goes well, you will find out more about the role and the company, and then will be asked to have a look through the company website, think a bit more about the role and why it’s suitable, and add anything else to the CV that you can with this knowledge. It could be expanding on something that has been discussed, adding something to the CV that was not on there initially such as a piece of experience, maybe referring to a project you did at university that was particularly relevant; ultimately, it’s about adding the finishing touches and demonstrating why you should be one of the few who should be selected for interview over all the others; if there is a reason why you may not be able to do it quickly then please let the recruiter know. In many cases a call has gone well, and I have said to the person that they were in contention for the shortlist, and asked them to make these changes – but they then returned the CV 2-3 days later, with a brief sentence added- it doesn’t really demonstrate enthusiasm. And rightly or wrongly. could also be seen as a possible negative indicator for if they were in the job and carrying out work.

Please also remember that any communication with a recruiter or employer may be taken into account, as it could be seen that this is how your communication would be in the role, and to business customers.  I often get emails with ‘text speak’, or lazy writing- for example replying to an email with Hi,’ with no name used (even sometimes on the first email)- if someone has addressed you by your name it is polite to do the same. It may seem a little thing but it will not take much longer, and will come across as a lot more professional.

Not being successful can be disheartening, and the temptation may be to send as many applications as possible, but conversely this may decrease your chances of getting something- or certainly the job you most want. A ‘spray and pray’ approach is not targeted and relies on a lot of luck.

If you are in this situation my advice would always be to keep applying, but try and remain as focused as possible. You need to set aside a good amount of time to apply for jobs; but make sure its quality time, focusing on the roles you most want and are most suited to.

Another thing to bear in mind is location. In the view, and experience, of many employers there are a number of difficulties and potential issues involved with relocating, not least the temptation to take something closer to home if it comes up. It’s not to say that those who relocate will not be considered, but if there are strong applicants who are already based locally they will generally be preferred. So, unless its a niche area I would question whether it’s worth applying for vacancies all over the country, as this in particular can have a huge impact on your time and quality of applications.  If you are not in the area but do have connections there, and are specifically looking to relocate there, make sure this is mentioned. And if you plan to commute, research if this is feasible, and that you are happy to do so, including in the long-term.

If you are already working I appreciate that its not so easy to spend a lot of time on searching for a new position, but if you want to get something more suitable then you do need to invest that additional time- and again being selective with applications can help. If you are not working, and have no responsibilities, then please bear in mind that a full-time job is around 40 hours or so; investing even half of that in job searching, and learning additional skills, can really help. Some approach looking for work and developing new or existing skills as a full-time job in itself, setting their alarm and getting to it at 9am or so, and this approach is I feel the best one to take – particularly as it also helps to maintain some structure. That may not be for everyone, but either way, you need to invest significant time in your job search.