3
   

Tips on job applications/CVs (European/NGO perspective)

 
 
nimh
 
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 02:14 pm
So, I work in a small program within a large international NGO. We had a job opening recently - a very minor opening. Truly a modest job, just one day a week, work can be done from home. Very modest wages too (though that admittedly depends on where you live -a pittance if you're a Londoner, but possibly not bad at all if you're from Tirana).

Considering the minor status of the job, we received a fair number of applications - over fifty. Comes with the territory, also - the name of the organization usually guarantees a healthy interest (for privacy reasons, please don't name the organisation if you know).

Reading through the applications, I have the usual two reactions. On the one hand, reading all these CVs is a truly humbling experience. There are a lot of good people in there, this time especially. I mean, this person will basically be the assistant to my assistant - and yet, the way I see it, there's more than a few people in there who are better qualified than I am. And just one of them will get the job. It's definitely a good exercise in gratitude. <nods>

On the other hand though - I mean, it's not as bad as with the open applications we receive, some of which are baffling - but still, going through these letters and CVs, and seeing the kind of things people write, also really puts things into perspective. I mean, you'd be surprised. Well, I was. If you ever felt insecure about your own application letters, and assumed that the competition must be far more professional, and must know all the tricks and conventions that elude you, then you should spend a day or two reading through application letters some time. People just do stuff!

If I could, seriously, I'd write some of them back and warn them. Like, please - mister, miss - I can tell that you're good people, and that you're sincerely interested, or that you do have some valuable experience there - but if you want to get a job, in this sector at least - can I just make a suggestion for your next letter?

That won't do of course. So they'll just get a standard rejection letter and move on to the next application. Instead, then, I'll satisfy my urge in this thread here while reading this batch of letters, and any future letters we get. Smile

Of course, I can only talk from a non-profit/NGO type perspective - and a European one, at that. I know conventions vary wildly from one country and sector to the next, so what will totally fail here might be a winner in another place. So folks, if you want to chime in from your own perspective, please do, who knows, perhaps we'll get some do's and don'ts that might be useful for people.
  • Topic Stats
  • Top Replies
  • Link to this Topic
Type: Discussion • Score: 3 • Views: 12,389 • Replies: 29
No top replies

 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 03:40 pm
This thread seems like a good idea, nimh. I've received a lot of job applications too, and have sometimes wanted to write the person back with more of a note than usual.
0 Replies
 
Tico
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 03:58 pm
bm
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 03:59 pm
OK, sorry - this seems so obvious that it's embarrassing to even include it in any kind of checklist, but first things first - people should always use spell check. I was really perplexed that there's really people - otherwise intelligent people - who fail on this count alone already.

I mean, if you have your Masters' degree, and you've had a professional position before, then you should know. Especially if the job opening you're responding to emphasizes attention to detail and a high level of English language competency...

Oh, and people shouldn't forget to check the bit of accompanying text that they put in their email, when they're attaching their letter and CV, as well... Just paste the text of your email in a Word doc for a second to be sure.
0 Replies
 
Green Witch
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 04:00 pm
ossobuco wrote:
This thread seems like a good idea, nimh. I've received a lot of job applications too, and have sometimes wanted to write the person back with more of a note than usual.


ditto.

One of my more memorable applications was written by a man who admitted he was an "occasional cocaine user" and "weekend heavy drinker". He wrote that he was sure if he was hired for the position of Northeast Sales Manager that the importance of such a job would make him "clean up his act".

Tip of the day: lie about any current drug or alcohol abuse.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 04:04 pm
Hey, I like this one. Applicant hails from a country that is not eligible. Actually, since he currently resides here, he actually is eligible for the job, so there would have been no reason to worry. But I like the way he handles it -- instead of just betting on it, he calls up the question straight away himself in his letter:

"I am interested in the position [etc], but I know that the country I come from is not eligible. Therefore I am attaching my curriculum vitae to this message and will deeply appreciate your notice about future openings suitable for me."

Thought that was elegant -- and since he actually is eligible, that makes me look more kindly on the CV.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 04:05 pm
Green Witch wrote:
One of my more memorable applications was written by a man who admitted he was an "occasional cocaine user" and "weekend heavy drinker". He wrote that he was sure if he was hired for the position of Northeast Sales Manager that the importance of such a job would make him "clean up his act".

Tip of the day: lie about any current drug or alcohol abuse.

