How to Tailor Your Job Application & Start Getting More Interviews

Executive Summary

  • Most of us are not tailoring our resumes properly, some of us aren’t even doing it at all.
  • Recruiters and robots look for keywords when reading job applications
  • Use the ICE Matrix when reading and analysing a job description
  • The ICE Matrix involves identifying keywords in the job description, categorising these into themes and proving that you have the right skills and experience for these.
  • Use the ICE Matrix to ensure you are using the keywords from the job description, along with relevant experience and achievements in your job application.

How long did you take to write your job application to get into your current position? 1 hour? 2 hours? 4? According to several sites, such as Social Hire, it takes up to 8 hours to write a good resume, including revising and editing. Considering that recruiters looks at each application for just 6 seconds, that’s a lot of time wasted if you receive a “Thank you for your application” response, or worse yet, being ghosted by the recruiter. That’s a heck of a lot of effort to put in, just to give the recruiter’s eyes a minor stretching exercise.

When I was in my second-last year of university (and our speakers and headphones were first graced with the likes of Uptown Funk and See YouAgain), I applied for over 50 different internships. I knew how important it was to secure a summer internship, because it would mean that I could cruise through my final year of university without worrying about whether or not I would be able to get a job when I graduated. So I spent literally weeks writing cover letters and applications for all these companies. Guess how many of those applications progressed to the next stage?

Zero. Nada. Nothing.

That’s right – out of all the job applications I sent off, NONE of them came back to me with any sort of good news. So doing the maths, I wasted over 400 hours writing and editing applications that amounted to nothing.

After some trial and error over the years, I’ve come up with a more robust step-by-step method that works. To paint a picture for you, I recently applied for 3 positions I was very interested in – and all of them turned into interviews. I then had to face the dilemma of deciding which role I wanted more – a problem I could only ever dream of having before. And I’m going to share that approach with you today.

The Huge Mistake I (& You) Make In Job Applications

But before I share my new strategy for writing successful job applications, we should take a step back and think about what the actual problem is: why do our job applications go straight to the bin without getting so much as a glance from recruiters and hiring managers?

“You didn’t tailor your job application to the job description.”

It’s cliche advice; you hate hearing it, I hate hearing it, but it’s not getting through to us. In a 2021 study by Austin Belcan, a team of US researchers sifted through over 125,000 resumes to understand what the successful applications were doing right compared to all the others. One of the key findings was quite staggering:

Including relevant skills and keywords boosts your chances of landing an interview, but candidates only included 51% of relevant keywords in their resume (with a 60% match rate for hard skills and only a 28% match rate for soft skills)

We Analyzed 125,000+ Resumes, Here’s What We Learned, Austin Belcan

The study also found that on average, job descriptions have 43 keywords that recruiters are specifically looking out for when reading through job applications. That means that most applicants are only including about 22 of these keywords. That’s a bare passing grade. Do you really expect an application like that to get across the line when a recruiter is faced with stacks of these on a daily basis?

Due to the sheer volume of applicants, It’s also becoming standard practice for recruiters to use filtering software to help filter through all the incoming documents. Now you might be a great fit for the job, you might even be THE best applicant out there. But if you don’t include enough of the keywords they’re targeting, guess what – your job application won’t even get viewed by human eyes. So it’s imperative you get it right.

Why It’s So Hard to Tailor Your Job Application

Based on my own research and experience, here’s some reasons why it’s so hard to tailor your job application to the description provided by the recruiter or hiring manager:

  • You don’t have time to understand and pick out the keywords in the job description and tailor your job application to fit that language
  • You’ve previously tried to tailor your job applications, but haven’t been very successful at it
  • You know that you should tailor your job application to the job description, but don’t know where to begin or how ot do it
  • Even if you have tailored your resume, you’re unsure if you’ve tailored it “enough” to match what the recruiter is looking for

I’ve been through all of these at some point, and I know that it’s such a frustrating experience, because you get ZERO feedback from recruiters – you either get ghosted or a short “Thank you” message.

