Skip navigation

8 lessons to learn from the mistakes of other job hunters


LAST UPDATED: 07 March, 2024

It’s one thing to hand out theoretical tips in a blog about job hunting, but I recently advertised a job with one of my companies, Out of this World, and having seen the applications, have some real world advice to share. The job ad itself was a little different, so not surprisingly, some of the applications I received were equally out there. I had everything from regular CVs to roller derby deliveries.

So from the perspective of an actual potential employer, based on an actual role to fill, here’s what I noticed, that I can share with you now.

1. Do creative ‘as well as', not ‘instead of'.

Doing something weird or creative will definitely make you stand out. I had one person apply by sending a roller derby girl to deliver their application. It was also a little embarrassing – for me, certainly. And possibly for her as well. But it wasn’t actually all that relevant, which is a bit of a shame. So points for standing out. Relevant would have been better though. And creativity doesn’t make up for an application that doesn’t quite meet the job spec. It should be the icing on the cake, not the whole cake. (Note: a nice cake would also have gotten noticed and wouldn’t have been anywhere near as embarrassing.)

8 lessons to learn from the mistakes of other job hunters

2. Follow up. No exceptions.

When people like me are recruiting, it’s because we need help. Needing help often translates to being short of time. Which means people like myself may not be quite on the ball receiving, and reviewing, applications. So don’t be afraid to follow up and make sure your application has been received. Or to check how things are going if you haven’t heard back for a while. You don’t have to be annoying. Just a gentle reminder will suffice.

One person who did this, who was actually quite a good candidate, had actually slipped my notice. If they hadn’t followed up, I possibly would have missed them completely. Me being a bit slack wasn’t intended to be a test, but in retrospect, it was interesting to see who did and didn’t follow up. For me, it ended up being what I felt was a good indication as to who really wanted the job.

3. Don’t ignore the obvious. CV’s always count.

Doing something other than a regular CV is a great idea. One candidate had a small, purpose built microsite about why she was a good option. Given the job spec I was advertising, she didn’t just tell me she could do the job, she proved it. Bonus points. Having said that, it almost backfired, because when I printed out everyone’s CV to review, I missed hers completely because she didn’t include one. By all means do something extra and cool, but don’t neglect to also send a regular CV.

4. Answer the damn question.

Even if someone has a creative job going, and runs a fairly out there and creative ad like mine, that doesn’t necessarily give you complete license to ignore the basics. Yes, by all means show some flair. But don’t forget to prove you’re the right person for the job. Flair will only get you so far.

When it comes to applying for a job, there are double standards. A potential employer can kind of do whatever they want. You, on the other hand, can’t. Or at least shouldn’t. Send an out there and irreverent application and you might just do yourself out of a gig. You’re welcome to show some individuality and flair, but don’t do it at the expense of actually demonstrating how you’d be able to do the job and what experience you have.

5. It’s not one size fits all. Tailor your CV.

Don’t send a ‘bog standard’ CV. Unless your CV is perfectly geared towards the job spec that’s advertised, tailor it. Give it a tweak. If a job ad makes it clear certain skills are required, do your best to address that. Even if you don’t have actual, practical experience, at least address it and explain why you think you’d be able to do those tasks well.

6. Don’t just say it, show it.

Wherever possible, don’t just say you can do it, prove you can do it. If you can write, show some examples. If you say you can design, show some designs. If you’re good at social media, send a few links. That’s not so easy to do for certain jobs, I know, but if you can, do.

7. Prove yourself.

If you don’t already have proof you can do the job from past experience, offer to prove it moving forward. A couple of times, I quite liked a candidate but wasn’t necessarily convinced they were capable of doing certain tasks. So I suggested I might be able to give them a brief and they could have a go at it and send me what they’d done. Not all potential employers will offer that, sometimes it’s up to you. It'll make you look smart, resourceful and eager if you do. It’s a sensational way to prove you’re capable of doing the job if you don’t already have a relevant body of work.

8. Get a decent email address.

Don’t have a stupid email address. It might be fun when you email your friends as [email protected], but when you email a potential employer it’s best to look professional. It’s pretty easy to get a gmail account or something similar, so feel free to keep your hilarious personal email address, but use a different one when you’re applying for a job.

These were just some of the things I noticed during the application process. I’m sure there are plenty more, but for now, those are some recent, real life examples of things I noticed that could affect your job hunting success. For the record, I didn’t employ the Crazy Cat Lady, or anyone else for that matter, and the search goes on.

This post was originally published on the Firebrand Ideas Ignition blog



Sputnik is an internationally awarded creative and brand consultant at Out of this World where he has worked on projects for some of the world’s biggest brands including Disney, Coca Cola, Unilever and The Simpsons. He is the author of ‘The Swashbucklers Guide to Becoming an Astronaut' and the creator of the Job Hunter's Boot Camp.