I’ve just gone through the process of hiring on my own for the first time. I. Am. Tired.

But I’ve learnt loads and wanted to share it in the open. Maybe it’ll be useful for someone, whether you're hiring or applying.

At the end of this post I’ve put together 10 tips I’d give someone applying for a job. 

Writing the advert

“This is the most engaging and least terrifying entry-level job advert I've ever seen. It's wonderful.”

“Next time I’m hiring, I’m going to do it like this guy.”

I never expected it to go down so well. I’m still not quite sure why, but I think these points had something to do with it.

Keep it simple

I gave the usual buzzwords and lengthy job descriptions a miss. No bumph. No mention of a dynamic, results-orientated self-starter who can think outside the box. Straight to the point in words that mean something.

Be yourself, be honest

This one is pretty easy for me as an independent. I am my business. I felt comfortable writing something informal and not taking myself too seriously. No promises of joining a fast-growing company.

Challenge yourself

Question what is really needed in the advert and description. Do they need a degree? What level of experience should I expect of an intern? The same goes for how you receive applications. Do the online forms and systems really give applicants an opportunity to demonstrate their skills?

Pay your interns

They’re going to benefit from the experience, sure. But I’m going to benefit too. So they deserve to be paid. Simple.

Be open

I must admit, when I went into it I had someone local in mind, so flexible working would complement time in the office. But I remained open, and the breadth and quality of applicants reflected this. Of 30 applications, just 5 were from Lancashire (where I’m based). 6 were from another part of northern England, 10 in the south of England, 4 elsewhere in the UK and 5 live outside the UK.

And if you’re thinking, “that’s all well and good but you’ve wasted people’s time if you were looking for someone local”, I ended up offering the role to someone who lives 5 hours away in Kent. She is perfect for the role, and the role is perfect for her. It took me a bit of time to get my head around the idea, but now we’re excited to show that remote working works.

Be transparent

I tried to be really clear and up-front about the application process. Including format, how I’d assess them, timescales, what might be involved if you are shortlisted and how I’d communicate throughout.

If in doubt…dogs

I will literally find any opportunity to feature Fred and George. The bonus of their cameo is that I got to enjoy a range of dog photos and stories from applicants.

Here’s the advert in question - 12 month research internship

A photo of 2 dogs

And here's another completely unnecessary photo of Fred and George, this time enjoying their morning lengths.

Promoting it

You don’t have to spend money

I didn’t pay a penny on recruiters or paid advertising. 

But it’s hard work

I didn’t realise how much time I’d end up putting into pushing the advert. Or how difficult it is to come up with new ways to share the same thing without people getting sick of it.

Let the advert do some of the work

It turns out that if it’s a bit different and stands out, the chances are it will be seen and shared.

Turn to your contacts

Social media networks, clients and colleagues past and present, family and friends. It’s amazing how far you can share something.

Interviewing

Be transparent

I’ve been on the other side, invited to an interview but not really knowing what’s in store for me. Particularly in the early days when I didn’t have any interview experience. I tried to put my applicants at ease with answers to the questions I'd probably have: number of people shortlisted, how long it will last, number of questions I’m going to ask, what we'll cover, opportunity to ask me questions.

Calendly for the win

Rather than setting specific interview times for each candidate, they could pick a time that suited them using Calendly. It also meant no admin work for me with the interview slots dropping straight into my inbox. And no hassle re-arranging times/dates people couldn’t do.

Zoom also for the win

I'm as surprised as anyone by this one. I’d got a bit fed up of it in recent months, where everything seems to involve a Zoom* call. But my faith has been restored. Interviewing was more efficient for me and it felt more informal and relaxed than face-to-face. It also takes away the stress of travelling to and finding interview location for candidates, something I always worried about.

*Other video conferencing platforms are available

Feedback

Give some bloody feedback!

It was sad to hear so many applicants come back to me to say thanks for simply giving any kind of feedback. One applicant replied "I am very grateful for the feedback as this is the first position I have been given feedback for!". That’s not right.

Everyone is putting time into the process

Of course it takes time to hire and that multiplies if you get a big response, but I think it’s important to remember that applicants have put the time in too. Some decent communication and feedback is the least they deserve.

And I mean all applicants

Feedback should be given at all stages of the process, not just those who get to the end. How will someone know they’re not helping themselves with the way they approach applications if they don’t get past that hurdle and never get any feedback?

Giving feedback is hard

Well, I found it hard anyway. And it seems to get harder the further through the process you get. Applicants have invested more time, you’ve spoken to them, got to know them a little bit, heard how much they want it. And often the difference between getting a job/role or not at that stage can be small margins. 

Make it useful

Comments like “you weren’t right for it” or “your application wasn’t strong enough” aren’t very helpful. Tell them why and be specific. Maybe send them a useful resource to help them in the future.

10 tips when applying for jobs

Make of these what you will, but hopefully they might help if you’re new to job applications or just find it hard work.

1 I need more than a CV

I know some recruiters or adverts will only ask for a CV, but some kind of covering letter or supporting statement always helps for me. As the pool gets bigger, I have no idea how you can shortlist confidently from just a brief CV. 

2 Make my life easy

The shortlisting process is hard enough as it is. Trying to map your skills and experience to the role from a CV and general email is tough. It’s much easier to work with applications which really clearly state how you meet each of the points in the advert (formal jobs tend to call these ‘essential criteria’).

3 Use the application as an opportunity to show off your skills (if you can)

If you’re someone who is really organised and methodical, get that across in the way that you structure your application. If you’re someone who is creative, how can you demonstrate that in the format of your application?

4 Take your time

It might just be my approach, but you don’t get extra marks for banging in a rushed application nice and early. I’d much rather wait to see something more developed and considered.

5 If you get to an interview, relax

I know that’s easy for me to say and I always get nervous, but remember that you’ve been shortlisted for a reason. Whoever is interviewing you wants you to do well, they’re on your side. What’s the worst that could happen?

6 It’s not all about your academic performance

I’m sure you worked hard for your grades and scores, but I can see that in a CV. When it gets to an interview I’m more interested in hearing about what you’ve learnt, what motivates you and what you do outside of education to develop your skills and experience.

7 It’s better to talk a bit too much than not enough

Your interview is your chance to show off. Give examples. Go into detail. Explain why it’s relevant to the role. It might be worth checking out the STAR technique.

8 Ask questions

An interview is not a one-way street. It’s your opportunity to find out if the role and/or company is right for you. Whether it’s the way they work, the type of projects they take on or their values. Better to find out at this point if you can.

9 Don’t beat yourself up

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been unsuccessful in applying for a job at some point. You’re not on your own.

10 Learn from it

Take feedback on board and learn. It might be something simple you can work on. It might be a bit of experience you can develop in your own time. If they don’t give you any feedback, ask for some. And if they still don’t give you any, then shame on them.