Application advice


There is nothing as easy as applying for a job. There can be nothing more difficult than doing it effectively. You want a change, or change has been visited upon you. You need a bigger challenge; you want to know what you’re capable of. You don’t want to be treated like a commodity or an item on a production line. You want to enter a partnership with people who may be able to move your career up to the next level.

Use the information here to find out if you are ready to move on, and if so, how to find the right roles, produce a good cv and make an impact during the selection process. Also of benefit might be a visit to our careers advice website – careeradviceforme While some pages are password protected for subscribers, there is lots of useful free information, hints, tips, news and links to other useful web content. 

If you are in the process of applying for a role via Proventure we welcome contact from you to discuss the role, your career and your application. They are time consuming and take a lot of work.  We recognise this and want you to present your best self to a new employer.

Start by reading the advert fully; then read it again. It’s designed to help you. If there’s an information pack or micro-site, read it, and ask yourself what the role’s really about and what they might want from a recruit.  Ask yourself 2 key questions; what do I bring to this role and what difference can I make?

Don’t leave it there: research the job and the organisation, ask around, check out the press and people in the know in your networks, on blogs, social media etc.  If the organisation is in the public sector, read up on any inspection reports and look at published committee papers.  If in the private sector, check out their annual report, any business plans and statements, market overview and key competitors. Get in step with how the organisation feels and where it is going. What’s its aims and vision – how is it looking to get there? How is it performing?

If a conversation is offered – usually to a consultant, but sometimes to a Managing Director, Chief Executive or Director – grasp the nettle and make the call. But, don’t just phone up and say “Hi, the advert said to phone”. This is your first opportunity to impress.

So, plan the conversation, introduce yourself, explain why you’re calling, outline why you’re interested and ask one or two good questions. Show you’ve thought about the role. See if the person has any questions of you, create a rapport, and ensure you leave your name before the call ends. This is the first part of your “pitch” and you will be judged.

There are three broad reasons for rejecting candidates after an interview. These are:

  • Personality: will the candidate fit in with the team?
  • Skill and experience: can they do the job?
  • Knowledge: has the candidate researched the role and the organisation?

The first two reasons for rejection are generally outside of the candidate’s immediate control, though a little research would help support the way experience is chosen and then described. A lack of knowledge through poor or even no research is inexcusable, and has become a common reason for rejecting candidates.

If you are applying for a role at any level, you should know about the organisation.

  • Who are their customers (consumers, members, constituents, clients etc)?
  • Who are their competitors?
  • What are their current plans and what is their turnover?
  • If it is a third sector organisation, what is their governance structure like?
  • What issues is the organisation and sector facing? Challenges or risks?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • What will the organisation want you to do with the role so that you add value?
  • How will you make the role a success, what will success look like and how will it be measured?
  • How will you make a difference in the role?

These are just a few of the questions you should be considering – there’s a good chance you’ll be asked about them in interview.  If you do your research you might not get the role, but if you don’t, you’re guaranteed to fail.

Take an honest look at yourself and ask “is the job really for you?” If it is, then complete your application and follow the response instructions with care. Remember there can be four parts to the application:

  • a covering letter
  • a response to the person specification
  • a CV (or application form)
  • an equal opportunities monitoring form
Covering Letter

The covering letter – never, ever, a hasty note – is a chance to distinguish yourself. Imagine you have five minutes to impress the key decision maker, to press home what you think they are looking for, why you want the job and what you can bring. Tackle any obvious issues, but turn them into positives: “You may wonder why…”, and remember to outline any other relevant information: “I can only attend interview on…”.

Person Specification

The person specification (PS) is as important as your CV. It is the document that will show that you have seriously considered the role and it will also give a good indication of whether you are suitable.

The PS can be supplied to you as a separate document, or it can be in the same document as the job description.  Sometimes there is no PS, just an advert or a role summary.  Generally you will be asked to provide information against each requirement or bullet point in the experience section, check this in the ‘how to apply’ instructions. If you aren’t sure, call a consultant.  Sometimes people ask you to respond to every item including skills, abilities and characteristics.  This can add up to 20 30 or even 40 items.  This is a pain but will put people off, so persevere you’ll probably have less competition.  We will only ask you to respond to the experience and qualification requirements.

If there’s only an advert or a role profile, use your research to help identify the top 6-8 requirements and address these.

Individually respond to each item of the person specification. Always give a clear example of success with a quantifiable outcome for each item. One good and relevant example per item is enough.

