Sometimes you see a post pop up on LinkedIn and think ‘YES!’. I did a few weeks ago, so I messaged Dan, and he agreed to write a guest blogpost for us based on that LinkedIn post. (You can learn more about him at the end too!)

2020 has been a year hasn’t it? One unprecedented event after the other changing the way things work the world over. For students and graduates across the country it is natural to have feelings of uncertainty about the future and the prospects of a career in the face of what comes after. The process of applications is daunting enough without the news reports of rising unemployment rates and a saturated job market. More so than ever before, prior planning and preparation is paramount to success in an increasingly competitive world.

You’ve got to put the work in to get the job you want. There are many reasons why your application might not make the cut but don’t worry, there are people like myself who have already made all of the mistakes and errors and are here to help. I have spoken to hundreds of young people, lots of HR Managers and Recruiters and combining their thoughts and my own experiences, I have compiled the five reasons your applications are being rejected.

  1. Your CV isn’t ATS compliant

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System. This is an AI software used by many companies to scan, sort and rank CV’s. It is looking for keywords from the job description.

ATS has the potential to scan 2 million CV’s per second (crazy I know!) and due to the volume of applications, graduate and entry-level roles are vulnerable to the system. Unfortunately, around 85% of applications are unsuccessful at the first stage and the ATS sends them to the ‘digital black hole’.

It’s highly likely that your CV will need to ‘beat the bot’ before impressing a human – here’s how you do it:

  • Use keywords from the job description.

Don’t just plug them in randomly. Make sure they are woven into your experiences and surrounded by your achievements. In the job description you will find a set of required/desirable skills known as core competencies. Soft skills such as “Communication” and hard skills like “Finance” are good examples of keywords you should be inputting into your CV.

  • Use clear and functional subheadings and job titles.

Keep it professional and clear – this will help with your keywords but it’ll also make your education and experience really clear to recruiters and HR managers. Use “Experience” not “Previous Roles” and “Sales Assistant” not “Shop Floor Assistant”.

  • Use simple formatting. No extravagant graphs or charts.

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. Graphs and charts will cause issues when it comes to the ATS. Not only that but it’s difficult to understand what’s going on in a pie chart or line graph. 

Use white spacing to separate sections, use a clear sans serif font like Times New Roman, and limit yourself to no more than 2 pages. 

  • Submit your application using MS Word not PDF

ATS can’t read PDF’s and will have to translate the content to a text-based app (like MS Word). This translation may not be 100% accurate, so to be on the safe side use MS Word. Every little helps!

(talking of Artificial Intelligence, and automatic CV checks, have you put your CV through the ATS on the Careers & Enterprise Hub? It’s called CV360, and it’s in the Resources tab. It gives you instant, tailored feedback. Watch this video to find out more)

2. You haven’t shown passion for the company

  • Know why you’re applying – research company values and culture.

One of the most important reasons applications fail is people don’t spend enough time researching the company. Ask yourself – ‘Do I really know why I’m applying? Why am I passionate about this company? Will I be a good cultural fit?’

Company values drive culture, and the right cultural fit will bring you job fulfilment and happiness.

See how the values are positioned on their website – do you connect to them?
If so why?

Take it one step further – look for evidence of those values existing (hint: you can use this evidence to reference in your cover letter and interview)

  • Find things the company does that are close to your heart (projects or charity work).

This links back to finding evidence as I mentioned earlier. Take a look at what partners and charities the company supports – perhaps there is one close to your heart? Research what projects the company has launched recently and Google recent news articles. You may find some interesting projects to reference (e.g. a new product launch or acquisition/merger).

Anecdote: I was on the bus on my way to the BT Graduate Scheme Assessment Center and I Googled “BT”. That morning, there was an announcement that BT and EE had merged. I referenced this in the interview and talked about how it was such a powerful move, showing real ambition and innovation – the hiring manager hadn’t even seen the announcement and he was so impressed!

  • Get up to speed with the latest industry trends.
  • Stalk them on social – you’ll find out what hot topics they’re talking about.
  • Infuse your application process with a unique perspective showing your passion for the company and the role.

3. You were late to the party 🎉

  • Keep your applications in one place like an excel spreadsheet.

Being organised is key. I once had 2 interviews in 2 days but didn’t have a place to store all of my applications. Long story short, I prepared for the wrong interview!

