Get That Government Job (2e)
For anyone facing the whole process of applying for a government or corporate private sector job, here’s an easy way to understand the requirements of the position and write your own powerful application using proven marketing strategies that ‘sell’ your skills to the employer. Answering the selection criteria is easy when you know how.
This book takes you through the application process step by step and provides dozens of examples from a wide range of occupations and industries. It will help the reader gain insight into how employers think; translate selection criteria mumbo-jumbo; sell themselves and their skills; write resumes and letters that get results; handle tricky criteria in OHS and EEO; stand out in interviews.
Excerpt from Get That Government Job
Chapter 4: Marketing Yourself to the Employer
In this chapter
Understanding the marketing process
Marketing a special product – YOU and your skills
Understanding how employers think and meeting their needs
Getting onto the employer’s wavelength
Selling yourself in your application
Have you ever wondered why so many businesses start off with a bang but just a short time later their doors are closed? Most of these businesses have highly desirable products and services, so what goes wrong? There are two main reasons: the first is that many business owners don’t do their homework properly before starting out (some research studies show that more than 80 per cent of businesses fail due to lack of planning); the second reason is that owners fail to promote their businesses properly. Similarly, most applicants fail when they write an application because they don’t do their homework. When you write an application, you may be competing with hundreds of other applicants. All that employers know about you is what is written in your application, so you need to make sure that your application explains how you meet the employer’s needs. As well as this, you need to use comments from current and former employers (similar to customer testimonials) to back up your claims and SELL your achievements, skills and abilities. Writing a winning application isn’t rocket science — anyone can do it. In this chapter, you learn how to think like your prospective employer, identify their needs and get onto their wavelength. You will also learn the marketing secrets of how to sell an amazing product — YOU and your skills.
Understanding the marketing process
In the same way that many business owners don’t know how to market their businesses, many applicants don’t know how to ‘sell’ themselves in their applications. Also, in the same way many business owners open their doors and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . for customers to come in to buy their fantastic products, many applicants churn out application after application, all with the same ho-hum content, each time failing to receive a response. After a while, they give up because it’s all too hard.
The main reason that applicants are unsuccessful is because they fail to promote themselves in their applications. If this scenario sounds familiar, don’t despair. The secret to successful applications lies in understanding how the marketing process works. You need to be able to put yourself into the employers’ shoes and learn what makes them tick. What is important to the average employer? What are they looking for in applicants? What psychological triggers will make them pick up the phone and invite you to an interview?
To get answers to these questions, you need to understand the basics of how to market a product. It’s all in this chapter . . .
1. Marketing a product in six easy steps
When you apply for a job, you’re selling a valuable product — ‘YOU and your skills’. In order to get your head around how to ‘sell yourself’, it’s good to have an idea about how marketing works. After all, marketing yourself is the same as marketing any other product. Imagine that you are a small business selling computers through the internet. With dozens of competitors out there, you need to figure out how to make your product stand out from the competition. The hard thing is that your customers can’t see the product in front of them (the same dilemma an employer faces when sorting through employment applications).
Following is the step-by-step marketing process for selling computers on the internet that you can apply to marketing any product, including the brand ‘YOU and your skills’.
Step 1: Conduct research
Do your homework. When you open a business, the very first thing you need to do is find out as much as you can about the industry. This includes research on competitors, industry trends, new technology, software, hardware, and so on. Take your time and learn as much as possible.
Step 2: Identify customer needs
It’s no use selling computers with all the bells and whistles if that’s not what your customers want, so the next stage is to identify your customers’ needs. Do your customers need help desk support or a printer included with their sales deal? Do they have a problem, such as a very small start-up budget, that you can address with your marketing?
