How to be successful in your job application

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In a recent round of recruiting suitable developers to join our team, I came across some common patterns in their job applications. This is a follow up from a very popular post we published a while ago - Writing an effective CV – some advice for technical CV writing.

Applying for a new position can be daunting, but what many candidates don’t know, is what it is like to be on the receiving end. As an employer, we naturally have a very different perspective on the process. Given the horrible situation we are in regarding unemployment in South Africa, I often try to give feedback to candidates that I decline. My goal is to share some of my experience and hope that they are more successful with their next application.

Here are some of the things that are often overlooked, and people just don’t know about when applying for a job and navigating their careers.

Follow the instructions on the job application

A common mistake that people make is not to follow the instructions on the application. This significantly delays the process. If there is information requested and it’s not on your application, it means I need to follow up with you, collate and finally look at everything together to approve or decline the first round of applicants.

Having all the requested information in your application or CV gives you a much better chance of success. It tells me that you pay attention to the details, take action on them, and can communicate more effectively. This is your first impression on me as an employer – a chance to impress or annoy -your choice!

Take time to read and understand the role profile

Many software developers read the title of the advert and just submit their CV. In some cases, there is a complete misalignment in skills, years of experience or location. The “spray and pray” approach of submitting your CV to as many jobs as possible, is not effective and will probably leave you feeling despondent, or worse, in the wrong job!

Taking the time to read the requirements carefully and really considering if you are a fit is important.

Don’t make crazy salary jumps – understand what an envisioned salary is

Right upfront we ask applicants for their envisioned salary. When they go through a recruitment agency, the agency usually helps them understand this piece well and put forward something that is fair and aligned to the value they can add. Unfortunately direct applicants don’t always understand this.

An envisioned salary should be what you think you are worth, in the role you are applying for. It is not your goal salary in 5 years time. It needs to be realistic. We are not going to pay you a senior developer’s salary if you are a junior. Similarly, we always try to make it as fair as possible – which is why we ask you upfront.

Stay in your role for at least 3 years

A mistake I see all too often in CVs is some developers move around a lot. I am looking for someone with staying-power, loyalty and buy-in. If you have jumped from job to job every year for “career progression” then it’s unlikely you’ll make it to an interview with us. In the long term, it’s worth sticking it out for at least 3 years at any place – it will pay off and show that you have some grit.

Be clear on your reasons for leaving previous jobs

I always ask for your reasons for leaving your previous jobs, and why you want to leave your current one. Short, blanket responses of “career progression” or “better opportunity” tell me nothing. I want to really know why – did you feel that you are completely stagnating in your role, and despite your best efforts you couldn’t make it work? Do you have a personality clash with a team mate? Are you being underpaid and undervalued, but working crazy hours? This is important stuff, and it helps me have better insight into who you are and if you would be a fit on our team. Take time be honest and fair in your reasoning.

Be sure you’re willing to move

This is a big one – in alignment with “Read the profile”, if the job is in KZN and you are in Gauteng, either don’t apply or be REALLY willing to move. This is a significant detail that is overlooked. In most cases, people who move to Durban for a job are not successful in the long-term if their families and friends are in another province. If you are really willing to move, make sure you have sufficient support in the area. The world can be a lonely place and you can’t get everything from your work.

Know your stuff at interview time

On a few occasions I have interviewed people who know nothing about our company or what we do. This is not going to get you hired. With the internet today, it is SO easy to do your research and understand the company you are applying to. There is no excuse.

It’s really important that you understand what you want and that you know what you’re getting into. We are looking for long-term working relationships, so it really has to work for you too.

Don’t waste your time (and our time) with counter-offers

A couple of times we have gotten to the final phase of making an offer to a candidate, only to find out we were used to get a counter-offer at their existing company. While this is frustrating, I am very relieved that we didn’t hire this person because this kind of move says a lot about who they are and their values. It’s a dirty move and NO-ONE in the industry appreciates it. These kinds of things taint your reputation among employers, and Durban is a small place. Please, just don't do it. Be honest with your employer if you are looking for a raise.

Moving to a new job can be really scary, but if you are upfront from the beginning, ask questions and really get clear on whether the new role is the right fit for you, then it can be an awesome move. It’s really worth taking the time to find the right opportunity for yourself. Good luck!

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