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Responding to Job Ads


In the current climate some job ads will get thousands of applications.

Job ads frequently get hundreds of people responding to them depending on the speciality and seniority of the position.  So of course it is bound to be a bit of a lottery. Not even the most conscientious recruiter can screen and prioritise that many applications accurately.

Usually anything up to 80% of the responses do not match the criteria in job ads.  You need to make sure that your response stands out from the crowd so that you get screened in rather than screened out.  This means that both your covering letter and your CV need to be modified to address the specific requirements of the ad and to ensure that there is nothing in your response that could be a turn off for the person screening the applications. Realistically, just to survive the first screening, you must meet most of the qualifications mentioned and be able to demonstrate how well you meet them. Even though, in may ads the required competencies are a bit of a wish list and the employer is unlikely to find someone who meets them all.

General rules for answering job ads are:

  • Respond from 3-4 days after the ad appears, rather than immediately. You will have a better chance of being noticed.
  • Be brief and focus on the advertiser’s expressed needs.
  • Address each letter to a person wherever possible..
  • Always write a letter that outlines both the explicit and implicit requirements from the advertisement. Show how you meet or exceed these needs.  You may wish to use a two-column approach for this section of your letter.  On the left list the requirements in the ad and the skills and abilities, which you have that meet these needs on the right side. If you can meet 60-70% of the criteria (bearing in mind the wish list principle we mentioned above), and can demonstrate that you can, then you should apply.

If at all possible do not send your salary history, even if it is asked for.  Instead state that your salary expectations are flexible and that your current package is consistent with the market.

If you know or can identify the person in the company responsible for the position, write to them in addition to responding to the person or department mentioned in the ad.  Indicate that you have already responded to the ad as instructed, and are taking this opportunity to introduce yourself in a more personal way.  Follow-up with a phone call about a week after mailing your letter and CV.

Analysing a Job Advertisement

A typical advertisement will contain:

A statement about the organisation even in a blind ad where the identity is protected:

“Our client is an award winning, market leading food manufacturer.  Following the recent appointment of a new Chief Executive, they are undertaking a major change initiative to build further market share.”

A statement about the job:

“Reporting to the Marketing Manager and managing a team of professionals you will be responsible for all marketing functions.  This requires the ability to lead from the front and implement the required changes for the new computer system.  This role has responsibility for advertising and promotion as well as departmental accountability for budget and employees.”

A list of selection criteria

“A graduate with professional qualifications from the relevant institute, you will require strong people skills, a capacity to lead remote teams and manage multiple projects.  The best candidates will have proven communication and negotiation skills.”


These include contact details and how to apply.  There is usually an idea of the company’s location and often some indication of salary and benefits (If the company is named in the advert you can find out more from their website.

Before You Apply

Before you respond to an ad prepare some specific questions that are not answered in the ad and phone the company or the agency.  If the information is not in the ad, ask for the name, title and correct spelling of the contact person.  But when you phone make sure you are not interviewed on the telephone.  If it seems that is happening, make an excuse, agree another time to ring and go away and prepare.