Applying for a job

If you haven’t applied for a job recently you may need to brush up on your interview techniques and update your cover letter and résumé. This page contains resume templates, cover letter advice and tips on how to make sure an interview goes well.


Improve your cover letter and résumé

Writing your résumé

Did you know that many employers spend less than 30 seconds looking through each résumé they receive?

Having a well written résumé will help you to stand out from the crowd.

Employers use résumés to get a range of information about you, including experience, skills, and aptitude and career aspirations.

Your résumé needs to be a short, professional account of what you have to offer employers. It should be simple and easy to read (no more than 1 to 2 pages) and leave employers with a positive impression of your approach to work.

Your résumé needs to be typed (not hand written) and be free of spelling and grammar mistakes. Use spellcheck on your computer or ask someone to check it for you.

What do I need to include in my résumé?

You will need to include:

  • your contact details - your name, a phone number and a professional sounding email address is all you need to provide in the first instance;
  • your general and technical skills, abilities and knowledge;
  • contact details for referees (such as recent supervisors or employers)
  • an outline of your recent or relevant work experience (paid and unpaid) and the skills, abilities and knowledge you demonstrated on the job; and
  • details of any licences, qualifications or training you hold that are relevant to the workplace.

You may also include descriptions of other life experiences and responsibilities, such as volunteering or sport participation. These kinds of activities can show that you actively engage with your community and may have skills that transfer to the workplace, such as teamwork and communication.

Tailoring your résumé to your job search needs

You may need to modify your résumé so that it meets the needs of different employers or recruiters. If you are applying for a job in an industry that you don’t have previous work experience or when you are applying for a job through a recruitment agent or labour hire firm, you’ll need to think about how the experience you do have can translate into the new industry.

You can tailor your résumé in a number of different ways, such as:

  • using your employer/recruiter’s preferred template (check to see if the employer or recruitment agents have any preferences)
  • include a short statement of how your skills, abilities, aptitude and knowledge address the advertised criteria for the position (you can find résumé templates online where you can add these statements
  • incorporate keywords used by recruiters and employers (to describe essential employability or technical skills, knowledge or abilities) into the text of your résumé (you can find these keywords in advertised vacancies, selection criteria, duty statements and job descriptions)

You may want to read Identifying your skills for more information on how your work experience and skills might be transferrable to new employers.

Résumé templates

You may like to use a template to update your résumé. There are many free templates available on the internet. Resume templates are available from the Australian Government’s Job Jumpstart website – go to the Resume templates – the why and how page.

Resume checklist

My resume:

  • has my contact details
  • has an easy to read font and a simple layout
  • is no more than two pages (or no more than 3 pages if referees are included)
  • uses dot points and short factual sentences
  • uses keywords from the employer’s job ad
  • is an accurate summary of my work and education history and is free of unexplained gaps
  • is free of irrelevant information
  • is saved in a common format (such as Microsoft Word) with a professional sounding title
  • is free of spelling errors, typos and jargon (such as abbreviations)

Writing a cover letter

A well-crafted cover letter is just as important as a good résumé. A cover letter is a personalised letter to a specific employer briefly outlining your relevant skills and experience and why you are the best candidate for this particular job.

A good cover letter is tailored to the specific job you are applying for. It also conveys your skills and experience in a way that makes the employer want to learn more about you. As HR Officers and employers will generally have limited time, try to keep your letter to a few paragraphs in length, and definitely no more than one page.

Understanding employer needs

Some large employers make it easier for you to find out exactly what they are looking by providing detailed selection criteria for the advertised job.

Selection criteria explain exactly what requirements job applicants need to meet to be suitable for a job. The selection criteria will often be listed in the job advertisement or position description. You must always address the selection criteria in your job application (either in your cover letter or a separate document), or you are unlikely to win the position.

If selection criteria aren’t available you will need to rely on other sources of information to help you understand what employers want. Always read job advertisements carefully to work out exactly what the employer is looking for in applicants. For example, if the role involves communicating with clients, you need to make mention of your interpersonal and customer service skills.

It's always a good idea to contact an employer to find out more about the organisation, the position and to ask any questions you may have. For more information on how to contact employers, go to the Looking for a job page.