Don’t get fixated by length, it’s better to give too much detail than not enough, conversely, you’ll win points for being appropriately concise. Generally, each PS item response should take about 1/3 to 1/2 of a page. You can use bullet points to shorten your response, but watch out for professional abbreviations that are not in common use. Make no assumptions about consultant or HR knowledge.  We always say make everything really easy to understand – “assume the person is either stupid, lazy or both!”

You’ve got to convince the person reading your application that you have the experience required.  You’ll need to provide a response to the person specification that answers each bullet point. While your CV briefly describes career path and roles, the PS response is the deep dive into specific areas. You can do this by:

  • Use bullet points effectively
  • Including actions and achievements with hard evidence and metrics if possible. If you were part of a team that increased sales by 30%, how was it done, and what was your role?
  • Again, be concise, but include as much information as possible. Don’t say “I managed 50 people”. You might not have been very good, but a reviewer can’t tell from that piece of information. Better would be to write “While managing 50 people I increased sales by 30% in six months by introducing profit based quarterly bonuses”. Now we know what you did, and what the evidence of success was.

Finally, think about the structure of the document. A lot of text in large paragraphs with rambling sentences and key words within sentences in bold will provide the impression that the thinking is unstructured. Have a look at how clear reports are and go on from there.

Pet hate:  Avoid rambling narratives that are strong on opinion and short on fact.  They won’t be read and really just say “I don’t know what I bring, what I’ve achieved or how this relates to what you want”

Curriculum Vitae

This is often the first chance you have of selling yourself and your opportunities could soar or plummet on this first step. Carefully consider the information in How to Get it Wrong.  Make sure that all your dates line up. Have you put the organisation name against each role? Are your current contact details on there? Have you left any gaps?

A CV should always have any evidence of responsibility and/or achievements against each role. This helps the reviewer determine how old and how relevant the achievements are.  There are no hard rules on CV length but we generally say no more than 3 sides.  A CV is not a resume in the UK.  Unless you’re a new graduate with no work experience, we would expect at least 2 sides.  There are lots of different types of CV’s.  If you want some examples, look on careeradviceforme.

The Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form

It is surprising how many people ignore this part of the application, but it is usually the easiest part of the application to complete.  The form is not necessarily a box ticking exercise either, as the information given will help the process.  Don’t worry about confidentiality.  Responsible organisations separate your application from your equal opportunities form.

So, you think you have made a good go about it, but have you? Have a look at how other people have got it How to Get it Wrong.

If your CV and supporting statement (person specification response) shows us that you could possibly perform the role that we are currently looking to appoint, you will almost certainly be asked to attend an interview. The days of “give me your strengths and weaknesses” are over. We will be looking for specific information that shows us that you have done some research in the role and that you can either hit the ground running or soon get up to speed. We won’t be simply looking back and asking you to tell us of your best successes and relevant experience. We will be asking you to talk through what you will do in the role and how you can have an impact, supported by how you delivered and had an impact in the past.  If we could give one message to anyone before an interview it would be: “think yourself into the role, your approach, priorities, impact and measures of success

You can help yourself by:

  1. Finding out about the organisation. You should read the recruitment website as thoroughly as possible (If there is one). Isolate the issues that the organisation is facing. If there isn’t a specific recruitment website, look at the organisation’s main website. Are there other websites that reference the organisation? What do they say? Are you in the sector yourself? If you are, do you have contacts that could give you information? If you are invited to call the organisation or to call us, then call.  You’ll probably get a head start on the issues that are being faced and an idea of where the role is going and what the organisation wants.
  2. Reading more about the sector the organisation is in – educational, government, private, charity, etc. What are the current issues in that sector? What is your opinion of these issues? How would you tackle them? The worst thing you can say in an interview is “I’m sorry, I haven’t looked at that.” Give yourself a chance. Don’t wait until the “final interview” before fully prepping – you may not get that far.
  3. Finding out where the office is and how to get there.
  4. Looking smart. Though we hardly need tell you that.
  5. Turning up on time. Try not to be more than 10 minutes early as that can be almost as bad as being late. If you are late, call as soon as this becomes apparent to see if you can rearrange your interview time or just warn them.
  6. Once in the interview, try to relax and see it as a conversation. Yes, easier said than done, but the interviewers aren’t there to catch you out as a matter of course. They just want to see if you can do the job. Aim to show your best self but be prepared for tough questions.
  7. If you feel that you haven’t answered a question properly, don’t compound the error by trying to cover it up. Tell us that you’ve made a mistake and then give us your answer again. Try not to do this too often!
  8. Feel free to ask for a glass of water if you need one (and it hasn’t been offered).
  9. Never get angry or frustrated with the interviewer.  Their job is to check out everything about you.  If you get angry or frustrated, you could blow it.