As promised, I’m going to share with you my current process for writing tailored job applications that’s definitely a lot more effective than simply winging it, and will save you a lot of time and uncertainty in the process.

The 3 simple steps are:

The ICE Matrix – A 3-Step Process to Tailor Your Jop Application to the Job Description

My method involves working through the job application, picking out the keywords and creating a table or matrix that you can use when writing your job application (and for preparing for the interview too!). Here’s the steps involved:

  1. Identify the keywords in the job description
  2. Classify the keywords into broader themes
  3. Evidence your suitability for the role with skills and experience

Although these may sound simple, I strongly recommend reading through the rest of the post for how to do each step properly so you can get the best results form using this process.

Step 1: Identify the keywords in the job description

When you start, you should read through the job description a few times to get a feel for the role and what the hiring company is looking for. After that, print out the job description or copy it into a word processor of your chice and. Then go through and highlight all the key words and phrases that you see.


What is a “keyword”? or “key phrase” in a job description?

A keyword or key phrase in the job description is any word or group of words that describes specific attributes or traits that the ideal candidate must have. These could include:

  • Years of experience in particular industries or fields
  • Technical skills, knowledge and capabilities
  • Non-technical “soft” skills
  • Personality traits and characteristics
  • Cultural traits (i.e. of the organisation, not your ethnicity)

If you read and understand the job description correctly, then keywords and key phrases are your best friend, because they tell you exactly what the company is looking for. Then it’s just a matter of making sure that you weave the same things into your job application and you should be good to go (More on how to do that later).


Step 1 Example

To help make the process concrete, I’ll use a position I recently applied for as an example to show you how to apply this process. Here’s a short excerpt from the job description (sanitised for privacy):

Reporting to Papa Smurf, this newly created position will support all aspects of the Smurf Treasury’s function. A key aspect of this broad role is to contribute to submissions and consultations on various aspects of the tax and superannuation systems. to governments, revenue authorities and treasuries at both State and Federal levels. 

Some of your responsibilities will include: 

  • Providing research support and preparing initial draft representations and submissions
  • Liaising with other parts of the Smurf Village on joint initiatives. 

To be considered for this role you will have:

  • Well-developed stakeholder engagement and relationship management skills.
  • A willingness to be involved in project management and to support matters through to completion. 
  • Good time management and organisation skills. 

And here’s the same job description with the key words and phrases highlighted:

Reporting to Papa Smurf, this newly created position will support all aspects of the Smurf Treasury’s function. A key aspect of this broad role is to contribute to submissions and consultations on various aspects of the tax and superannuation systems.

Some of your responsibilities will include: 

  • Providing research support and preparing initial draft representations and submissions
  • Liaising with other parts of the Smurf Village on joint initiatives

To be considered for this role you will have:

  • Well-developed stakeholder engagement and relationship management skills.
  • A willingness to be involved in project management and to support matters through to completion
  • Good time management and organisation skills

Once you’ve gone through and highlighted all of the keywords and phrases, write them out into a list; this will be helpful for later.

Here’s the list for our example above for reference:

  • contribute to submissions and consultations on various aspects of the tax and superannuation systems.
  • Research
  • Preparing initial draft representations and submissions
  • Liaising
  • Joint initiatives
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Relationship management skills
  • Project management
  • Support matters through to completion
  • Time management
  • Organisation skills

Step 2: Classify the keywords into broader themes

In this step, we want to turn condense the list of keywords and phrases from the job description into broader themes that you will target in your job application.

You do this by looking at all the keywords and phrases and seeing trends or relationships between them and grouping them into an “umbrella” or “theme”. This makes it so much easier to focus the overall message of your resume, because you go from having to match 43 keywords, down to 6 or 7 key themes.

Step 2 Example

So moving back to my example from above, here’s how I would group them together:

Writing position papers and submissions

  • contribute to submissions and consultations on various aspects of the tax and superannuation systems.
  • Research
  • Preparing initial draft representations and submissions

Building and maintaining relationships with internal and external parties

  • Liaising
  • Joint initiatives
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Relationship management skills

Organisational skills

  • Time management
  • Organisation skills

Taking ownership over work

  • Project management
  • Support matters through to completion

As you can see, we’ve just taken the 11 keywords and phrases and consolidated them into 4 overall themes or types of skills that we need to cover in our job application. Hopefully you can see that it’s a lot easier to visualise 4 broader themes rather than 11 individual points.

