Taking the first step — writing that application

For the first time you stare at the page and it goes blank. You know what you want to write, crave it almost, yet when it comes to starting that first word it just stops short of birthing. You know that the words are there, know that if you could just strike the first key your opus would materialise. You want that job, that role, that opportunity which will take you to that next stage in life. Be it a job, education, or relationship, you have seen it and want to take charge of your destiny, at least in word form. Many of you are applying for roles and opportunities, and I wanted to give a few tips on how I approach reaching out for the first time.

We have all been there, seeking either the courage or inspiration to get started. Over the last four years I have applied for six degrees, one Masters, six PhD programs, and over thirty jobs. I got onto a Foundation Degree as my last chance, got accepted onto my Masters first time of asking, and the one PhD program I did not sweat over accepted me. Jobs, well, those have been adventures — I have been fortunate to have worked eight different roles since I started my degree, all short term, that have enabled me to thrive when I could have drowned. Being able to overcome my writing block was the biggest aid in getting me on the first step to each of my successes.

Writing does come easy to me, I love to do it, and I find that I tend to have a fluency for it. However, I had to learn the hard way with respect to prose, style, and catching people’s attention. Writing an application is never easy, indeed, I would go as far as to say that while interviews can make or break your opportunity, what you write has much more impact on getting your foot in the door. Thus, why it can be hard to even start writing applications and emails seeking out new opportunities. The advice I received over the years proved invaluable, and I will distil it as best I can here:

1) The worst that will happen with your application is that they will reject it and ignore you, or they will send you back a polite email saying thank you, but no. This sucks, hurts, and sometimes you can send out ten, twenty applications and the same thing happens. However, it is important to remember that it only takes one yes, one interview, and you are in. Therefore, if you never send the application or email then you will never get a response, positive or negative. You need skin in the game to play.

2) Always, always, always know your audience. Be it a company or person, know the context and audience you are writing for. Every cover letter, application, and email needs to be tailored for your audience, as otherwise you will both never stand out and also come across as someone who is just phoning it in. Yes, this is hard, and yes it does take time to do the research, but understanding your audience is half the battle. Knowledge is power, and knowing your audience will help you write better.

3) When applying for any role, be it a job or education, read what is actually being asked for the role, what skills they are expecting, and what they are looking for in the person applying. Tailor your cover letter and personal statement accordingly. Yes, you may have been the world Pokemon under 15 world champion, and yes, you are a super fan of this company or university, but ultimately unless it is contextually relevant to the application save the fan squeeing for when you are actually working for them (some roles actually do want you to be a fan of the product, if so hit all those buttons). Understand the context of the role/opportunity you are applying for, and write your application accordingly.

4) Read and triple check your cover letter before you send it. Don’t be me, write a first draft, and send. You will make grammatical errors, you will make mistakes, and you will always find a better way to phrase something. You only get one chance to make an impression, and a misspelled word makes for a bad impression. If you are serious about a role, opportunity, or connection then take the time to make a good first impression.

Ultimately you have a good idea of who you are as a person, what sort of role/education you want, and where you see yourself in five/ten years. Write from your own perspective, draw on your passions, and do not be afraid of a “No”. Failure is just a steppingstone to something else, and there are multitudes of opportunities out there for you to grab hold of. Your letter, email, or conversation is the next step, not the last, and while you may feel nervous and anxious, remember you got this. You got this in spades.



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Writer, researcher, and generally curious