Failing at the Beginning: What Failures At The Start Of My Career Taught Me About Writing Killer Job Applications
In this week's guest blog post, Picorelli Pal (Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws (Hons) ANU '13) talks about she has learned from her job hunting experience. From an internship at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in Canberra all the way to the United Nations in New York, here are her five best tips on why failing at the beginning is a good thing.
By Picorelli Pal (Published Monday 16 March)
Since leaving university in July 2013, I’ve worked for a large not-for-profit, worked in international arbitration at a top tier law firm in Singapore, and had a taste of diplomatic life at DFAT’s posting to the UN in New York. And yet, for most applications that I’ve submitted since graduation, I did not get the job. Here’s what I learned from my failures.
1. It’s not about you, it’s about them
Employers are looking for a particular type of person with a particular skill set. How do you work this out? A company’s website is a good start. Look at how they describe their work, their mission, their values. Pay attention to the language they use to describe themselves. Without being artificial, you need to paint yourself in a way that fits into that picture. Say you’ve had experience tutoring migrant children. A community legal centre lists diversity as one of its values. You write that your experience required you to be sensitive and respectful of cultural differences. A not-for-profit describes its employees as socially engaged. You say that you have experience working to remedy social inequalities. You’re a law grad. Get creative with words.
2. Get your stalk on
Use Linkedin to look up the organisation and its current employees. Look at how their employees brand themselves, and if you have similar work experience, you can brand yourself in a similar way. If you have an experience deficit, look up leaders in the field you’re interested in. There’s no one path to a position, but Linkedin can give you a good idea about the kind of experience you need to reach your dream job.
Find the organisation’s Twitter account or blog. These posts will give you a good idea about what issues the organisation considers are important in its field. If you can’t work that into a written application, those insights will give you an edge in an interview.
3. Do not talk about your passions
As soon as you talk about your ‘passion’ or how much you ‘enjoy’ something, you’re drifting into vague, unsubstantiated territory. A job application is not about your feelings. Frame your experience and skills in a way that demonstrates what your passion is. If you have a ‘passion’ for criminal law, talk about why you pursued certain opportunities. You volunteered in a regional community because you are keenly interested in the external factors that cause vulnerable individuals to reoffend. You wrote an article on mandatory sentencing because you are fascinated by the question of why certain penalties are justifiable for some crimes, but not others. This kind of explanation will give prospective employers an idea of the three dimensional person behind the resume, without you ever having to use the word ‘passion’.
4. Emphasise results
You’d be surprised at how easy it is to talk about your experience without talking about what the outcome was. If you’re addressing a selection criterion like, ‘diffuses disputes in the workplace’ you can talk about how you were polite to cranky customers at a restaurant. It makes a world of difference to add that you were polite, and after consulting the manager, offered a refund. This ensured that the customer left feeling their issue had been addressed and returned again in the future. The first talks about your behaviour. The second talks about how your behaviour led to a desirable result.
5. You are not entitled to anything
You’re never too good to fail. You can put everything into something, and still not get what you want. There are a lot of good applicants going for the same position, and this just means that some good applicants are going to lose out. I’m not saying this to flatten you. I’m saying this because as soon as you shake the feeling that you’re entitled to an interview or to a job, you won’t waste time feeling hard done by, and you’ll feel a lot freer.
The secret to success is to keep going. So get going!
This week's guest post is written by Picorelli Pal. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn. Do you have tips you want to share with law students and graduates, or have a blog article you want to contribute? Reach out here.