Getting an interview

If an employer thinks that you might be a suitable match for their organisation based on your resume, covering letter and application, they will offer you an interview. An interview is a chance for an employer to meet a potential employee face-to-face and ask them work-related questions to find the right person for the job.

Your interview is a chance to market yourself to employers. It is also an opportunity to gather useful information about a potential employer. Your responses to the interview questions are important, but your behaviour during the interview also plays a huge part in an employer’s decision.

Make sure you respond to an employer’s invitation to an interview in a professional way, arrive on time, are polite to staff and stay calm when faced with a difficult question. This helps communicate who you are and what you have to offer.

Being interviewed

Always be polite and professional when answering emails or calls from potential employers.

Regularly check your messages to ensure you do not miss any attempts by an employer to contact you.

Communicate clearly. If you receive a call at a difficult time, have poor reception or are in a noisy location, ask if you can call them back. You can call back as soon as you have found a better time or place, or at an alternative time that’s convenient for both of you.

Be prepared to answer questions about when you are available for interview. You might need to use a diary or calendar to keep track of your commitments.

Make a note of when and where the interview will take place.

Prepare for the interview beforehand. Avoid surprises by asking questions and finding out what the format of the interview will be:

  • Who will be interviewing you? (Is it one person or an interview panel?)
  • Will the interview be question and answer style or will it involve completing tasks?
  • Do you need to bring anything to the interview? (such as documents or licences)

Research the job and the business so that you know what they do and can explain at your interview how you meet their requirements.

Practice your answers to possible interview questions. Think about what questions your interviewer might ask - they are often based on the selection criteria you answered. Prepare and practise responses to these questions. Some generic interview questions are:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • What interests you about this job?
  • Why are you the best person for the job?
  • What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?
  • Can you work under pressure/to deadlines?

You will often be asked to provide specific examples from your work history, too – so try to have some examples of when you solved a problem or did well at work on hand.

Think about questions that you might like to ask during your interview. You can search online for appropriate questions to ask employers during job interviews.

Re-read the advertisement and your application so that you can remember exactly what you submitted. Don’t assume that the interviewer will remember details from your cover letter or résumé.

Organise appropriate clothes and grooming. For a professional role, a suit may be appropriate. In most other roles, smart casual clothes with good attention to personal grooming should be acceptable.

Organise your transport. Calculate your travel time and consider your travel options. Once you have decided on how you will travel, double-check timetables and the availability of transport for the relevant time of day. Organise your transport so you arrive at least 10 minutes prior to your interview.

Pack your bag. Make sure you have the correct address for the interview and the contact person’s details. This will come in handy if you experience an unexpected delay due to transport problems. Remember to bring any documents or licences you need to bring to the interview.

Make the right impression on employers at interview

Arrive on time, preferably 10 minutes before the scheduled interview time. If you are running late, call the contact person. Apologise briefly and let them know when you will be there. Ask if that is acceptable or if you should make an alternative appointment.

First impressions count. Smile, make eye contact and shake hands firmly when you meet the interviewer and any other staff. Be conscious of your body language - sit upright, smile, leave your arms uncrossed and try not to fidget. This shows you are calm and confident.

Be confident in talking about yourself. You need to know what you are good at and how you prefer to work. The answers you provide to interview questions need to tell a clear story of how your work experiences, life experience, skills and interests demonstrate your strengths and abilities.

Listen to what the other person is saying. Make sure you really listen to what they are asking – they are trying to find the right person for this role. Take a pause to think about your answer before you start to speak. Taking a moment to consider your answer will help you say the most important things first, and keep your answer concise – especially if you tend to talk for too long.

Stay calm. If you don’t know the answer to an interview question or if you don’t understand the question, ask them to clarify. You can try rephrasing the question in your own words to check you understand. This can help you relate the question back to one of the common interview questions (that you have practised answers to in preparation for the interview).

Show your enthusiasm. If you don’t hear from the employer within a few days of your interview you can take the initiative to make contact and let them know you are still interested. There’s no reason to be embarrassed if you don’t get the job. It is still an opportunity to learn and get feedback so that you are better prepared for next time.