Attracting attention in your job hunt is a subtle science

WHAT value is there in seeking attention? The practice has a bad reputation, known as part of the power-play of ill-disciplined little children. But in a competitive job market, where even the best must struggle to win over recruiters or potential employers, some argue that there’s virtue in trying to be noticed in the early stages of an application.

OfficeTeam, a subsidiary of Robert Half, a recruitment firm, recently released figures revealing that 54 per cent of job seekers would chase up unanswered applications within a week of dispatch. This certainly suggests that candidates are keen to stay on recruiters’ radars.

But is it too soon? Is attention-seeking and pushiness a sign of desperation rather than determination? As one recruiter explained, “there’s a very fine line to tread between an assiduous follow-up and stalking.”

Paul Chapman, managing director of financial recruitment specialists Hornby Chapman, waxes nostalgic for the old days of recruiting. “Someone would use his or her network, or a favoured recruiter, and would sit back and wait for a job.” Now, things are very different. Competition, fragmentation of where jobs are posted, and an excess of candidate supply over the number of jobs all mean applicants must try harder to gain notice.

Chapman thinks the first step should still be to make use of traditional routes like networking. “You need to know the firm you’re applying to, and be a known name to the people working there.” There are many shades of attention, and a “warm lead-in can circumvent difficulties and ease the process.”

But if only a cold approach is possible, and your first contact with your potential employer is via covering letter and CV, it is still possible to be distinctive. Again, this is a fine line. There are many shades of tone and behaviour between tedious and wacky. After seeing a candidate’s circular CV, Chapman recalls finding it “the perfect shape for a bin liner.”

Anelia Varela is creative director at The Writer, a business writing consultancy. She thinks that “people forget, when applying for a job, that it’s a competition.” CVs can be “lifeless documents,” and anyone injecting an element of personality carries a hallmark of distinction that can serve them well. She says “you don’t really need to do that much” to stand out, and her key recommendations are to avoid passivity, and to show rather than say. “People fall into that trap of saying they’re passionate and saying they’re confident, instead of writing passionately or confidently.”

An excellent and noticeable CV will also understand and appreciate the tone of a sector or firm. “Do some homework and get a sense of the culture and personality of the organisation,” Varela says. “Don’t play their own voice back at them,” but “show them what makes you an interesting person in a language and tone they will understand.” Chapman agrees – “I want to hire a human, not an automaton.”

This goes for jargon, too. There is a place for industry terminology in an application and it can often demonstrate hard-earned expertise or relevant knowledge. But it shouldn’t be used as a proxy for demonstrating practical examples of that knowledge. It may look fine on paper, but Varela warns that “if you can’t imagine yourself saying it in an interview, just re-write it.”

Of course a personal recommendation or a professionally crafted CV are just the beginning. Once the recruiter’s appetite is whetted, he or she will need reassurance that it is worth satisfying, at interview or elsewhere. Attracting attention is not the same as maintaining it.

Gary Trueman, senior consultant at Stonewood Partners, cautions against over-eager follow ups. “If you haven’t heard from an application within a few days, it is likely you have not have been shortlisted.” Chapman reiterates this point. “A little nudge now and again can be useful, but it shouldn’t become pestering. A call once a week smacks of desperation and also a lack of interpersonal nous.”

This last point is crucial. Attention-seeking, both as a determination to attract notice and, as a way of prompting a quick response to your application, is a delicate science. Too little, and your suitability may be overlooked. But too much of it and you may just lose your credibility, professional weight, and put your application at risk.