Step 3: State how you can meet the customers’ needs
To get sales, you need to stand out from the competition and to do this, you have to get the customer interested in your product. Your competitors may offer ‘extra features’ (additional memory, video cards and so on), but you want to offer something different. For example, if your research shows that many of your target market of home-based business owners are interested in having a website, you could offer a start-up package that includes initial website design. By meeting customer needs and providing them with the benefits they’re looking for, you stand out from the crowd. Similarly, you’ll see how it pays to identify and meet the employer’s needs when you apply this concept to writing your application. Back to your virtual business of marketing computers on the internet…
Step 4: Develop your marketing materials
In order to sell, you need to develop quality marketing materials which gain your customers’ attention, get them interested in finding out more, show them that you understand their needs and provide them with specific benefits (a little like a job application, but more of that later . . .). Imagine you are a customer looking for a new computer for your home-based business. Grab a local Yellow Pages directory, go to the computers section and have a really close look at the advertisements. You’ll notice that most of the ads look the same (the business name, a few bullet points and some contact details), with not much to set them apart.
How does a prospective customer make a choice when faced with so many humdrum ads? Answer this question yourself by considering the following:
• Which ads identify and meet the customers’ needs?
• Which ads use specific info (facts and figures) to build credibility?
• Which ads reassure the customer about their products by using testimonials?
• Which ads use the same words and phrases that you would use?
• Which ads use simple, easy-to-understand language?
• Which ads answer the questions you’d like to ask?
• Which ads stand out from the others?
• Which ads have claims that you believe?
• Most importantly, which ads make you want to pick up the phone?
Congratulations! You’ve just learned the basic secrets of successful marketing that you can apply to your application and interview, but more of that later. For now, back to marketing your computers . . .
Step 5: Use customer testimonials to ‘SELL’ your product to your customers
Think about the last product you purchased. It may have been breakfast cereal with a picture of a famous sportsperson on the packet, or it may have been a product that a friend recommended. Regardless of the form they take, testimonials are very powerful sales tools. With this in mind, if you were selling computers, you could gather testimonials from your current customers and use them to reassure other customers about dealing with you. For example, you could say on your website and in your brochures: ‘Purchase a new computer system and get your website designed free.’ You could then link this comment to a customer testimonial: Belinda James of Westlake writes: ‘I have a home-based business and didn’t know where to start in building my own website. With this special offer, I was able to upgrade my computer and get a website up and running, all in one hit. Thank you so much.’ As you’ll see later in this chapter, you can use the power of customer testimonials to sell yourself in your job application in the same way that businesses use customer testimonials to sell their products.
Step 6: Prepare a powerful sales presentation (on the phone and in person)
The last step before you’re ready to take on the world with your computer business involves preparing a short sales spiel (jam-packed with customer benefits) for when customers call to enquire about your product. Believe it or not, these are exactly the same skills that you will need for talking to employers on the phone and attending interviews. VIP When selling products, you need to be able to build rapport and trust with customers, use positive body language and explain in just a few minutes what you can offer in the way of benefits. By following the six marketing strategies explained so far, you will be well on your way to getting your business flying. Now, it’s time to see how to apply these marketing principles to getting a job.
Marketing a special product – YOU and your skills
Like the process of selling computers, marketing yourself involves writing winning sales documents (your selection criteria statement, résumé and cover letter) and preparing a sales spiel (for contacting the employer for information) and presentation (for making a strong impression at the interview). Employers are looking for a special person with certain skills and attributes to fill a particular role and meet their needs.
Imagine the problems they face when they work through dozens of applications that land on their desk. How will they choose someone from such a huge pile of paper? What will they look for?
Employers look for applicants who ‘speak their language’: people who can identify and meet their organisation’s needs and who have a proven track record in achieving organisational objectives.
In order to convince the employer that you’re the one they’re looking for, you need to follow the same marketing process explained earlier in this chapter (see Marketing a product in six easy steps), except of course, you’re now marketing a revolutionary new product — ‘YOU and your skills’.
Step 1: Conduct Research
Do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the organisation and the industry in which it operates, using the internet or visiting your library’s reference section. What are the current trends within the industry? Is the organisation expanding, introducing new products or services, or is it downsizing? What regional or national issues affect this organisation, such as new laws or regulations? Now, find out as much as possible about your competition. Is anyone in an acting position? You need to be aware that the person in the acting position may have an advantage over outside applicants. (Refer back to chapter 2 for more about getting started on your application.) WWW For information on the top 2000 companies in Australia, check out IbisWorld at www.ibisworld.com.au or for all listed Australian companies, try the Australian Stock Exchange at www.asx.com.au. For a wider perspective on industry, labour and employment trends, try the Australian Bureau of Statistics at www.abs.gov.au.
