What Employers Wish You Knew When Applying for Jobs



  • Cultural fit is super important
  • You might have been the top of your class, but if we think you’ll struggle to fit in, we might prioritise someone with lesser grades, experience or skills than you. This sounds harsh, but cultural fit is one of the biggest reasons people leave – if they aren’t happy in the company they won’t last long. And we’ll be back in the situation we dread of having to hire all over again.

    However, it’s not just about whether we think you’re going to be fun at Friday night drinks or join the lunchtime indoor football team, often it can be pretty unpredictable at your end. We’ll be looking at the team you’re going to be in, what the existing personalities are like and what’s going to gel with them.

    While it doesn’t sound fair, looking for people that fit in is what finds people that stay and succeed. If we turn you down because we can see clearly that you won’t fit in, it’s doing you a favour as much as us. There will be another job that’s more suited to you and your style – don’t give up looking!

    • We want an honest answer to what your future goals are

    Another key concern, particularly with younger graduates is that your long term goals fit with the role. This all ties in to making sure we find someone that’s going to stay. If you’re applying for a job as a stepping stone to where you really want to be, we’d prefer to know. If we can help you grow toward your goals IN the company, (or even comfortably know that 2 years of good work for us is a good payoff to support and train you to help you get your next job), we’ll be thrilled to do it.

    The other common concern with employees in their 20s is that they often want to travel. If you’re honest about that, we might be able to make that work with some advanced notice. Larger firms might have offices overseas and can mentor you on the right track to getting a secondment or transfer. Even better, if you don’t plan to travel, let us know. Hearing that you prefer to have a two week overseas trip once a year than to take a gap year will be like music to our ears! Just don’t lie to us, please!

    • We’re looking for reasons to cut the pile of CVs down

    Going back to the beginning of the process, you need to scrutinise every word of your CV. Think about the situation we’re in – it isn’t unheard of to receive 300+ CVs applying for one job. It is incredibly tough to cut those CVs down into 3-5 people that you want to interview. Especially in a graduate job where everyone has the same degree and pretty limited work experience. So as well as the usual advice of being concise and trying to stand out as much as possible, know that we’re looking for every excuse to put a CV in the “no” pile – because we’re going to have a lot more than 5 people that look good on paper.

    What that translates to is making sure you’ve proof-read your application (it just screams out careless if there are typos) and that you have taken the time to tailor your experience to the job. Don’t list everything you’ve ever done since you were 7 years old – pick and choose the 5 jobs or projects (volunteer work is fine) that are most relevant, because that’s better than making us work to pick out the 5 relevant jobs from your list of 10.

    • The balance between assertive and demanding is difficult

    This one is tricky, as it is important to be confident and assertive, but it can be a fine line between coming across overly demanding or entitled. It is important to show you think a job is going to be a great opportunity, that you are going to be easy to work with and that you aren’t just in it for the money. It can be pretty easy for candidates to come across like they think they deserve everything handed to them, when in reality they are just trying to be confident and negotiate. Let us know your long term goals and aspirations, just be careful not to sound demanding or presumptuous. Know they right time to ask about salary, perks and benefits (generally the last possible thing to discuss, and NOT in a first interview), and don’t try to negotiate before you’ve even had an offer!

    • Respect the process we go through, especially when outlined

    A good recruiter will let you know they have received your application and tell you a process and a timeline. If they don’t, it’s OK to ask, but if you’ve been given an answer, even if you find it annoyingly vague, don’t ask again or badger the recruiter. It signals that you are impatient, demanding and could be difficult to work with. We’d much rather give the role to someone we think really deserves it, than someone that seems entitled. Even if the email is an automated response, you still need to respect the process you’re given. If you are told that you’ll hear back in two weeks, don’t ask earlier. If you’ve had an interview, a quick thank you note is OK, but multiple follow ups don’t say “Great, she’s keen” to us. Instead, they get frustrating and might bump you down the list.

    If however, we said we’d let you know in a week and it’s been two, it’s OK to send a follow up. However, just send the one and maybe call if it has been another week after that. If you still don’t get an answer, let it go. It sucks when employers don’t let you know, especially after an interview and I 100% agree they should tell you if you haven’t got the job, but many don’t. Sometimes, there might be a good reason for a late response – their boss has decided they should delay hiring, they have had to travel for work or deal with another project, they are waiting on a response from someone else they have offered it to, or they are deciding if they should hire a second person in the role, which means you’re still in with a shot. Some companies also just have super long hiring processes and don’t make any promises about when you’ll hear back as they are taking their time to find the best person.

    • That quick phone call? Yeah, that was an interview

    Another important thing to note is that many processes will start with screening you over the phone, to filter out more candidates. If someone calls you and asks if you have a few moments to answer some questions, it’s an interview, not a friendly chat. If you’re busy, in the middle of the supermarket or just not prepared, it is 100% OK to say you are in the middle of something and to make a new time. Even if you just ask the interviewer to call back in 10 minutes, it gives you some time to get in the right headspace and you’ll be better off for it.

    • The person who greets you at the door is the most important person you’ll meet

    Often you’ll be greeted by someone on the reception desk, or the personal assistant of the hiring manager you’re going in to see. Whilst someone may sit on a reception desk, they may actually be the office manager. And that PA walking you into the office? He or she is the gatekeeper to that hiring manager and has spent many moons becoming their trusted adviser, deciding what information is crucial to them doing their job and who to turn away. He or she is the first person the manager will discuss your interview with. You better believe that every person you interact with will be talking to that hiring manager and they will let them know if you were rude to “just the receptionist” or if they spotted you take your gum out and stick it under the seat. I’ve even heard possibly mythical stories of employees being “planted” in the reception room as though they are also candidates, in order to make small talk and catch you out.

    • Trash talk is never cool

    If you left your job because your boss was an evil megalomaniac that made your life a living hell, definitely do NOT say this in an interview. Talking negatively about your past employer not only makes you look bad but it is a stark reminder that one day we will be that employer or those colleagues you are bitching about. You should show you’re mature and able to rise above emotions and deal with all kinds of people. Mentioning your evil boss as the reason you need this job is not going to do that, or be remotely endearing. Instead, focus on the positives of the new opportunity when asked why you left your job.

    • The job is about us, not you

    Just like the points about being entitled, you are being hired to fulfil the mission of the company and help them achieve specific goals. This needs to be front and centre, not your needs and desires. However, showing that your goals align with the company’s goals is a very good thing – you don’t have to ignore your goals and ambitions completely, just ensure you make it clear you are there to do a great job and make a difference. For the company. The very nature of a job is that you are rewarded for that, so it doesn’t need to become front and centre.