January is the high time for job applications. Just like with that brand new gym membership you want to use the momentum of the new year to make a lasting change in your life. However, the initial excitement of starting the process may wear off quickly. That goes not only for the treadmill, but also for your job applications - especially when you find yourself being a bit unsure about what’s actually important to recruiters.  

While we cannot do much about your workout resolution (we will leave that to your annoying friend who will show up at your door unannounced, snatch the bowl of chips out of your hands and yell: “Good that you’re already in your sweats. We are going for a run!”), we can offer you a sneak peek at what matters most to employers when they review applications and conduct interviews.  

How we know what employers want from you? Well, we asked them. More precisely, 73 hiring managers from different companies in our network gave us answers to the following three questions:

  1. What are the 3 primary things you are looking at when reviewing an application?
  2. What are the 3 most important characteristics in a applicant during the job interview?
  3. How do you consider applicants who follow up on their application before the application deadline has expired?

We will show you the results and - based on them - give you tips to help you fine tune your application routine.

1. What employers look at in an application

What employers primarily look at in an application


Looking at this graph, your initial reaction might be: Duh! Of course, the CV and the cover letter lead the top of the list of things that employers focus on. But don’t skip ahead just yet! It’s not the top but the midfield where most of the interesting things happen.

First of all, you should note that roughly 50% of the questioned employers stated that they consider both, the CV and the cover letter among the top 3 important features of an application - so it’s definitely a good idea to always submit both. Secondly, you can see that grades and your university major actually seem to matter a lot more than the university itself. Bigger companies (which we classify as firms with more than 100 employees) tend to look at grades a bit more (32%) than smaller companies (25%). Thirdly, spelling abilities are important to a quarter of the employers we asked - even a bit more so than your references.

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What does this mean for your written application?  

  • Your CV and cover letter should complement each other. That implies that the cover letter is not simply a recital of your CV. As a rule of thumb you should consider the CV as the rearview mirror of your application (where you present what you have done in the past) and the cover letter as the headlights (with emphasis on how you intend to perform the job that you’re applying for in the future). Tip: Check out our guides to a perfect CV and an awesome cover letter if you need more inspiration.  
  • Make sure to edit the ‘Education’ section in your CV so that it relates to the job. You cannot go back and a change a bad grade on your transcript. Let it go. However, you can flash out the periods of your university education that a recruiter may latch on to. Look at the buzzwords in the job description and match them with the courses and projects you have already taken. Then throw all the stuff off your CV that doesn’t help your cause. Tip: Find out how a thesis partnership or your international experience can help relate your university education to the job you’re eyeing.  
  • Have someone else proofread your application. Let’s face it: the world continues to turn despite all the typos being produced on it every day. But that doesn’t count for your job hunt. Why should a hiring manager bother to review an application that you apparently couldn’t be bothered to review yourself? So don’t just rely on the automated spell check. Tip: Take a couple of minutes to review your overall writing skills, while you’re at it. Bonus tip: If you apply in a foreign language, ask a native speaker for help - even when you’re feeling quite confident about your language skills.  

Still uncertain? Use the Graduateland CV Builder to optimise the design of your CV in minutes. We've talked to recruiters  in 15 European countries and built this tool, so you can apply to jobs anywhere with confidence.