Step 2: Identify the employer’s needs
To do this, you need to conduct research and find out as much as you can about the organisation. Identify the employer’s needs and work out how you can meet them. For example, if the organisation is about to seek accreditation, and if you have had experience in this area, your application needs to detail the role you played in the accreditation process with previous organisations and highlight the positive outcomes of your efforts. If your research reveals that the organisation is about to expand and you have experience in setting up new branches, this would be an excellent sales ‘carrot’ to highlight in your application. VIP All the employer knows about each applicant is written on a few sheets of paper or a computer screen. You need to make it easy for the employer
to choose you by showing them you understand their needs and can help them achieve their organisational objectives.
Step 3: State how you can meet the employers’ needs
You can also stand out from dozens of other applicants by giving the employer specific information about your achievements in current and former roles. Be specific. Don’t just say ‘I increased sales’. This equates to the ‘extra features’ in the previous computer example. Give your application a turbo boost with specific facts and figures: ‘I increased sales by 37% in the first five weeks through training staff in customer service and developing new service procedures that are now used in all company stores in Australia.’ Wow! That’s powerful! This is the Marketing Law of Specificity at work…. more on this later in the chapter.
Employers want to know what you can do for them and you can get their interest immediately by showing them what you can do to help them achieve their objectives. Let them know that:
• You share the same work ethic (you’ll find out about their work philosophy, mission statement, and so on when you conduct research)
• You understand the problems or challenges facing their industry or organisation
Identify the benefits you can offer to an employer. State how you have helped similar organisations achieve their goals, for example improving efficiency, increasing profits, saving money or building effective teams.
Step 4: Develop your job application into a personal ‘sales brochure’
You will recall that before you could sell your computers, you needed to develop relevant marketing materials to gain your customers’ attention and get them interested in finding out more about your product? And remember the ads in the Yellow Pages that all looked the same? Make sure your application stands out from the people who ‘just throw an application together to see how they go’ (it’s very obvious when you do this). These applicants have the same ‘follow the leader’ mindset as the people who just copy the same boring format of other people’s ads when they advertise in the Yellow Pages directory. The Marketing Checklist in Figure 4-1 gives you some tips to ensure your application has ‘marketing appeal’.
Your ‘personal sales brochure’ will end up in the bin if it simply contains a boring list of duties taken from your current Job Description.
Does your application:
Identify and meet the employers’ needs?
Use specific info to build credibility? (See also The Marketing Law of Specificity later in this chapter.)
Reassure the employer about your skills and abilities by using relevant comments from former supervisors, managers and colleagues?
Use the same words and phrases (key words) that the employer uses?
Answer questions the employer may have about your skills and experience?
Stand out from the others by simply looking professional?
Support your claims and build believability?
Make the employer want to pick up the phone to organise an interview?
Figure 4-1. Refer to this marketing checklist before finalising your application
Step 5: Use testimonials to sell ‘YOU and your skills’
You may not have any celebrities to promote the brand of YOU, but you do have fantastic sales tools lurking in hidden corners of cupboards and drawers, such as written references, performance appraisals, letters from customers, awards and anything else that sells your skills and abilities. Use quotes from these ‘secret sales documents’ in your application to build credibility. Here’s an example of how a quote taken from an applicant’s appraisal backs up their claims: ‘Andrew inherited a backlog of six month’s administrative tasks which he systematically cleared in just four weeks through starting early and staying back after closing. He is a team player who gets the job done’. See how powerful this statement is compared with a weak statement written by another applicant: ‘I am able to manage heavy workloads’. This sounds like an idle boast without any proof to back it up. Who do you believe? See ‘Using quotes from references and appraisals in your application’ later in this chapter for more about putting this theory into practice.
The best indicator of future performance is past performance.
