A conversation with Shireen Kisitu on all things job applications

Shireen Kisitu is a recuitment specialist for one of the biggest employment agencies in the UK. We asked her some questions on what we could all be doing better to have a higher chance of getting employed. Here is how the conversation went…

Q- What is the first thing employers look at on CV’s? 

A- I think one thing job seekers need to keep in mind and also not take it as a negative, is that there will be hundreds of applicants for the role you are applying for and a recruiter or a hiring manager tend to quickly scan through CVs to see if you are the right fit. I think on average it takes them between 5-15 seconds to determine whether you are a potential candidate or not. Therefore, the first thing employers look for are specific keywords. This is what will spark their interest and where you get savvy with your CV. It’s important to read and understand the job description as this will help you to tailor your CV. You can find these keywords recruiters are looking for within the “essentials”, “key responsibilities” section.

Q- What do you feel candidates are doing wrong when applying for jobs? 

A- A lot of candidates assume that what they are putting on their CV would be relevant to every job they are applying for as opposed to tailoring it to each role. I always recommend having different versions of your CV or at least tailoring it to the job you are applying for. When recruiters advertise, they use a certain tone that represents their brand. Now your personal statement/profile or even cover letter, is a chance to show your personality and also show that you are the right fit for the company. So if you’re coming across too corporate for a company whose culture is fun, vibrant, and has a lot of social activities, then automatically, you are deemed “not the right fit” based on the language you are using. 

Now that’s not saying use colloquial language, absolutely not! But, it’s all about mimicking the way in which an employer brands themselves and whether your characteristics fit. For Law, this will definitely mean a more corporate and put together approach to your application. There’s a high expectation for how you present yourself.

Q- How can candidates better position themselves for jobs? 

A- This is a question I’ve personally had to learn over time and it starts with believing in your capabilities. A lot of job seekers will feel that they aren’t suitable for a role because they lack a certain skill but it’s all about assessing what you have previously done and applying this to the role. Understanding the true meaning of transferrable skills. Next is actually getting experience and yes, it’s a very blunt statement but things such as voluntary work in your field, getting a mentor, shadowing someone in a role you want to be in if you are employed, increasing your skill sets beyond your degree. Open University has free courses and there’s plenty of free courses online too. This shows both your commitment to independent learning and your ability to take initiative. But also don’t be afraid to start at a lower level to gain experience and work your way up.

Q- How long should a CV and cover letter be? 

A- A CV should be no longer than 2 pages and a cover letter no more than a page. I’ve always gone with a paragraph because I believe that if I can’t sell myself in the space of 30 seconds then God help me. But of course, it is dependent on the roles you are applying for but the more concise you are (which a skill that everyone should acquire), the better chance of your CV being looked into. Long CVs also suggest instability, which some recruiters are looking past as there are circumstances that cause you to be in and out of jobs but the more you can summarise and highlight the areas that APPLY to this role, the better your chances. 

Q- Any further advice or comments to help candidates secure their dream jobs…

A- Research the firms and companies you are applying for and when I say research, I don’t mean when they were established because let’s be frank, you don’t care. What I mean is look for company photos on places such as their website (careers page), Glassdoor, Indeed company pages. Read their employee reviews. What is it like to work at this company? Yes, the job is great but what are people saying about this company. Do you know anyone working there? Connect with current employees on LinkedIn and see if they post about their company. This says a lot about how they view the company as a place to brag about. We spend most of our time at work so make sure it’s the right fit for you!

Another tip would be to believe in your ability and have confidence that you have a unique selling point that no other candidate has. And if you feel like you don’t, find that one thing and it may be as simple as your personality and your humor or a newly acquired skill that makes you stand out. Don’t give up! The jobseeker journey is tough but it’s worth it once you’ve been given that break. No situation is permanent unless you allow it to be. 

Connect with recruiters on LinkedIn at companies you wish to work for and maybe introduce yourself as an active jobseeker, even if there are no roles available as it shows that you are proactive and willing to go beyond the norm (of course don’t bombard them). Set up job alerts across all job platforms such as Indeed, reed.co.uk, Total jobs, Monster, LinkedIn, etc so that you never miss an open role and keep your CV updated on these platforms too.

Don’t be afraid to take a pay cut as there are chances of you acquiring new skills that will make a huge impact down the line.  And finally, just to emphasise this point – don’t give up! The jobseeker journey is tough but it’s worth it once you’ve been given that break. No situation is permanent unless you allow it to be. 

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