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How many jobs should I apply for? Why less is more

Employability Service

Category: Student support services

25 February 2020

It’s as easy to predict as the daffodils appearing - the springtime job application-fest of many final year undergraduates. But how can you increase your chances of getting shortlisted?

So, it’s your final semester. As the end of your degree course is in sight, you will be happy that your dissertation is drafted, your revision plan is on track and all the work for your final modules is under control. Or perhaps it’s not quite like that for you.

More common is the feeling that time is running out and achieving that honours degree still needs a considerable amount of your time and effort in your final trimester.

It is also a time of stress for another reason. Questions from family asking whether you have found a job yet, financial pressures and the realisation that you still don’t know what you want to do with your life can weigh you down, just as you are trying to enjoy the last few weeks of university life.

If you have only just started thinking about finding a graduate job, some graduate employers have already filled their spots and closed their doors. But all is not lost, we promise! A natural reaction is to hit your job search hard by applying for every job which looks vaguely suitable within a 100-mile radius. This strategy rarely works and here’s why.

Person (out of view) holding up a sign saying 'We're hiring'; colleagues seen in background

When thinking about recruitment, the two questions that employers ask themselves is, 'Is this person a good fit for the role?' and 'Do they really want this job at my organisation?' If you can’t convince them that you a) understand what the job involves and b) know enough about the organisation, then there’s a risk you won’t do what is expected of you in the job and/or you may leave. Then the employer has to start again!

Because the answers to these questions will differ by job and employer, you need to tailor each application to the job and the hiring organisation.  This takes time, yes. But it’s worth it.

Think about it for a moment. Let’s say you have set aside one day to work on applications. In that day, you can send 50 generic cover letters/CVs or five highly tailored ones. If poor applications get trashed instantly, all 50 won’t get past the first review and your success rate is 0%. You are wasting 100% of your time. But, with five highly tailored applications, perhaps two or three will get shortlisted. That’s a 50% success rate on average.

So how do you tailor your application? Simple. You learn what the recruiter is looking for and make sure you can evidence this in your application. Use real examples from your work experience, your school/college/university life and your personal life. Where possible, use numbers and state outcomes. Here are some to inspire you.

Employer wants Your application says
Energetic and enthusiastic person Nominated as Course Representative for 80 students, used opportunity to enthusiastically promote employer events to help students build their professional networks.
Excellent organisation and time management skills Organised three annual fundraising events for my local rugby club, raising over £5,000 for new equipment.
Good commercial awareness Trained four new restaurant staff members in how to avoid waste to improve profitability, resulting in a 2% reduction in waste in six months.  

In summary, it is a much more effective strategy when job searching to do less but do it better. Plus, you will find it much easier to keep track of your applications and if you receive a call inviting you to interview – which is much more likely if you focus – then you’ll have a clear idea which job it is regarding.

Don’t forget, you’re not alone – there is lots of support on hand to help you to find a graduate job or internship.

Visit the Careers Centre for support and come to an Employability Drop-in session in Cambridge or Chelmsford or book a one-to-one Careers Appointment. Look out for self-development workshops and events which will bring you into contact with employers.

Emma Jennings, Employability & Careers Adviser


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.