A candidate’s guide to selection processes

The thing that strikes me from my 20+ years’ experience with selection, is just how few candidates prepare thoroughly enough, and undersell themselves. The people who will be reading your application will spend on average no more than 20 seconds to decide whether your application will go into the ‘yes’, ‘maybe’, or ‘no’ pile.


If your CV is too long and rambling, or you list your skills as adjectives without showing how you have these skills by giving real examples of your successes and achievements, it is likely you won’t get a look-in.  Your aim should always be to get yourself into the ‘yes’ pile.

This can be tricky if it is your first job, and you will need to think creatively about examples you can use to show how you have the skills and attitude they are looking for that fit the job, as well as the company culture. 

Here are some tips to help your application stand out head-and-shoulders above the rest:

  • Don’t apply for the job if it or the company doesn’t inspire you – you’re wasting your time, and theirs.
  • Do your research: understand the company’s history, how they’ve developed, what their aims and values are. Read up on media articles, social media, and find out as much as you can about what its like to work there from someone who has, or does. 
  • If there is the opportunity to find out more via an informal chat by phone or in person, always take this up.  Prepare no more than 4 or 5 specific questions that you couldn’t find out from your research. These should give you the insight you’re looking for to truly understand the role and how to best tailor your application. They will also remember you as the one who took the initiative to call or make an appointment to pop in. This may feel a little daunting at first, but chemistry is essential, and you are crossing the threshold before an interview process, which, if you get through, will then be easier with a familiar face or voice there.
  • Before you draft your application, dissect the job specification – this is the list of qualifications, skills, behaviours, experience etc that are needed for the job, sometimes referred to as competencies.  Often these will be listed in two categories: ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’.  Have an honest look at this, and don’t blag it. You may not have something in the essential list, but you may well be working towards it already, or have the attitude and aptitude to learn. 
  • Competition for jobs is quite high, and there may be many people who can do the job as well as you – so the thing that will strand out is your attitude.  Interpreting your written tone of voice will show your attitude – it is quite tricky trying to find the right balance between selling yourself sufficiently and yet not coming across as arrogant or pushy.  It needs to be positive and make the reader want to know more about you. So, do take the time to draft it and refine it and ask someone you trust to read it through and give you their objectivity feedback.
  • Equally, dont muddle your way through questions that ask for specific examples.  Make your answers succinct, and to the point.  Try to avoid jargon, and don’t make assumptions.  Don’t embellish your successes and achievements as this is likely to come back to bite you in the future.
  • When you submit your application, you should feel calm and confident.  After all, your best should always be good enough for you.  If you dont feel that it is your best, then perhaps you have’t prepared sufficiently.
  • If you are shortlisted, remember that you have already done the hardest and most time consuming part of the process.  If you can find out a little bit more about the company ahead of a selection process, then do e.g. the latest press releases or social media news.  Make sure you have confirmed your attendance, that you have shared if you have any specific needs so that they can accommodate you on the day.  
  • Be sure to know what to expect during the process, especially if there is a test of some kind, a presentation or other kinds of tasks and activities.  Knowing what to expect means you can prepare in advance.
  • From the advert, job specification and any other information provided about the job and the company, what typical questions are likely to come up.  You can plan the sorts of answers you might give, and make some brief notes to take with you to refer to if you want.  Jot down some questions at the same time, even if everything is covered during the selection process, you can show that you were prepared and committed enough to have questions.
  • In the days leading up to selection day, try to visualise what it will look like, how you will feel, what you will hear in your self and others around you. This visual ‘dress-rehearsal’ in your mind will be very powerful in helping you stay calm, focused and reduce any anxiety you might feel.  If you have any negative thoughts, these will also be very powerful, so replace these immediately with something positive, and repeat it like a mantra.  For example, “I’m rubbish at interviews, I’m dreading it”, replaced with “I find interviews tough, and I am working hard to build my confidence with them”.  This positive reinforcement will consciously and subconsciously give you a great boost.
  • Finally, make sure you know where to go, plan your route/journey/parking etc.  Give yourself a final read through of your application, and get an early night.  Get a good breakfast in on the day and stay hydrated.  Don’t rehearse out loud or on paper, just be you. Authenticity is best. Most candidates feel a little nervous about selection processes, and the panel know this and should help you relax and out you at your ease.  If they dont, no matter how good the job might have looked, perhaps they’re not the kind of people you want to work with.
  • Once it is all done, don’t spend hours ruminating over what went well, what didn’t go so well – it is done. Now is the time to relax, go to the gym or for a run or catch up with a friend over a cuppa.  Always, always, always ask for specific feedback, no matter what the outcome is.  There is always something to be learned from these experiences which you can take forwards.

Good luck!

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