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Writing your CV for the first time is the first step in job hunting, and can be a tough hurdle to get over.

The act of applying however is probably the toughest part. Most people will kick this off by looking for vacancies on recruiter sites, large job boards such as Monster, Reed, Total Jobs and so on, and company websites. They’ll then send through their regular CV with their standard cover letter, and wait for something to happen.  If it doesn’t, they then complain that the recruiter/job board/company weren’t any good and never got back to them.

If this scenario is familiar to you, then you need to work at being a more active job hunter. Here are five tips to help get started:

1) Don’t just apply to companies that have open vacancies on their sites.

Something like only 15% of vacancies are ever actually posted, leaving 85% of all jobs filled without ever officially going out to the public.  If you know what companies you want to work for, then send in your CV – even if there isn’t a relevant position posted.

The problem here can be that if there aren’t any relevant vacancies open, then your CV may disappear into a bottomless database, or fall into the hands of someone who doesn’t have the knowledge to help get it to the person who needs to see it.  The best way around that is…

2) … seek out your potential hiring manager, and contact them directly.

Nobody knows better the skills gaps and team needs in a department better than the department head. They already have the experience to pick out a good CV, or can tease out your skills if your CV is unconventional. They’re also motivated to push you through the recruitment process if you’re what they’re looking for.

If you feel that it’s a bit too direct to contact them and ask for a job, it doesn’t hurt to say that you have respect for them and that you’d be grateful to meet up for a quick cup of coffee for some career advice (maybe don’t phrase it exactly like that). Most people don’t mind giving up time for something like this, and are often secretly quite flattered.

If you don’t know who the hiring manager might be, then do a LinkedIn or Google search.

3. Don’t copy and paste your cover letter.

I know writing individual cover letters isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but they are essential to get right. Reading a ‘standardised’ cover letter will make the eyes of the person reviewing your CV glaze over faster than when they hear a judge on X-Factor say that voting somebody off is ‘the hardest decision they’ve ever made’.

Your cover letter should simply say why you are interested in the position, and why you’re the best candidate. The first part should be fairly straightforward, and if you’re having trouble with the second part then draw out a brief summary of the relevant skills/experience you have and tie them to the main requirements from the job spec.

This is also relevant to your CV – tailor it to the job you’re applying for by highlighting different relevant parts of your experience.

4) Follow up on your applications.

Don’t just apply and forget about it; if you don’t hear back, find out what’s happening. Showing the level of interest may be the thing to push your CV back to the top of the pile. Worst thing that can happen is that they tell you you’re not being considered, which doesn’t leave you any worse off than you were in the first place.

5) Keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date.

This one’s a no-brainer. Most of you are probably inundated with recruiters contacting you on LinkedIn offering positions. If not, then you need to spend time on your profile and help them find you. It’s definitely easier than actually looking for work.