Career Talk, The Tentmakers


Dr Joe Abah

There are a few things you need to understand. First, a lot of people who apply for jobs apply knowing that they don’t meet the criteria for application. They just try as a gamble. What this means is that every advert gets a deluge of applications. This is a problem for you.

Secondly, because of the deluge, the initial sifting is done by fairly junior staff, not the main decision makers. No senior person has time to sift through 2,000 applications. You get a junior team and give them a template based on the advert. This is your first huddle to cross.

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The advert would usually have asked for certain qualifications and experience. Some may ask for an application with a covering letter, as well as a CV. Recruiters are often overwhelmed, so they don’t have time to be searching for the information they need to shortlist you with.

So, I suggest that, for EACH application, your reorganise your covering letter and your CV to respond to the shortlisting criteria in the way they asked for it in the advert. The people doing the shortlisting are lazy. You need to spoon-feed them to give yourself a chance.

So, for example, if they ask for a university degree, “cognate experience” and computer literacy, your covering letter should be organised in this way. I think your CV too should follow this format. This means the junior officer with the template can just tick everything for you.

That way, you’ll at least cross the first hurdle. Don’t make them look for it. Your application will go in the bin, along with those of others that know they don’t qualify & just applied to make themselves feel better. From the long list, a more senior person starts shortlisting.


From here, this is way the advice from @OgbeniDipo and others about how to present your CV comes into play. I suggest you refer to his tweets on the matter. Now, how do you make it from the long list to the shortlist? A clear, well-presented CV counts. Get help if you need to.

Now, let’s be clear: a job application is a sales pitch. You are selling your skills and qualifications you want an employer to buy. If you are trying to sell ANYTHING, you try your best to convince the buyer to buy. Don’t undersell yourself. Remember: you are in a competition!

So, out of the 2,000 that applied, 200 were long-listed. From here, the initial shortlist drops to 20. They only want to interview 6. How do you become part of the 6? Don’t forget you are one of 20 people with identical qualifications and experience. What stands you out?


That’s why it’s important to have researched the organisation, so that you can highlight what you’ve achieved in the past, professionally and personally. Doing voluntary work in the community gives you an edge over someone that doesn’t. Advanced Excel skills is better than Basic.

Lastly, it’s not enough to say “I’ve done ABC.” While you may think it’s a big deal, many potential employers may think “So what?” What is REALLY interesting is: “I did ABC AND achieved this result/ change.” Even if it’s not finished, show how things are changing.

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