Get your application right: playing notes in the right order

In the United Kingdom, there is an old school comedy duo called Morecambe and Wise.

One well known sketch is antics with composer André Previn, the jist is Eric Morecambe forces himself onto the orchestra and rather than playing the classical piece André is composing, he starts playing some bizarre tune on the piano.

André, slightly peeved off by the situation tells Eric he is playing “all the wrong notes”

Eric squares up to him saying

“I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.”

After reviewing a talented colleagues job application, I thought this sketch is a perfect analogy for many people when writing their experience on paper.

They know the notes, but don’t quite get the correct order they should be played.

If you are one of those people, it’s not necessarily bad, you just don’t know quite how to express your abilities that sound beautiful to the reader’s ear.

I had the same issue, any progress made was luck and I never understood the fundamentals of what sounded right and what didn’t.

It was only through mentorship I was able to refine my application skills, resulting in a better hit rate for getting interviews.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have that support, here are pointers  to help play the “notes”:

Someone to review and provide constructive feedback

Recently I rejected a bad application from an internal candidate, their manager contacted me wondering why such an amazing member of staff was not being invited for an interview.

I broke down my reasons, they had fluffed the application with useless platitudes “I’m a really good organiser”

Then, I asked a simple question, had they reviewed the application?

The answer was “No”

When you have done an application that is “good enough”, get a fresh pair of eyes, this can help spot poor grammar, using confusing terminology or just general bullshit.

Learn writing skills

I’m always harder with university graduates who have terrible writing skills.

I expect better because one of the key skills at university is being able to express yourself on paper; if they can’t do that on an application it’s either because they are lazy or made no effort to become a better writer.

A fundamental for a good application is to improve your writing skills.  I recommend learning about business writing and using an app like Grammarly to polish your work.

I won’t detail how to be a better writer, but every application should be like a good story – with a beginning, middle and end:

The beginning: be the hook to create interest around your abilities and make the reader want to continue.

The middle: shows how you meet the requirements and be grouped in a logical, flowing order.

The end: is the impact, concluding your skills.  I copy the approach of good blog writers, promoting the recruiter with an action. In this case:

“If you are interested in finding out more how my skills can meet the needs of [company], I would welcome the opportunity to be invited to an interview to demonstrate my abilities further.”

Understand the ask

It seems obvious, but instead of understanding what the job is asking for, a number of people force every boring, irrelevant achievement they think makes them sound good.

Understand the companies vision / values and tailor your application to show you are an appropriate fit.

From research and the job description, pick out words they like to use and Mirror these words to show that you speak the recruiters language, building rapport and talking like you are already working in the organisation culture.

Be self-aware

Self-awareness is important – you can always do better.

If you fail to get interviews from your work and your reaction is:

“what went wrong?  My application was perfect!”

or

“well! They don’t deserve me!”

You are not self-aware – stop blaming everyone else and address this or you will never improve.

Avoid the bullshit

There is a lot of bullshit that is filled in applications:

  • Acroynms that mean nothing except to about 10 people.
  • Describing something you did in tedious “I did this, and they said this, so I did this…” levels of detail.
  • Overselling something minor you did to make you sound more qualified for the role (renovating a house does not count as project management).

All these approaches do, is confuse, bore or make the reader facepalm.

Remember a good application can say just as much in 500 words than the one that is 2000 – the former is a much easier read for someones potentially going through dozens of applications.

One way of cutting the bullshit is to read through your completed application and aim to cut out 10%.

Avoid me, me, me

When you apply for a job you want something – money, training, career development.  There is nothing wrong with this, that’s why we work – however, there is a correct way to frame this.

The best approach is to always think “What can I do for the organistion, rather than what can the organisation do for me…”

It seems appropriate to include this quote – it’s about thinking what you can do for someone/something else.

If you say:

“I am eager to undertake training and professional development to support the requirements of the role”

That is better than saying:

“I am eager to undertake training and professional development to support the development of my career”

Both say the same thing, just framed differently.  As a general rule avoid words that are selfish like “me” and “my”


These are my main tips for writing a good application form.  There are lots of great resources out there but always try and strive for feedback as much as possible.

I appreciate companies aren’t much help in providing feedback – generally ignoring this request, but it can’t hurt to ask.

If you have any further tips, then please comment below.

And if you enjoyed this post, please like, share and join the mailing list, thank you!

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2 thoughts on “Get your application right: playing notes in the right order

  1. Great post and useful. Feed back is bit difficult to get. They should really teach this at school and uni cause then you have a better chance.

    I hate the whole application process. Probably all the scares post uni..

    These tips are useful.

    Your posts lately are really up there and very comprehensive.

    1. Thank you for the feedback, keep trying to improve the quality so glad it is paying off!

      Regarding applications:
      Yes, I think feedback is the worst part of applying as most organisations have a policy of not giving that at this stage, which the worst if you would welcome it to make your applications better.

      The school / university route would help (along with other life skills), I would also like to see organisations be more supportive, giving avice on the types of things they like to see on applications and how to structure.

      Understand the hate of applications, for myself it is more boredom, they take so long to complete, that if I can’t be bothered with the effort I know that the job just isn’t for me.

      Thanks for your comment 🙂

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