How to make sure your job application passes the screening phase

After you submit your application for a job or internship at a company, as a first step, recruiters read and evaluate your CV and cover letter.

This is called screening – the selection of candidates who meet the minimum requirements for the open position.

How can you increase the chances that your CV passes the screening?

What are do’s and don’t’s?

What do recruiters look for in the applications they read?

To answer these questions, we talked to Samuel Chopard, who has worked as an HR Coordinator at CERN and has screened about 3’000 applications in his career so far. Based on his extensive experience, he gives some practical tips on:

  • how to make your CV and cover letter stand out from other candidates’
  • what common mistakes to avoid
  • his number 1 advice for anyone just starting in their career.
What mistakes have you seen students and recent graduates make when they apply for their first job or for an internship?

Sometimes they don’t work enough on their application. Recruiters read CVs really quickly, they cannot spend a lot of time on each CV, so the CV has to make sense.

In short, a good CV:

  • Makes clear the dates of your previous employments or studies
  • Has no spelling mistakes
  • Is easy to read
  • Is well organized

It’s also important to filter what is relevant to the internship or job. Sometimes the really important information is hidden in the middle. As the CV is read pretty quickly, the recruiters might not see it. So it’s good to have a well organized and clear CV.

Another mistake I see is that people see an opportunity, but they believe they don’t have a chance, because there must be someone better than them, or because they don’t have a lot of experience, but they should just try to apply.

Making a good application takes a bit of time, but it’s worth it if it’s for a really good opportunity.

In many cases it’s not about being the best, but being at the right place at the right time.

Especially for people who are just starting out in their career and don’t have a lot of work experience yet, it’s hard to stand out from other applicants. Do you have any tips for this? How can you stand out when you’re applying for your first job or your first internship?

It depends on where you are applying. Some companies like to have recommendations from their employees.

If someone in your network works at the company where you’re applying, ask them for a referral.

Any extra-curricular or personal projects relevant to the job or internship are good to mention and to attach to the application.

It’s also always good to write a cover letter, explaining specifically why you want to work in that specific company.

Sometimes the cover letters are a bit too general, because people tend to use a cover letter for several applications.

If you are interested in a company, you should target that company and say why you want to work there and not in another company. This makes a big difference.

What makes a motivation letter stand out?

As metioned already, you should focus on why you want to work at that company.

Also, you should study the offer of the company, and mention the skills you have that match those specified in the job offer, to make sure the recruiter doesn’t miss that.

Can you recommend any online resources for writing a good CV or a good motivation letter?

Sometimes large companies provide tips for applications on their web site. Read and follow those tips, because they tell you how that company expects your application to look like.

Also, it’s good to research online examples of cover letters or CVs for a specific industry.

For example, the CV of a lawyer won’t look the same as the CV of an IT engineer. Or, to take another example: graphic designers have fancy-looking CVs, which are really good for their industry, but if a lawyer uses the same template, it won’t look professional.

It’s good to have a CV that has the look of your industry.

So look for the right type of template for your industry.

Are there any other tips that you would give to students and graduates at the start of their careers?

When you have an opportunity in a company, it’s really important to build your network, both with other interns (or other recent graduates) and people who are more senior.

A network can always prove itself useful in the future.

This is the most important advice that I have: to build and maintain your network.