Step 6: Prepare a personal sales presentation to sell ‘YOU and your skills’
Just as you need sales materials and presentations to promote and sell products, you need to create an application that sells you to the employer. You also need to prepare a ‘sales presentation’ to use, both for when you phone the contact person and for selling yourself during the interview. (See chapter 9 for more about the interview process.)
To be successful in the interview, you’ll need to be able to build rapport and trust with members of the selection panel, use positive body language, explain in just a few minutes what you can offer and answer questions in a positive and friendly way.
Getting on the employer’s wavelength Back to the employer faced with 300 applications to work through. Put yourself in their shoes – you’ve found some applicants who have conducted research and identified your needs. What else is important to you? Most employers look for someone with the same core values as themselves and for someone who ‘speaks their language’. That is, someone just like them. Remember how you identified key words in the Position Description? These words are the employer’s language, so use them to strike a familiar chord with the reader. Here are a few sure-fire strategies to use your new marketing knowledge and move on to the next stage of the selection process.
Tuning into the employer’s frequency: WII-FM
You’ve probably been exposed to hundreds of marketing messages already today through billboards, radio, television, newspapers and magazines, but you probably don’t recall more than one or two. This is because you use selective attention to understand the world around you. For example, if you’re a new parent, you’ll be quick to notice ads for nappies, cots or baby food. However, these same ads probably won’t even enter the consciousness of a teenage boy or a retired couple. Similarly, employers use selective attention when reading applications. Unless your application addresses their needs and uses their language, it won’t make an impression. Why? Because each employer is tuned in to their own special frequency and filters out unwanted information. This special frequency is called WII-FM:
W … What’s
I … In
I … It F …
M … Me
Only applicants who know about this special WII-FM frequency — and who tailor their applications accordingly — will be selected for an interview. Other applications will head straight for the waste paper basket. Ouch!
Writing a reader-based application
Here’s the key — to be successful, you need to write a ‘reader-based’ application. In other words, don’t write simply what you want to say (that’s writer-based) but instead, think about what the employer wants to read, identifying their needs and ‘selling’ what you can do for them. This kind of approach is music to the employer’s ears.
Employers have a special frequency called WII-FM. They want to know what you have achieved for former employers (and therefore can achieve for them) — not what you have achieved for yourself.
The following examples are taken from actual applications. Which applicant’s achievements do you think satisfy the employer’s WII-FM?
Applicant 1: ‘I have gained a great many sales skills in my current position and now feel the need to move into the next phase of my development, which is sales management.’
Applicant 2: ‘My team consistently exceeded sales targets and achieved the highest annual group sales for the past three years.’
In the first example, the applicant has written a ‘writer-based’ statement, while in the second example, the applicant satisfies the employer’s WII-FM because they have demonstrated what they can do for the organisation, not just for themself.
Using the employer’s language in your application
Earlier on, this chapter discussed the importance of addressing customer needs in your marketing materials. Going back to the computer example, you would use different language if selling to a home-based business (maybe using words such as ‘tax deductible’ and ‘help desk support’) than you would if selling computers to a family (maybe using words such as ‘educational’ and ‘free games’). You do this because every group has different needs and speaks a different ‘marketing language’. Similarly, when you write an application, you need to focus on the organisation’s special language. Ideally, you should use the same key words and phrases that the employer uses in the Position Description and on their website. This language is based on the core values, mission statement, philosophy and size of the organisation. No two organisations are the same, so you need to adapt your application every time. Chapter 3 (refer to ‘Recognising and using key words in your application’) explains how to identify key words and phrases in the Position Description and selection criteria. These key words are the employer’s preferred language. For example, if you are asked to submit a copy of your CV (Curriculum Vitae), make sure your résumé says ‘Curriculum Vitae’ at the top (and not Résumé).
