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Tag: job application

Selling yourself in 500 characters

by MDY

Today’s post deals with a rather unsavoury topic: selection criteria questions. These are the leeches of the hiring process: draining, mindless, and best taken with a pinch of salt. Personally, I’d rather slap myself in the face than apply to work for people who use standardised questionnaire results as a litmus test of talent. Then again, we can’t always get what we want. Here are some tips for when you can’t avoid having your soul bled dry:

NUMBER ONE: Bullet points. Questionnaires are usually online. They have character limits. These limits hurt – particularly because they negate one of your best assets, which is your unique voice. But also because they often include spaces. So what do you do if the rules suck? Remove their adhesive and BREAK THEM.

So instead of:

Describe a role where you demonstrated leadership capabilities (250 chars)

When working as Chief Security Officer in the Special Taskforce Group of the 21st Ninja Battalion, I oversaw a large-scale interdiction operation against around 800 pirates, co-ordinating several heavy weapons strike teams to I have less than 25 characters remaining.


Describe a role where you demonstrated leadership capabilities (250 chars)

-Chief Security Officer, 21st Ninja Battalion’s STG

-Stopped 800 pirates with 2 heavy weapons teams and 1 grappling hook

-Cool under fire, kept teams organised, held morale strong

We won. (185 characters)

NUMBER TWO: Get factual. Obviously, these selection criteria questions aren’t aimed to test your creative flair outside of egregious ASCII art (which, sadly, usually gets formatted out of all recognition by the time it gets to the target of your job-seeker’s ire). They’re looking for “quantifiables”, by which they mean “things which sound impressive”. Fluff-words like “synergistic concatenation” or “exquisite sales extenuations” are not impressive. Put down the core facts which answer the question, and move on.

NUMBER THREE: Answer the question.

NUMBER FOUR: Be sneaky. Already attaching your CV to your questionnaire? Reference it in your answers (with page numbers!) Got online portfolio samples, testimonials, or a decent-looking LinkedIn profile? Add the URLs. The questions may have character limits, but the Internet doesn’t.

NUMBER FIVE: Be terse. Certain situations demand certain tones of voice. Terseness is often considered rude, but it’s very appropriate when addressing hostage-takers, telemarketers, and selection criteria questionnaires. Cut out unnecessary adjectives, personal pronouns, and verbs. Not only does it save your breath, it demonstrates to the other party that you mean business. Don’t kowtow to the (wo)Man. Give him/her a respectful kick in the balls.


What do you believe your main strengths to be?

I like to think my key strengths are an ability to work well with others while also retaining strong leadership control in achieving deliverables targets. I try to be a “team player” in order to better imbue my colleagues with a sense of the important mission and values of the company, focusing on strategic-level goals while recognising the individual skills of my team.


What do you believe your main strengths to be?

Unswerving loyalty from team. Never misses a deadline. History of terminating obstacles with extreme prejudice. “No negotiation” counter-terrorism policy.

NUMBER SIX: What is this question actually asking you? Selection criteria questionnaires are as blunt and direct as a face-to-face interview, but without giving you the chance to start a conversation or ask a question. So you have to get it “right” the first time. Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule to reading the mind of a glorified online survey. But you can at least make a decent guess. Here are three common questions:

Tell us about an important achievement in your career. Good chance to extend the definition of “important” beyond promotions and sales deals. How about the time the school bully made you sniff his underwear? Or when you had to rescue your dog from the garbage truck? The really important experiences are the ones which only you could have had.

What is your greatest flaw? They want honesty, not fob-off answers. So speak what you think to be the truth, but also say how you’ve aimed to address that flaw. Trying to hide your weaknesses is a sign of greater weakness in itself: people who cover up their mistakes inevitably cause businesses to die. So don’t say you “work too hard”. You monster.

If you were a fruit, what would you be? This is when you hit the big “X” button at the top of your browser and NEVER APPLY FOR THAT COMPANY AGAIN.

In brief: I really hate these things.


Sexy Cover Letter Template

by MDY

Dear Prospective Overlord,

I saw your ad for “Sexily-Clad Minions” on the University of New South Wales’ job board and believe my experience puts me in good stead to more than fulfil the role’s requirements. I’m a professional freelance minion who most recently worked at Virgin Galactic as a space-faring hired gun for Richard Branson, a role which acclimatised me to conducting everything from boardroom negotiations to fuel procurement in skimpy women’s underwear. Some of my most notable achievements included:

  • Winning a Chinese rocket-propellant contract worth $6m for the price of a lap dance, meaning Virgin Galactic’s fuel expenditure will be $0 for the next 3 years
  • Developing and implementing Virgin Galactic’s cross-media marketing and PR strategy, resulting in a 20% sales volume increase in 6 months
  • Pillow fights with Dickie B

In doing so, I’ve honed my organisational and interpersonal skills to meet any challenge – whether it be animal, vegetable, or financial – which my overlords can slough into my enthusiastically-gaping arms. As you’ve stated in your ad, “total and utter subservience” is always a must within such roles, and I’ve been regularly commended by employers and clients alike for my ability to discard any shred of human dignity in service of their business KPIs, revenue growth strategies, and domestic housekeeping duties. To demonstrate that I do indeed “got it and flaunt it“, I’ve attached a photo taken during my stint as a skirt-wearing ninja minion for Shinobi Valley Executive Services (high-resolution copies available on request). I’ve also attached a copy of my full CV which details my time across the hospitality, travel, and professional assassination services industries, and can provide references if required.

