Applying for a Top Job — how to make the shortlist

At Blackadder Associates we firmly believe that ambition is a good thing. It’s what drives us to excel, it pushes us to complete tasks, meet deadlines, and even to try new endeavours. Some employers don’t like ambition – they worry about losing you to another employer. But they perhaps don’t appreciate that it might mean getting a better replacement . . . How far you go in your career is a matter for you, as opposed to what others might think.

All that said, we throw out one ‘but’ — avoid ‘ruthless ambition.’ You know, the people who trample over everything and anything to get what they want. Based on decades of experience, in both managing at the top and in recruiting GMs/CEOs/Directors and Managers, we can give you a 100% guarantee that ‘nice guys and gals tend to finish first’. So, be ambitious — but be nice, too.

So, you are ambitious, hardworking, well-qualified, and want to further your career. What’s your next step? One option is simply to email or phone us and have a chat — by Skype or, even better, meet for a coffee. We are not like some other recruiters who use computerised profiles to decide whether you meet certain criteria and only then will agree to meet. We are different – we are very happy to meet at the Concord office, to go down stairs to Espresso Organica and, over a coffee, weigh up your career potential and provide valuable career guidance. We know that if we put you on our database it might not be too long before the ideal job for you comes to our attention.

Many people just do not know when they are ready for that next step, or they simply lack self-confidence and don’t know how good they are. Others know; and it’s usually when they start questioning their own boss about decisions — and they then decide its time to move on. And, others need to be shaken from their cosy job with a call to ask whether they would consider a great job that they may not be aware of.

Before you rush into application mode you need to consider a few things. Do some research into both the Council and the role you are applying for. Never underestimate the power of networking — some of your contacts will know the Council better than you, so pick their brains. Find out about the politics, the financial position, the current leadership, the organisation culture – when did they last do a staff engagement survey and what has been done to address the issues identified? And what about the latest community survey — what is the overall satisfaction of the community with the Council?

By demonstrating that you have done your homework you can ask some pertinent questions of the recruiter and start developing a relevant response to the key selection criteria in the application form. You will come across as interested, motivated, engaged, and informed. You will be better placed to tailor your application to the job. Most importantly, as soon as you get the Information package for the role, call the recruiter. If it’s Blackadder Associates we will give you an in-depth and informed account of the organisation, the role, and the challenges facing the role. We will not hide anything. If there is a problem at the Council, we will tell you. We often find that the best candidates are those who are excited about the challenges — we often advise those seeking our career advice to not go to a council that is working well. Go and help the Council with the issue and further your reputation as a transformational change agent.

I cannot stress enough the need to tailor your CV and application — this is decidedly not a case of one-size-fits-all. You might be surprised to hear that there are individuals who think that their standard CV, or a cut-and-paste job on an online application form, will suffice. Generic-type applications stick out like a sore thumb and don’t impress. This type of ‘stick and flick’ application is a huge red-flag; you will almost certainly miss out on the shortlist.

So, your CV is the chance to make that good first impression. Throw in some colour and put in a head-shot photo. We believe candidates who are prepared to show their face are those who have pride and a level of self-confidence which is vital in the role. And, put your qualifications up front and emphasise the tertiary qualifications, the technical abilities, and the competencies that are most important for this role. A CV is a collection of facts and how you align those facts to the role is important.

Now, when you get to the key selection criteria, the organisation will want to know how your skills, abilities, and experience align with what the organisation is looking for. There may be around 10 key issues — and our advice is to indicate HOW your skills, abilities and experience align with those important aspects. In addressing the ‘how’ make sure you give practical examples — your CV tells them what you have done — the key selection criteria allow you to tell a story about how you have succeeded. This is a tried and tested method that makes clear to all whether you have the skills, strengths and successes sought for the role. If you fail to address the criteria well enough your application is likely to sink without a trace.

We also ask about motivation. Why this job, why this place, why are you ready, and what will you gain from succeeding in the role? This is your chance to tell the truth — this might be the career move you are after. It might be the right place for you and your family to call home. The organisation might have the values you share. But simply, this might be the next step in your life journey. Those scrutinising your application don’t know your background so give them a better idea of where you are coming from. Telling your story is the key here.

What do you bring to the party? What’s your unique selling point? What is your point of difference? And, what is your vision for the future at this place? No need for ‘War and Peace,’ just a few examples. Are you the transformational leader they need or want? Or, are you the one to bring stability and direction after a period of upheaval? Tell them what you can deliver, based on past successes. This will demonstrate to the Council you are on the front foot and already picturing yourself in the role — do this successfully and they might start to do so as well.

Brevity is a word to remember when making an application. Presenting your experience in a mature and concise fashion is the way to go, as opposed to you waxing lyrical, producing page after page about everything you have done under the sun. All recruiters have limited time to sift through numerous applications so clear, concise, topical, and relevant answers are essential to making your application easy to digest.

Some Councils do not believe in the value of references. We think they are vital. Of course, it is likely a referee will give some extent of glowing account of their relationship with you. But we ask some interesting questions of referees – and we draw out your leadership style and whether you are likely to bring that leadership here. We often find that in a shortlist of five candidates the referee checks can give validation of a reputation or even the Hogan personality assessment, which outlines ‘how’ a person leads. We usually seek three references — from a supervisor (the Mayor or General Manager who might oversee the candidate), from a colleague, and from a community leader who can comment on the candidate’s community leadership.

Presentation of your application is also important — how many context or spelling errors are within the document? How many examples are provided? Have you told your story in an engaging fashion? Again, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

So, put your draft application away and get some sleep. In the morning, with a fresh approach and clear head, double check that you have followed the instructions and included all information required. Ask yourself the question: does it flow well and convey your responses clearly, concisely, and in a dynamic manner?

The old saying that two heads are better than one is worth bearing in mind. Before sending off your application, why not invite a trusted friend/colleague to read it through — a fresh set of eyes might spot something you didn’t.

Good luck — we hope you put your best foot forward. This is what we look forward to seeing every time – an outstanding group of shortlist candidates who make it incredibly difficult for the client to choose the best person.