Here’s another example: On completion of tertiary study, nursing graduates usually apply to the major hospitals to win a place in their graduate nursing programs. To be successful, applicants need to focus on the hospital’s mission statement and philosophy. One hospital refers to ‘respect for and dignity of patients’ as a core value, while another prioritises ‘holistic care of patients and their families’. Although both mission statements are valid, the applicant will only get through the employer’s WII-FM filter if they use the key words which are part of the language of that particular hospital. So, how do you find this special language? It’s easy. Look carefully at the Position Description and identify all relevant key words. Then, make sure to use these words and phrases in your application and at the interview. For example, if they talk about a ‘team approach’, make sure this is the term you use: ‘In former positions, I have used a team approach to meet organisational goals.’ It wouldn’t be nearly as effective to say: ‘I am a member of the group involved in planning of organisational objectives’ because this isn’t what the employer wants to know.
We tend to like people who are just like us, so use the employer’s language in your application to build instant rapport.
Selling yourself in your application
Writing an application is a marketing exercise – in this case it is marketing the brand of ‘YOU’ – your knowledge, skills and experience – to an employer. As already mentioned, the employer can only judge what you can achieve for his organisation by what you have already achieved for other organisations. Some people write long lists of what they have done in their employment and consider they have written brilliant applications – the only problem is that they don’t get invited to attend an interview. You’ve already learned that you need to focus on appealing to the employer (WII-FM) and using their language. You’re almost there. The problem facing you now is how to make the employer believe your statements about what you can do for them. To do this, you need to really SELL your achievements and experience.
Building credibility with the Marketing Law of Specificity
Back to a quick lesson in marketing. Think of Nescafe, Heinz and Baskin Robbins. What do they all have in common? (Hint: the answer isn’t lunch with coffee, soup and ice cream.) These companies all have marketing campaigns that rely on the Marketing Law of Specificity: by specifically stating facts and figures, you build believability and make your message memorable.
How many beans are in every cup? . . . 43 How many varieties of soup are there? . . . 57 How many flavours of ice cream are there? . . . 31
For some strange reason, we believe and remember specific information, particularly odd numbers. For example, Nescafe could have said there were 50 beans in every cup. Although this may seem like a nice round number that’s easy to remember, advertising research consistently shows that odd numbers are more memorable and build credibility more than even numbers. So, how do you apply the lessons about marketing coffee, soup and ice cream to your application? When you state your achievements, be specific (and, even better, use odd numbers!) Instead of saying ‘I achieved all set sales targets for the organisation’, say: ‘I achieved a 23% increase in sales due to training my staff in customer service and implementing new systems for receiving customer feedback’. Or, instead of saying ‘I improved efficiency in the organisation’, say ‘I increased efficiency by systemising operations and writing a Policies and Procedures Manual that has increased production by 33%. Would you agree that the first example in each case had you thinking: ‘Prove it’, while the second examples answered the questions in your mind?
Put yourself into the employer’s shoes and think about what would impress you. Then sit down and write your application, keeping in mind, WII-FM, coffee, soup and ice cream.
Learning the secrets of how to ‘ sell’ yourself to the employer
You’ll recall that one of the main reasons that businesses fail in the first twelve months is because they don’t promote themselves. Similarly, most applicants fail to get to an interview for the same reason. Don’t assume the employer already knows about your achievements or that you will be able to discuss these when you get to the interview. To stand out from other applicants, your application needs to convince the employer that you have something special to offer, based on your previous achievements in other roles. VIP There’s one main difference between successful and unsuccessful applicants. The ones who get to the interview have learned how to ‘SELL … not TELL’!
Just like you have difficulty believing the used car salesman who says ‘Trust me’, employers have difficulty believing what some people write in their applications. How can you prove you can actually do what you say you can do? You can’t. But, you can get others to do it for you in a very powerful way. Compare the applicants in the following examples to work out: Who ‘TOLD’ and who ‘SOLD’?
Example 1: SC about team leadership and motivation of staff.
Jane: At Mortgage Busters, I was in charge of a small team that met all set targets. Bill: In my position as Team Leader at Credit Capers, I won the ‘Team Leader of the Year Award’ for the past five years, based on my ability to achieve targets and develop individual team members. In my last performance appraisal, dated 1 March 2006, my supervisor stated: ‘Bill has exceeded all expectations in his current role as Team Leader. He initiated training for 23 staff in customer service and product knowledge which resulted in 33% increase in team sales in six months.’ (Copy is available on request.)
Example 2: SC about communication skills in a hospitality job.