Dude Laughing

Yeah, thats definitely one in the WTF category..
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 04:15 pm
Don't list every single conference you've ever been to - just saw a CV that did. Just highlight any that you played an organizational role in, and possibly ones that are specifically relevant to the job.

You could potentially group together any others that say something special about you, eg that you've travelled all across Europe to be able to attend seminars and trainings, or that you successfully acquired stipends to attend conferences - but a full run-down is really not necessary...
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 04:55 pm
Oh, man. I've conducted interviews in this job and in my last one. Two people were hired (one in this job, one in the last one). But lots more were not.

Tip of the day -- if you're going to try to hand over some sort of praise that's supposed to be impressive, make sure it's actually unique, directly about you and really is impressive. Had a guy who gave me a two-line email to read that said that he was very competent. Well, gee, that's nice.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 05:24 pm
If you are obviously overqualified for the job - say, you're applying for grunt-type data processing work and you're a major ICT expert in your country - then including a three-page CV that at length details your management experience is probably not the best move.

In fact - well, I know that conventions vary immensely from country to country and from discipline to discipline - academic positions, for example, I'm sure have wholly other standards again. But if you're applying for a typical low- or mid-level NGO/INGO position, then a 3-page CV is probably not a good bet in any case. If the person reading it has dozens more on his pile, a 3+ page CV is a bit of a turnoff.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Oct, 2007 05:29 pm
Make sure you've read widely on the website of the organization you're applying at - and then recycle what you've learned in your own letter. Actually recycle the occasional phrase: "my work in [name and/or type of relevant work experience] has improved my knowledge and understanding of [theme of interest as mentioned on website]" - that kind of thing.

It's a trick but it works - it makes the reader go, "hey!", in recognition, and at most then - "oh she's read up - well, good for her!".

More substantively, name check fields of interest and/or working strategies outlined on the website in your own letter, pointing for each how your work experience is relevant to it. (If you have something specific to point to, of course -- "as my education in xyz shows, I have always been interested in human rights issues" doesn't cut it.)
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 19 Oct, 2007 04:55 am
OK - here's what I think is a major culture clash. I'm pretty sure, at least, that what I have here is a question of clashing cultural conventions when it comes to writing application letters. US applicant. Her letter starts off like this:

    "You are looking for an intelligent and dedicated [etc] with excellent communication skills and a passion for [etc]. I am searching for a challenging and professionally relevent position to [etc]. I believe we can satisfy each other's needs."
Um. No. This does not work - not that I know of - if you're applying at an NGO. Not in Europe. Unless it's a particularly gung-ho corporate kind, I guess. I mean, it's the perfect pitch if you're going for a position in sales or the like, I suppose. But otherwise, this is a total turn off.

(And yes, it said "relevent".)

It goes on like that, too - for example:

    "There are certain skills and aspects of my professional life that my resume does not reveal…" "Most importantly, however, is my personality; you will find my upbeat attitude, willingness to learn, and extreme professional ability to be a positive addition to your team. My desire to excel at any and every task I am given will benefit your program."
Shocked

I mean, folks - tell me - I might be off in a niche here. How would this go over in your place? In the Netherlands, I'm pretty sure, at least outside the really commercial sector, a letter like this just comes across as slick and arrogant. Like it's from someone who could do the job well, but whom you wouldn't want on your team. For an NGO it's definitely just the wrong vibe.

Mind you, I don't think this applicant is slick or arrogant at all - I really just think it's a question of mismatched conventions. It's probably just phrases she's learnt to use - standard type sentences for application letters where she's from. But then again, writing in standard-format, hackneyed kind of phrases is a minus in itself again...
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 19 Oct, 2007 10:13 am
For a modest position like this, a two page CV is long, but it could be OK if there's lots of relevant stuff on it - stuff that's to do with the subjects we work on, or the type of work you'll be doing.

A two-page CV that devotes three lines to one's having been a horseback riding instructor, six lines on having been the house director of the college's women's hall, four lines on having been on the college rifle team, and then some more - not so much.

I mean, it makes for some cool extra info that conveys a sense that you are energetic, responsible, and ambitious - but - it should be the extra stuff. The interesting additional detail stuck at the end of your CV that illustrates your main experience, not the main dish. Be selective, be concise.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 19 Oct, 2007 10:14 am
If your CV is in pitch-perfect English - say, you've honed it over the years and have had it read over by others - you'd better make sure that your letter is in fine English as well. An accompanying letter that then is in awkward English might cause some dissonance (or distrust)...
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 19 Oct, 2007 11:41 am
Oh god yes (three posts up, the U.S. applicant), that's what I was going to say when I first saw this thread, then lost track of it...

