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I recently advertised a job and received 150 responses – only 1 stood out.

One of the first pieces of advice I ever got when it came to applying for jobs was “It is important to stand out!” These days you face one of the most competitive times for graduates to get a job, it has become increasingly important to find an edge or ‘stand out’. It’s far easier that you may think to stand out and can be done in very little time.

I recently ran an experiment with a senior position I was recruiting for. I advertised a role on 4 separate internet job boards on the internet and received around 150 responses, only ONE stood out – why? Because it was accompanied by a personally written concise covering letter! It was the only application that made me open the CV immediately and I was on the phone to the candidate within 15 seconds…

The problem with internet job boards these days is that they make it very easy to be lazy, it’s easy to click a button and automatically send 20 applications or more – the problem is that while you are doing this so are hundreds of other candidates.

With the Graduate market being so competitive you need to stand out by writing a brief covering note, (not a lengthy cover letter) I want to offer my opinion on the best way to write these. The first principle to remember when you’re writing one is that the ONLY reason to write such a letter is to nudge the reader to read your CV. It is not about giving a lengthy description of your attributes, experience or qualities – just enough to encourage them to open your CV and consider your application. The best way to do this is to keep things brief and relevant.

Every single job application you EVER make should be accompanied with a brief covering note. Here I will explain my opinion on the best way to write one:

TAKE THE TIME TO WORK OUT WHO IS THE PERSON RECRUITING, IF IT’S NOT IN THE ADVERT THEN TRY USING GOOGLE – TRY TO AVOID WRITING SIR OR MADAM. ONLY IF IT’S REALLY NOT POSSIBLE THEN WRITE GOOD MORNING/AFTERNOON.

Hi (first name),

WRITE WHAT YOU ARE APPLYING FOR, WHAT YOUR CURRENT POSITION IS AND WHAT YOUR AVAILABILITY IS

I am writing to apply to the development position/internship. I am currently studying for an MSc in Computer Science at the University of *** and am available to start immediately.

WRITE HERE WHAT YOU CAN OFFER THE COMPANY – DO NOT START WITH WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR. FOLLOW ON WITH SOMETHING YOU HAVE READ IN THE AD AND WHY YOU WOULD BE A GOOD CANDIDATE (SEE BELOW)

I am a Java developer passionate about delivering well structured and easily manageable code. You mention in the ad that you are looking for (e.g.) someone with a passion for Open Source Software, I have used OSS and have researched a few projects on Sourceforge I’d like to get involved with but have yet to become a committer – I am currently investigating this with the Graduate Development Community.

OR

I am a Java developer passionate about working on Server side development. You mention in the ad you are looking for someone with an interest in Networking technologies – I completed a 3 month project in my final year and worked heavily with TCP/IP – I’d love to pursue a career along this route.

HERE IS THE CHANCE TO WRITE WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR AND WHY – IF YOU CAN ACCOMPANY THIS WITH A ‘REAL’ REASON FOR WANTING TO WORK FOR THEM SUCH AS A NEWS ARTICLE ETC YOU CAN ALMOST GUARANTEE AN INTERVIEW

I am ideally looking for an internship with a chance to work with experienced developers and am looking to give 100% to the project.

OR

I am passionate about development and am interested to get the first step on my career as a developer. I have read about (company name) on (this site), it stands out to me because I have read about the high standards you have with Unit testing which I too am passionate about.

ADD SOMETHING HERE ABOUT YOUR COMMITMENT TO SOFTWARE OR YOUR CAREER. E.G. WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO STAND OUT

Incidentally I am also trying to learn more about Hibernate and Spring as I find them very interesting technologies.

OR

Incidentally I am also involved with the Graduate Development Community in London as a way to try and improve my outlook on technologies.

FINALLY SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THE NEXT STEP – THE BEST BET IS TO OFFER TO CALL TO FOLLOW UP, IF YOU ARE TOO NERVOUS TO CALL THEN WRITE THAT YOU WILL SEND A FOLLOW UP EMAIL.

I will endeavor to call you at some point on Monday or Tuesday, if you would prefer to get in touch at your convenience please call me on (your mobile number)

Kind regards,

Your name

Finally here are a few extra tips to help improve your ratio of applications to interviews:

–          Consider it your responsibility to follow up. It will be easy for a recruiter to ignore a standard email as it could be one of 200, but if you follow up with a second one that is personally written and just a few lines long (Did you get my CV? What did you think?) then people will be far more likely to reply.

–          Write each note personally – at the very least change the section that says “I read in the ad that you were looking for a…”

–          Keep it concise, it is far more likely to be read than if it is a long letter.

–          Consider including the note as the first page of the CV. Add the title “Covering letter to XYZ Ltd”. I would also save it as a word doc and include that in the email too.

–          Read the advert thoroughly – some ads will ask for you to do certain things if you do not do them you stand a good chance of having your CV not being read.

Good luck guys – I really do wish you the best of luck – don’t hesitate to let me know if you can add to this with further advice.

Barry Cranford

bc@recworks.co.uk

So what is the GDC, and what is it all about?

Learning new technologies, Career development, Recruitment advice, Networking….

The GDC or Graduate Development Community is a social network for degree students & recent graduates to come together in one place.

If you are not already aware, the London Technical Community is positively buzzing with a large number of users’ groups aimed at pretty much any technology you could be interested in, specialist or general. Users’ groups started in the early days of mainframe computers, as a way to share sometimes hard-won knowledge and useful software and have thrived ever since.

As an example I run a user group aimed at Java developers (it’s called the LJC, you can find out more at www.londonjavacommunity.co.uk) through this community we organise regular presentations for Java developers of all levels from Graduates to Senior Technical Architects and Development Managers to get free introductions to the latest technologies from key figures in the industry. The LJC acts as a platform to assist people in learning, networking & career development, feel free to read our members feedback: http://www.meetup.com/Londonjavacommunity/about/comments/?op=all

My background is in technical recruitment. I have many connections with UK based companies and have throughout my career spent a lot of time trying to understand the technical recruitment process and what companies are looking for from candidates of every level. Much of the feedback I have had when it comes to Graduates is that there is a gap between what is taught in Universities and what is used in Industry. I am hoping to use a combination of my industry connections and personal experience to help bridge that gap through anyway possible.

To become a member please visit our official Community site – http://www.meetup.com/Graduate-Undergraduate-Development-Community/

I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible.

Barry Cranford

b.cranford@clearview-itrs.co.uk

What is the GDC?

The GDC, or Graduate Development Community is an independent community of undergraduate software developers. Our goal is to bridge the gap between the worlds of Academia and Business. We organise and host presentations and events with senior members of the development community as well as offering advice, guidance, internships and jobs through our community site.