If you have any other questions about my career background or criminal record, don’t hesitate to contact me on this email or my mobile at your convenience. I look forward to hearing from you, and thanks for your time.

Warm regards,

John Doe

PS: I won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

(Ed: Change underlined fields to reflect the position you’re applying for, and don’t blame me if you forget to do so before you apply)

5 Tips for Sexier Cover Letters

by MDY

One of the most common requests to come my way is “can you help me draft a cover letter?” Or, more often, “OMG I NEED A JOB PLEASE HELP ME” which then rapidly evolves the aforementioned request (that, and CVs – but we’ll talk about those another day). Cover letters – which can accompany not only CVs but reports, business pitches, and submissions to media outlets – are the frontispiece of your written communication. They’re the vanguard to the army which is your CV, striking hard and softening the target (potential hirer) before the cavalry of your professional experience rolls in and tramples any resistance into the linoleum. If your cover letter’s strong enough, it can even do the trampling for you and single-handedly win you the job/deal/line of credit which you so desperately need.

A good cover letter has impact. It is succinct and convincing. But most of all, it is sexy. And this is how you write a cover letter which will make prospective employers roll over and beg for more:

1. Be succinct.

What do you feel when you see huge reams of text and multiple pages? Me, I feel my gag reflex. Cover letters – no more than 300 words. Just like a striptease, less is more.

2. Know what they want.

You remember how in school your English teacher would tell you to “answer the question”? Same deal. Figure out what the target is asking, then decide how you intend to go about answering that. For example, take this job ad I saw recently:

We are looking for highly motivated individuals to join a team of the universe’s most talented strategic specialists. Suitable candidates will have a stellar track-record in their field of specialisation and a high proficiency in at least one of the following: hand-to-hand combat, small arms, or artillery. Candidates must be have at least 500HP and Level 10 in their specialised class. Previous planet-saving experience preferred.

“Highly motivated” and “talented strategic specialists” are basically fluff. “Stellar track-record” is my burden of proof – I need to prove I’m one of these to have a chance at joining the team. Everything in my cover letter should contribute to proving this in some way. Then there are the necessities: weapons proficiency, health, and XP level. If I don’t meet all the necessities, I’m in trouble. In short, know what you have to prove with your cover letter before you start writing.

3. “It’s not me, it’s you”

When writing cover letters, most people seem to inevitably end up talking about themselves. They talk about how this opportunity will “enrich my skill set and professional experience” or that they’re applying because they “have a strong interest in the field” or a whole number of other things about how the opportunity will help them.

Nobody cares.

If I’m a hirer or venture capitalist or Commander-in-Chief, I don’t give a flying rocketship how you wish to extend your core competencies or gain invaluable industrial experience. I want to know you can do the job and do it better than any of the other mugs also flinging their CVs in my face. So fulfil your burden of proof. Show me how you can help me. Not the other way round.


I believe this opportunity to join the N7 team will help me better appreciate interplanetary relations, in which I have had an interest since Mum ran off with a giant squid thing from Saturn. I am also hopeful that I can develop a more extensive network of connections amongst fellow skilled individuals for future synergistic co-operation.


I have a decorated military record, the fastest ship in the galaxy, and a private army. Also, my guns are big. Both metaphorically and literally. When do I begin?

4. Write conversationally.

Your cover letter is usually the first communication you’ve had with the target. That means you need to demonstrate what a suave, capable and all-round-awesome individual you are within the first few moments. Imagine you’re on a first date. You don’t start off conversation by saying

Dear Sir/Madam, this conversation is to inform you that I believe myself to be a suitable candidate for the position of Life Partner commencing immediately

You say something like

Hey girl/guy. My name’s ______ and I’m a Senior Partner at <impressive-sounding company>. I like walks on the beach at sunset and have a PhD in Quantum Computing from MIT. You do too? Let’s talk about phase states while I get you a drink.

Similarly for a cover letter, try to adopt a reasonably conversational tone. Contractions like “I’d” instead of “I would” can help, as can a more direct form of addressing the “question”:

In your posting on, you mentioned candidates needed certain weapons proficiencies. I’m a career sniper who’s also trained in ju-jitsu and asskicking, and (etc etc)

This also demonstrates to your target that you know what they want, which is akin to showing your date you’re interested in their love of tea cosies and cats. It makes them feel special. The trick here is to be conversational while retaining a cool, professional tone. Think elegant with a touch of ice. People with money love that.

5. Make sure you have immaculate punctuation, grammar and syntax, along with clear formatting and the correct details (name spelling, address, company name) of your target.

See the “first date” analogy. Don’t rock up in shorts and thongs – unless your target is a surfing company.

To summarise: the more you work out, the sexier you get. Keep read/writing,