  • Note down the opening dates and deadlines and be first to apply.

Speed, speed, speed. Job spaces fill up quick! It’s important to be on the ball and apply straight away. Set up alerts, sign up to companies email subscriber lists, enlist recruiters and even email or LinkedIn message HR managers asking when roles become available.

4. You didn’t show the right competencies

  • Job descriptions have required and desirable skills – tailor your CV to express them.

Every job role is different. Don’t send a blanket/standard CV to all of them – thoroughly analyse the job descriptions and tailor your CV. Refer back to point 1.

5. You didn’t sell yourself

  • Shout about your achievements as opposed to listing your responsibilities.

Your CV should be focussed on what impact you have had in your experiences, not just a list of your responsibilities. The best way to show impact is to use quantifiable and measurable results.

For example, if you’re in retail as a sales assistant, talk about how many customers you interact with per day and how many times you recommend products which people buy. Work out the average value of those products and now you have a revenue number you can say you are putting into the business. That’s impact.

  • Tell your unique story in your CV and cover letter – make them remember you.

Take them on a journey. Include a compelling personal summary at the top of your CV to hook the reader in, make them want to read on. Show your personality, add an interest’s section and show them who you are – remember people hire people. In your cover letter, show passion for the industry, role and company and tell them why you are best by referencing some of your key achievements from your CV. 

Why should you listen to me?

My name is Dan Mian and I am the founder of Gradvance.

At Gradvance, I’m creating a community of like-minded students, graduates and young professionals who all want to better their lives and excel in the right career for them. It was born organically out of my own experiences of the graduate application process. I bumbled my way through it once. And in 2015, I was rejected over 30 times when I graduated – I couldn’t get a job and I was pretty miserable.  

Eventually I just took the first job that I was offered but quickly realised that it wasn’t for me. I was unhappy and unfulfilled. The following year, I decided to take the risk and give it all another go. However, I knew I had to make some changes and develop the skills involved in the application process if I had any hope of getting my dream job. I completely changed my approach to applications, focusing on the quality over the quantity and spent many hours on my CV, cover letter and interviewing techniques.

I sent a handful of applications and was invited to assessment centres to all of them including Sky, BT, Virgin Media and Vodafone. BT was my top choice and I successfully secured a place on the BT Business Management Graduate Scheme in September 2017.  

I’ve had a brilliant and varied experience over the last 3 years, from managing complex warehouse operations to running a call centre with 30 customer service agents. Today, I’m in marketing and I oversee the strategy and campaign execution for 4 of BT’s specialist business (a cool one is Drones!). I’m also Comms Lead for BT’s Ethnic Diversity Network (EDN) and a trained Assessor on the Graduate Scheme Assessment Centre’s, which allows me extra insight into the recruiting and interviewing process on top of the knowledge I have acquired for myself.

The EDN is a network made up of a committee of 16 people and our vision is to empower and amplify the voices of our racially diverse communities. For Black History Month (October), we were super busy running lots of great events across BT with our flagship event featuring George The Poet. It was truly a celebration of Black history and culture! Our events covered serious topics such as microaggressions and anti-racism; we also had a lot of fun with Quizzes, Yoga and a party with DJ Ace! It’s an amazing feeling to be a key influencer in breaking down barriers around Diversity & Inclusion and it’s something that I am really passionate about and privileged to be part of.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t think I’d make anything of my career but I kept working hard, learning from every experience (good and bad) and never gave up. If I can make it, so can you.  

At Gradvance, we share real career advice through daily content on Instagram and LinkedIn and I’m working on some really exciting projects which will add so much value! I’d love for you to be part of the community.

As well as this, I’m also offering free 30-minute career consultation through our website (www.gradvance.co.uk). It’s a one to one video chat with me and I’ll answer any questions you have, help you to understand your strengths and motivations, map a career plan and give a few hints/tips on job searching and your CV. Reach out to us and we can help with some guidance to get the ball rolling on what comes next.

It’s a super exciting time so come and join us on this journey!

Join the community on Instagram (DM me when you get here!)

Find us on LinkedIn

And connect with me on LinkedIn (DM me and say hi)  

(Also, if you’re a CCCU current student or alumni within 3 years of graduation, you can book a 1-1 with our internal Careers Advisor for support.)

Getting further support from The Careers and Enterprise Team at CCCU

You can get ongoing careers support via the following ways: