RESPONSES TO JOB APPLICATIONS
Latest update: 21 October 2011
We receive a lot of excellent feedback from people who use the W4MP Jobs page on a regular basis. There's one consistent complaint though: that many advertisers, including some MPs, do not bother to acknowledge applications.
We realise that jobs advertised on W4MP frequently get very large numbers of applications and we are regularly asked to take down an ad before the closing date. However, we don't believe it can be that difficult or unreasonably time consuming to acknowledge every application received. Setting up a standard email response along the lines of "...a lot of applications have been received, including yours,..." would at least allow applicants to know that theirs had been received. Even better would be to simultaneously create a merge-mail which would be used later to tell applicants that a final appointment had been made. Not too tricky really.
In the last parliament Dr. Ashok Kumar, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland, tabled the following Early Day Motion below.
We approached Dr Kumar and received the following comments from him.
Sadly, Dr Kumar died in March 2010.
Want to know more about Early Day Motions? Click here.
We have received some useful feedback from MPs’ Staff and others on this issue, including some clear and comprehensive advice from an employer on how to make your applications most effective.
Here are responses we received:
I recently advertised on W4MP, and was delighted to receive more than 60 excellent applications. I have now successfully appointed to the role. The pool was very interesting - and hugely overqualified. Many applicants had two or even three degrees, and lots of voluntary and paid work experience - this for a two-three month paid (LLW) internship. Having said that, a lot of applicants did not do themselves justice at all in their applications.
Firstly, I was surprised by how many applicants did not use the bullet–pointed list of key skills listed in my advertisement to structure their covering letter and ensure that they had told me about all their skills and experience which might make them suitable for the role. Many applicants, despite their impressive CVs, did not mention their interest in the sector I work in or their understanding of the issue I work on. As both were core criteria, this meant that a number of applicants did not progress. I quite understand that, for an entry-level role in policy research, applicants would not necessarily have full CVs of experience; nonetheless, I would have expected some indication of interest and thinking in all applications.
As a general rule, I would expect at least two sentences and probably more to demonstrate each competence in a covering letter. Like many employers, I assess each application against each competence or skill listed in the job description, and score it 1-5. Those with the highest aggregate marks when compared with those of a colleague usually make the interview stage. Not addressing at all a core competence or expecting me to infer it means starting with a handicap.
Secondly, a number of applicants dedicated considerable space in their covering letter to describing skills that were not required for this role – notably media, campaigning and political skills. This was doubtless down to me advertising on W4MP; for those of us who do not work in Parliament or specifically in "politics" W4MP is still the best place to find talented interns and candidates for entry level roles. Whilst I enjoyed reading about the breadth of experience of applicants, and these skills will certainly stand applicants in good stead in the future, this application process did not require them. Whilst it is appropriate to note other skills on a CV, setting them out in detail in the covering letter raised questions about whether the nature of the role had been fully appreciated.
Thirdly, a number of applicants did not use their covering letter to help me get a sense of why they wanted to do this job, and how it fitted in their life plan and aspirations. There were a number of people for whom a move to an entry-level research role in my sector did not seem to make sense, in terms of the experience and qualifications that they had gained to date: yet the successful applicant was one who themself is switching sectors, but was able to explain why this made sense in terms of their aspirations in their covering letter and at interview.
Finally, I was surprised by some of the careless errors that crept into the applications. There were some spelling howlers (immanent for imminent, describing the forthcoming general election, sticks in the mind) and a number of grammatical mistakes, as well as some antiquated phraseology - addressing the letter "Dear Sirs" when the recruiting manager was a woman, for example. There was also considerable hyperbole in the language in some of the covering letters, when perhaps plainer language would have served better - on one occasion, the job I was advertising was described as a "captivating opportunity".
I thought you might be interested in these thoughts, from the perspective of an employer, about the process. Overall, I think my advice to applicants is this: it is far, far better to write a covering letter tailored to the job role for five jobs per week than it is to send out your CV and a pro forma covering letter to fifty jobs per week.
I should say again that I was immensely impressed by the talent, energy and enthusiasm of the pool of applicants. I would be happy for my words to be included anonymously in any guidance notes for applicants which you produce.
I had fifteen applicants for a recent internship and kept them up to date at every stage of our hiring process - acknowledging their application, and so on. I had a few emails back from people I hadn't selected for interview, saying they were simply grateful to be kept informed. I definitely support your point on this, and Dr Kumar's EDM is very sensible.
However, it was pretty straightforward for me to do this because there weren't too many applicants. If I had had more than twenty it would have been a bit more of a pain. Problem was, I am too incompetent to get a mail merge working, so I wasn't able to do it all in one easy step. Perhaps you could provide a best practice guide on hiring a new intern/researcher?
Further to your comments about acknowledging job applications, I'd be interested to know how either of those suggestions could be done using the parliamentary e-mail system. If you set up an out of office message, as PICT suggested, they admitted that the job message would go to constituents etc and they would soon complain! PICT say you can't e-mail merge, either - it would be very useful if we could, for other purposes. We do try to acknowledge applications, but when a 2 person office is down by 50% of its staff, often at short notice, there's not always time to do everything we'd ideally like, you know.
Maybe you could start a campaign for us to have an up to date IT system that could do some of these things!
I just wanted to post a response to the ‘Job Applications’ article and give some background to my own experiences. I have considerable experience of applying for jobs through W4MP.org and I think it is a fantastic resource. With regards to roles within the major political parties, my personal experience is that applications are generally acknowledged and that replies are received to job rejections (eventually). The problem I have had is organisations that operate outside of this sphere, mainly within the communications industry, and particularly with agencies operating on behalf of companies. I have received responses thanking me for applications then offering me training courses (paid for by myself of course) to ‘develop my skills’. I hasten to add that these skills do not need much development as plenty of people are willing to let me work for them for nothing. More specifically, I have been into two agencies over the last two months who then never get back to me because their client ‘isn’t responding’. This is a total waste of my time and money; it costs me £28 every time I have to come into London.
My other point is the nature (or lack) of feedback available. One example of this is a rejection letter I received last week from one of the three main political parties that stated; “We are immensely grateful for your interest in working for us, and I hope you will continue with your interest in working for the party.” This sort of generic response again shows a complete ignorance of the application I submitted; I currently “work” for that party as a Campaign Officer (which incidentally I don’t even get expenses for and in which the same role in the next constituency pays £20,000 pa), I give up my weekends to deliver their literature and I am an elected member of the Executive Committee locally.
I am 26; I have studied History and Politics at the LSE and Oxford, I have served internships within the House of Commons, the Public Policy unit at an international management consultant firm, the UN and now a major political party and I cannot get interviews anywhere. I know a lot of people in my position who did the sensible thing and gave up, went into The City or went back to do doctorates. I appreciate this is an oversubscribed industry, but I wonder sometimes just what you have to do to secure work within it.
I'd just like to thank you for your article about EDM 168, and let you know a bit about my experience. I am 27, have two degrees from a good university, some professional experience and overall am a good candidate. I have been looking for a job for 6 months now, and have sent out at least 60 applications, though I only received a small percentage of acknowledgements, and even fewer actual rejections. I frequently emailed the company to ask if they received my application or to inquire about its progress, but even then I sometimes didn't receive a response. If I was persistent in contacting them several times, I felt like I was hounding them, and ruining my chances of getting the job!
I completely agree that in this age of email it is unacceptable to completely ignore applicants, but this attitude seems to be indicative of the disrespect with which employers treat jobseekers in general. Whilst I have taken psychometric tests, personality tests, written CVs, covering letters, expressions of interest, addressed selection criteria, supplied referee details, academic transcripts and identity documents, attended assessment centres and interviews according to the employers' requirements, very few have been able to show me even a basic level of courtesy! It is all very one-sided.
I asked on an online forum about making a complaint, but the perception is that complaints mark an applicant out as a troublemaker, and would harm my chances further. Not to mention that I would have to complain to the HR department themselves! Some employers write in the advertisement "We are only able to contact selected candidates" but this irritates me because email makes it very easy to contact ALL candidates, if they wanted to, so this statement is basically lying, and secondly it seems to give the employer a pretext to avoid responding to emails. Seeing that statement at the end of the ad sometimes puts me off applying. I worry that this disrespectful attitude will continue when I become an employee at one of these organisations, yet in these economic times I have very few options so I can hardly just choose to work for someone else!
I would like to see:
Without sensible feedback I found it very hard to know why I was being rejected, and probably made the same mistake many times over! I hope this helps in your campaign!
I've just read your very interesting page on employers responding to applications. I thought I would mention a couple of things from my experience: I'm glad to say that practically all the MPs that I have applied to in the past have been very courteous in acknowledging it. I think they must have been told they should by the party. It is really the other companies that are very lax. As you say, it is quite disheartening when you spend the better part of a day filling in their fiddly application forms. I appreciate that the MPs usually ask for CVs. Secondly, it would be helpful if they could tell you what day they expect to hold interviews. That would enable people to hold it in their diaries and be an indication that they hadn't got an interview. And finally, given the amount of nepotism, or suspected nepotism, in parliamentary work, it would be a positive sign for them to say that they are appointing on merit (if of course they are).
I have just seen this and thought I would quickly add my comment. Its all very well for an MP to raise such a motion; it will be his unpaid intern or hard pressed secretary who will have to collate and respond to the applicants. As an employer I have had hundreds of applicants for jobs and its impossible to give them the attention they deserve. I once took the time to write to all those who had failed to get interviews and had two abusive responses.
We at W4MP would like to thank all those who have taken the trouble to