I've been doing some shortlisting for my own maternity cover. While I don't have decision making power and also won't be involved in the actual interviews, my opinion on who I would consider suitable is valued and that is good, because I know what my job involves and what a candidate should bring along.
I've done shortlisting before and every time it's the same picture. About half of the applications make you shake your head in amazement. So for the benefit of anyone applying for jobs in these times of apparent austerity, it would really help if you could consider the following basic recommendations, which every job centre, application training etc. will have banged on about before but which somehow have been forgotten even by intelligent and able people. Following these recommendations will mean you don't waste your own or the shortlister's time.
1. Read the person specifications and address at least the main points clearly in your supporting statement/covering letter.
2. As you do this, EVIDENCE why you have the skills and knowledge required. It is not enough to say "I'm a good communicator". I want to know when and how you have demonstrated this. Give examples.
3. It is not enough to write "I'm enthusiastic, motivated and willing to learn." This one liner won't get you a job. Really.
4. If a supporting statement is a requirement for an application, it would be useful to write one. Not writing one means your application won't be considered. At all. You could as well not bother applying.
5. If an application is by application form, complete the application form. A CV does not count as an application form. It doesn't. Really.
6. If a CV is requested to support your statement, please make sure it evidences your claims and relates to the job applied for. Especially if you're currently trying to change careers. I'm really not that interested in your PhD, your bar work or your PR expertise. Not because it's not fascinating, but because it doesn't qualify you for the job you're applying for. Especially not if this is all your CV is about and your previous experience shows no relation to the position applied for.
7. Read the job description and person specification and try to imagine what the job is actually about. Then make sure you explain how your skills and experiences match.
8. Do use a spell checker and re-read your application. I'm not hunting for spelling mistakes but you should be able to write an application without too many glaring mistakes - simply because the job involves writing reports, funding applications and other stuff where good written communication is needed.
9. Use the "return" key and punctuation. It hurts my head to read a paragraph which is a page long, or sentences that go on for the length of a paragraph. I may not read on if I just see a block of text (actually, I do, because I'm nice, but it annoys me big time and doesn't speak for written communication skills)
10. If you have relevant experience, do go into some degree of detail in your supporting statement. If you don't, it may get missed and you may be in the "no" pile when you should be in the "yes" pile.
11. Having babysat doesn't mean you can organise, design and run group work with young people. Similarly, being a parent or having younger siblings does not make you a youth worker.
You see, the point is that there are people who follow these recommendations and who are very good at demonstrating their very relevant experience. There are actually some fabulous people out there, and to stand a chance, YOU have to show CLEARLY that you are one of them. Just don't leave it to guess work because there's usually only a handful of candidates who will get interviewed. And you can only get the job if you get interviewed. Simple.
Good luck next time.