How to be a cut above the rest in a competitive job market

Jobseekers today are facing the toughest jobs market in a generation. Increasing competition for vacancies following an overall fall in recruitment means it’s harder to secure a job, and the situation is particularly acute in geographical locations where work was already difficult to find.

Opportunities in sectors such as hospitality and catering, high street retail, aviation and the arts may be slow to recover, pushing more job seekers into applying for the same openings. It’s not unheard of for a single vacancy to receive over a thousand applications – recent examples include over 2,000 people applying for a single administrator role in Coventry and 15,000 people hoping to land one of 10 assembly operative jobs in Birmingham.  

Even for positions with a handful of candidates, your learners will need to be able to stand out from the pack to get noticed. Acknowledging that the other applicants may all be able to tick every box for an employer could be the motivation someone needs to take those extra steps to gain that much needed advantage.

Making an outstanding impression

Imagine you’re a hiring manager and you’ve put aside a couple of hours to shortlist for an opening. You typically spend just 7 seconds on each CV and this time, the pile is much bigger than you anticipated.

In a scenario like this, your learner’s CV and covering letter will need to work a little harder for them, especially if they’re worried they lack experience. Tips for helping them attract attention include:

  • Avoiding overused words such as ‘enthusiastic’, ‘motivated’ and ‘passionate’. Ask them to try describing themselves out loud - some more original alternatives may surface
  • Allowing their strengths and personality shine through. Use activities from the Boosting Confidence to Return to Work module to help highlight these
  • Encouraging learners to create a CV independently. The CV Builder tool gives guidance while encouraging individuality, however if they feel confident enough, learners could create an even more eye-catching design or layout for their CV. Kept professional, these can be especially good when applying for creative roles
  • Making a video CV to link to from a written CV. This may suit someone who lacks experience but has the potential to grab attention in a short video

Some people will be looking to apply for jobs in a sector they haven’t worked in before. This is a scenario that will become more familiar as work in some roles becomes more precarious. Learners will need to be able to highlight their transferable skills to employers, making it clear how they think the experience and skills they already have will meet the needs of a potentially quite different role.

Turn a CV gap into a positive

There can be many reasons for gaps on someone’s CV but sometimes they can be challenging to explain. The good news is that not all experience needs to come from paid work and being proactive while not working can demonstrate an effective use of time.

Learners can add value to their job application by being positive about skills and experiences gained during a gap in employment. These could include:

  • Skills learnt while caring for others or taking part in community activities
  • Volunteering roles - as well as volunteering ‘in person’ there are an increasing number of online volunteering opportunities
  • Completing a short online course – the platform FutureLearn covers a wide range of free courses at different levels
  • Reading up on wider issues in the sector they’re applying for

Engage with social media

Half of all employers now use social media to advertise vacancies[1] but it can offer more than just the hunt to job seekers. Those who know how to make best use of social media can really give themselves an edge on the competition.

It’s common knowledge that employers expect potential employees to have researched their organisation. While it’s true that not every employer is online, researching a company’s social media could be the deal breaker between two candidates where one has gone the extra mile and the other didn’t stray beyond the company website.

Candidates can impress an employer by talking knowledgably about their past campaigns or the way in which the organisation responds to negative publicity.  Social media can also give an insight into an organisation’s culture and values which can be turned into positive talking points at an interview. The module Values and behaviours to succeed at work helps to explain why it’s important for learners to consider how their own values match with the organisation’s.

Social media can also be a way of demonstrating personal attributes. Up to 70% of employers check a candidate’s social media before hiring[2], but this isn’t just about avoiding negative impressions. The activities and extension module in Creating Your Personal Brand can raise awareness of the benefits of building a positive reputation online. Where there is less urgency to secure a new role, learners can set themselves apart from others by:

  • Engaging in conversations on a specific subject or by writing a topical blog post
  • Creating a portfolio showcasing their talents. This can be really advantageous for anyone with a creative streak – photography, culinary efforts or artwork are a few examples. If it’s relevant to the post include a link in the application, if not it still shows dynamism, a level of confidence and, of course, digital skills
  • Approaching recruiters with appropriate questions. Plenty of employers’ social media careers accounts welcome people getting in touch

A little preparation can go a long way

Finally, the more polished a candidate is at interview stage, the more likely they are to make a positive impression. Encourage learners to plan a 30 second ‘pitch’ in which they can sell themselves and to research answers to common questions asked by employers. Examples of employer-specific interview questions can be found in the module Interview skills 1: Get the best start.

When it comes to technique, the STAR interview method (module Interview Skills 2: Practical answering techniques) provides a clear structure for rehearsing accomplished answers; it’s an excellent way for learners to develop confidence and meet the expectations of the employer.

Challenging times are ahead

These are challenging times for job seekers. Competition for some vacancies will be extremely high with other job openings unobtainable for a number of people without further qualifications or training. Furthermore, some job roles will alter beyond recognition as technology develops, making transferable skills essential for smoothly transitioning between jobs.

Educators can encourage learners to develop resilience when knockbacks are received and turn the way they deal with setbacks into a positive characteristic that they can use in job applications.

The following modules may be useful for helping learners to stand out from the crowd in competitive times:

 You may also find it helpful to direct your learners to the CV builder tool.

With employer top tips and examples to guide them throughout, learners will follow three steps to input their important information that will make their CV stand out – including a personal statement, key skills, relevant experience, achievements and qualifications. Once completed, your learner’s ready-made CV will be available to download, allowing them to progress their job seeking.

[1] (51%) Department for Education. October 2020. Employer Skills Survey 2019

[2] Careerbuilder.com

By Helen Janota

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