Robert: I believe that I have strong communication skills as I deal with customers in the restaurant, answer the phone and take bookings. Sally: I have undertaken training in ‘Effective Communication’ that included topics in Negotiation Skills, Assertiveness Training, Body Language, Listening Skills and Questioning Skills. In my current role, I demonstrate these skills on a daily basis when interacting with clients and staff. Comments on my last Mystery Shopper Report* confirm my ability to communicate effectively: ‘The staff member quickly responded to my query and asked several questions to determine my needs in a helpful manner.’ I achieved a rating of 100%. (Copy of Mystery Shopper Report is available on request.)
(*Mystery Shopper Reports are customer service quality checks used in customer service environments such as retail and hospitality.)
Example 3: SC about time management skills for a university graduate. Brian: I am able to organise my time and meet all deadlines at university. Tara: Proven ability to prioritise and organise my time effectively in order to cover workloads and meet critical deadlines. I have successfully combined working 20 hours a week in two part-time jobs with full-time study and achieved a grade point average of 6.28. (Academic transcript is available on request.)
So, who ‘TOLD’ and who ‘SOLD’? It’s obvious that Jane, Robert and Brian merely told what they can do, but Bill, Sally and Tara sold their achievements by being specific about facts and figures and by using powerful ‘third person referrals’ from performance appraisals, Mystery Shopper Reports and academic transcripts. They validated their claims by adding that documentation was available on request.
The following organisations provide lots of handy resources on all aspects of writing applications and interview techniques, including articles on self-marketing.
• Smart Start Marketing Pty Ltd. www.smartstartmarketing.com.au
• Graduate Careers Australia. www.graduatecareers.com.au
• SEEK. www.seek.com.au
• My Career. www.mycareer.com.au
• Career One. www.CareerOne.com.au
Unlocking your secret treasure chest
Now is a great time to go looking for those ‘hidden treasures’ lurking in your desk drawers, cupboards or boxes in the garage. These treasures include written references, performance appraisals, reports and customer testimonials…. or anything that mentions your achievements for other organisations. These are all fantastic ‘sales tools’ for your application — your future employers will love to find out what you actually achieved in other roles so that they can get an idea of what you can do for them. Here’s what to go hunting for:
• Written references from former employers.
You’ve probably thrown most of these out long ago but it’s always a good idea to keep anything positive that has been written about you. You’ll see why when you put your application together a little later.
• Performance appraisals/Personnel reports.
Quotes from performance management documents such as performance appraisals and personnel reports can be the secret ingredient that turbo-boosts your application onto the shortlist. These official records are very powerful self-marketing weapons and should be in every applicant’s arsenal.
• Awards or other forms of recognition for achievement. Similarly, awards or any formal recognition of achievement form tangible proof of your capabilities. The employer wants to know what you can achieve for them, so your past performance is highly relevant. • Letters from customers, previous managers, supervisors, etc. Letters or testimonials validate your claims about team skills, service and so on. These could be customer comments, thank-you letters, Mystery Shopper Reports (common in the retail and hospitality industries), or any other documents in which your supervisors, clients or colleagues have commented on your work and achievements.
• Details of qualifications, training and professional development courses.
Later on, you’ll learn how to use specific information to build credibility in your application. Training courses and qualifications vary from state to state, so it’s a good idea to provide a synopsis to show the relevance of your background for this application. Remember the old saying: ‘The devil’s in the detail’.
• Other information in which your managers, supervisors, clients or colleagues have commented on your work and achievements.
People tend to believe what other people say, rather than what you say about yourself — this is the reason why successful advertising often relies on customer testimonials to sell products or services. The same principle applies to ‘referrals’ from your former managers or supervisors. For example, you could say: ‘I have been a top performer in sales for the past three years’, but it’s much more powerful when your sales manager says it for you – ‘John has been our top performer in sales for the past three years and has increased our market share by 25% through building strong client relationships.’
When using ‘quotes’ from previous employers, don’t be tempted to exaggerate. Remember that your prospective employer can verify facts and figures when they speak to your referees during verbal reference checking.
End of Sample