Those people drove me crazy. I got a lot of them. Someone at some point told them to blow their own horn, or something, but the tone...! Totally nails-on-chalkboard. Instant turn-off.

I interviewed a few of them for one reason or another (otherwise good qualifications, or had to interview a set amount of people before offering the job to anyone), and their personalities invariably SUCKED. The people who said they had such a great personality, that is.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 19 Oct, 2007 01:02 pm
I would get applications such as you are talking about now 4 posts up, nimh, and 1 post up, soz... and they also were turnoffs to me. The most braggadocio seemed to be from those with less actual experience.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 19 Oct, 2007 02:35 pm
OK! <relieved>

I really thought that perhaps this was just the norm in America, or something, and that it was just cultural difference.

I remember when I was looking into different possibilities a few years back, and was looking up advice on the net on how to write CVs for Europe versus for the UK or for the US - their examples for US CVs feel weirdly bold and pushy compared to what we're used to. While in Germany, say, it's a little more polite and formal than what we're used to in Holland.

So, good to hear that this kind of letter elicited the same kind of response from you as well, when you were reviewing applications. Must be a good sign.

Makes one wonder, why do they do it?? If it's such an obvious turn-off, at least for many? It must work somewhere, then..

It's also really what they learn, I think. Did you ever buy these books on how to do job applications well? I got one - eh, I stole it, just after graduating. Didnt want to spend the money on it, but it seemed like the thing to have. And there's lots of commonsensical advice in there, for sure, even if much of it is so commonsensical as to border on the bloody obvious (I'm glad I didn't buy it). But there's also this constant boosting of, ya gotta blow your own horn, always and insistently, which I'd just chalked up to it being written for very commercial sectors in mind.

But also changing times - both Dutch culture and, on a different note, NGO culture internationally, are edging more and more to what I thought of as an "American" style too.



Oh and yes, exactly -- the whole inverse proportionality of the amount of braggadocio vs the amount of expertise... Evil or Very Mad
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 19 Oct, 2007 02:51 pm
Yeah, resumes and cover letters were part of my curriculum in L.A. A lot of the books model bombast. I ignored that part, and taught my students to go with simple and straightforward. (And spell-checked.)
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Oct, 2007 02:05 pm
OK, here's eight points in the category obvious...

  • Rule #1: Write the name of the organization you're applying at correctly.

  • Some people write letters that are too long (over 1 page). Many write CVs that are too long (over 2 pages). Then there are those - or at least one - who write a one-page email including a five-line cover letter and a nine-line CV. That doesn't work.

  • No matter how excellent your CV, attach a formal application letter as well please. If for nothing else, so that we can see how easily you write whole sentences and paragraphs in English.

  • Always tricky: you want your letter to look good so you attach it as Word doc; your CV is an attachment as well; but what do you put in the email that you attach those two, then?

    You need something short that doesn't replicate anything from the letter itself; something formal. In any case put something in there - don't just send an empty email with attachments.

    Also, this -

      "Hello, We do not know each other, but I am sending you my CV for the [..] position."

    certainly made me grin out loud (and the applicant turned out to be worth a look), but it is not … recommended. Smile

  • CVs that come in giant-sized fonts (what is this, 16 points?) do not help.

  • It is embarrassing if you send the wrong CV, in which you hadn't corrected some spelling errors yet, and have to send your CV again. Probably lethal in most cases. But I'm feeling it: sometimes **** happens. But then the rest better be perfect. (And not include 16-point fonts).

  • It is embarrassing if your first email seems to have disappeared in cyberspace and you have to send a new email just in case. **** happens, but of course you'll be a little embarassed. However, expressing your embarrassment by using triple exclamation marks in your apology and adding a blushing smiley is not a good idea.

    "Hello again" is in any case not a good opening to your email, even without triple exclamation marks.

  • If you're applying for a job that is done in English at an English-speaking organization, then don't write your application letter and CV … in Spanish.

    <blinks>

    (No, really. There was one.)
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Oct, 2007 02:08 pm
What's your thoughts about people who add a passport-sized photo to their CV?

I'm surprised that quite some people do it - about one in six or seven I'd say. I'm uneasy with it - somehow it does always subliminally influences you, when I really think it shouldn't.
0 Replies
 
 

Related Topics

 
  1. Forums
  2. » Tips on job applications/CVs (European/NGO perspective)
Copyright © 2021 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.03 seconds on 06/13/2021 at 02:33:53