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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

Feedback for applicants who did not get shortlisted for our Content Designer interviews

I recently recruited for a content designer to join our team. We saw common themes in the applications that didn’t make the cut and in those that we did shortlist. I want to share this feedback for candidates who didn’t get shortlisted for interview, and to provide advice for future applicants.

First off, I want to thank everyone who was interested in working with our team and took the time to submit an application. We had an astonishing 161 applications come through. That’s by far the most I’ve ever received for a post I’ve been involved with recruiting for.

We invited six candidates for interviews. So those high application numbers meant there were a few good applications that didn’t make the shortlist.

Unfortunately, I can’t give individual feedback to everyone who applied, but I hope this post is helpful in illustrating the types of applications we received and our reasoning for shortlisting the way we did.

Applications we could not consider for shortlisting

Before I get into the more competitive applications, here’s a summary of the trends in applications we could not consider for interview, totalling 83% of all applications we received.

No right to work in the UK (10% of applications)

If you answered on your application that you didn’t have the right to work in the UK, we couldn’t consider you.

As an immigrant myself, it’s frustrating that the University doesn’t sponsor this role, but that is the case, and the advert stated we couldn’t consider applicants who needed sponsorship.

No cover letter (13% of applications)

I know not every hiring manager cares about these, but as I wrote in my post explaining the job and how to apply, it’s the most important thing to me.

My post explaining how to apply for the role

It also said in the advert we wouldn’t consider applications without a cover letter.

Not enough experience (20% of applications)

There were applications I saw from people who I think would be great at content design, but unfortunately, they didn’t have enough experience for this particular role.

As I said in my post explaining the role, it’s more than okay to never have worked in content design before. However, this is not an entry level role.

We do have roles in our team that are entry level, but this one is more aimed at people with at least a few years behind them in roles where they have built up the skills that could transition well into content design.

So if you were a recent graduate with the right mindset and skills, but hadn’t had enough years of experience yet, we couldn’t shortlist your application.

However, not having enough experience doesn’t change the fact that content design might be the right path for you. If you do see an entry level role (either Associate Content Designer or Content Design Support Assistant) come up with our team, I encourage you to apply for those.

Graphic or UX designers lacking a clear understanding of the role (18% of applications)

Every time we recruit, we receive a lot of applications from graphic designers or UX designers who don’t demonstrate to me in their cover letter they understand what content design is.

It’s more than okay to be a graphic designer or UX designer and want to transition into content design. However, you need to be a strong writer and editor to be in this role. We primarily deal with website content. There is very little visual or interaction design work to do in this job.

If you didn’t make it clear in your cover letter you understand what content design is and that it is different from visual design, we couldn’t consider your application.

Lacking relevant experience (14% of applications)

If you have not been working in roles dealing with digital content or something closely related to it, we unfortunately could not shortlist you. With so many applications in this round, we prioritised considering those with the most relevant experience.

That’s not to say content design might not be a good path for some of you. But it may be worth looking for a more entry level role if your background and current role are very different to content design.

Not expressing an interest in the role (8% of applications)

If you had relevant experience but didn’t express an interest in the role or content design in your cover letter, we did not consider your application for shortlisting.

Hiring is a two-way street. I want to hire people with the skills to do the job, but I also want to make sure this job is something you think you’d enjoy doing and that it’s the right move for you.

It’s so important that a cover letter tells me you understand the job you’re applying for and why you think it’s the role for you. It gives me greater confidence as a hiring manager that we’d both benefit from working with each other.

Applications we considered for shortlisting but did not get an interview: what made shortlisted applications stand out more

There were 27 applications we could have considered for shortlisting based on them having enough experience and a motivation to work as a content designer. In the end, we longlisted 12 applications when we were deciding who to invite for interview.

Rather than list the trends in applications we rejected, I think it’s more helpful to share the characteristics of the shortlisted applicants. It’s not always a case of something you could have done to make your application stronger.

Stronger interest or experience in content design

The majority of applicants we invited to interview had already been working in content design roles or at least had some formal training in it.

This was not the case when I was hiring content designers two years ago. I think this is reflective of the current job market and the fact that the content design discipline has only continued to grow as more companies hire for these roles.

I know perfectly well someone who hasn’t worked in content design before can become a great content designer in this role (because I’ve hired and trained those people before!).

However, my team is in the middle of a big project redesigning our degree finders, and this vacancy was to replace a very strong, experienced content designer who left the team. I felt it was important to interview those with directly relevant experience to fill that skills gap.

Years of experience in similar roles (for those not already working as content designers)

In applications where someone didn’t have any formal content design experience, we prioritised interviewing those with a significant number of years (15+) of experience in related roles not labelled as ‘content design’ in the job title, but doing very similar things.

Again, it had to do with filling that skills gap that we prioritised the amount of experience. It was reassuring to me if I could see someone had extensive experience working on similar big projects and could easily take on things like facilitating workshops and managing relationships with stakeholders.

Well-written cover letter

For all applicants, regardless of content design experience, we prioritised those that had a well-written cover letter where applicants showed they could make content readable with short paragraphs, subheadings matching the job criteria and bulleted lists where appropriate.

I was pleased to see a number of applicants of all experience levels do this. However, for those we could consider for shortlisting, applications stood out more if people showed they could do an excellent job of writing in this way.

For the most part, people did well with subheadings and lists, but the biggest area of improvement I’d suggest for many applications would be to write shorter paragraphs. One idea per paragraph (which can often be only a sentence or two) makes them shorter and the content becomes so much easier to read.

Subscribe to our blog for future job postings

I know how disheartening it can be to get rejected from a job, but I wanted to write this post to let applicants know that even if you weren’t shortlisted, that does not mean content design or roles with our team aren’t for you.

We saw promising applications from people with the right skill set for content design. It’s just a case of this particular post not being the right one for your current skill level, or the level of competition being too high this time to get shortlisted for interview.

When we are hiring, we post on this blog about it, so if you are interested in any of our future vacancies, you can subscribe to our blog updates through the ‘Subscribe’ section in the white widget panel (desktop: bottom left; mobile: at the top when you click ‘Show widgets’).

You can also connect with me on LinkedIn where I’ll post whenever our team has vacancies.

Connect with Lauren Tormey on LinkedIn

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