In terms of the specific groupings of keywords, I wouldn’t worry too much about whether you put the wrong keyword under the wrong theme when they overlap. It’s more important that you get a sense of the overall picture that the keywords are forming, as opposed to the little details of each keyword. But we will come back to the individual words in the last step of this process.

Step 3: Evidence your suitability for the role with skills and experience

Whew, we’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting and we’re almost there! In this final step of the process, we want to add our keywords and themes into a table in a format shown below. You might notice that there’s a new column titled “Evidence” here as well.

THEMEKEYWORDSEVIDENCE
Writing position papers and submissions
contribute to submissions and consultations on various aspects of the tax and superannuation systems.
Research
Preparing initial draft representations and submissions
[Write down your skills and experiences that demonstrate the themes and keywords here.]
Building and maintaining relationships with internal and external parties
Liaising
Joint initiatives
Stakeholder engagement
Relationship management skills
[Same as above]
Organisational skills
Time management
Organisation skills
[Same as above]
Taking ownership over workProject management
Support matters through to completion
[Same as above]


The “Evidence” column is where you put down your achievements and experience that prove that you have and live out the themes and keywords in the way that you work, and that you’ll bring them to the new job.

What is “evidence” in a job application?

When preparing your job application, evidence is any form of experience, qualification or some other tangible proof of your skills and suitability for the position. It could include:

Now, just fill in the final column to the right titled “Evidence” to complete the ICE Matrix. This will form the blueprint for preparing and polishing your job application for this position.

  • University degrees (including any Honours, awards or majors you have completed)
  • Further study or qualifications (such as a CA, legal legal practising certificate etc)
  • Achievements or milestones you achieved in previous roles
  • Note-worthy or unique experiences or projects you may have worked on
  • Contributions you have made in a previous role or as a volunteer

It’s really about proving that you really are who you say you are, with actual facts and figures.

It might sound obvious, but I think we often overlook what a job application is really saying. When you send a recruiter or hiring manager your job application, it’s more than a sales pitch – it’s a written and firm declaration that you have what it takes to do the job, and do it well. But to make your job application persuasive and credible, you need to put in evidence to prove that claim.

Put another way, if you don’t have evidence to show that you can actually complete the work they’re hiring you to do, your job application’s going straight into the bin.


Step 3 Example

Here’s what my table looks like with some examples of evidence:

THEMEKEYWORDSEVIDENCE
Writing position papers and submissions
contribute to submissions and consultations on various aspects of the tax and superannuation systems.
Research
Preparing initial draft representations and submissions
Researching and drafting 3 thought leadership pieces that were submitted to the Smurf Revenue Commission
Building and maintaining relationships with internal and external parties
Liaising
Joint initiatives
Stakeholder engagement
Relationship management skills
Assisted with the co-ordination of the development of Project X involving 3 external and internal committees
Organisational skills
Time management
Organisation skills
Simultaneously managed 7 medium to large client accounts with competing deadlines, with all work being delivered on time
Taking ownership over workProject management
Support matters through to completion
Managed and drove the end-to-end process for a large internal project, overcoming unexpected delays and issues throughout the process

If you followed the process through to the end, congratulations – you now have a blueprint to tailoring your job application and resume to what they recruiter or hiring manager are looking for.

How to Use the ICE Matrix When Tailoring Your Job Application

Here’s why the ICE Matrix will help you when you start writing your job application:

  • You can focus your core message and tone around a few key themes, rather than trying to just stuff your application with keywords without thinking about the bigger picture
  • You can make sure that the experiences that you include in your job application and resume are relevant and meet the key skills and attributes the recruiter is looking for
  • When you describe your skills, knowledge and experience, you can use the same keywords and language from the job description; this shows the recruiter that you are exactly what they are looking for, because it demonstrtes that you’ve read and understood the job description and it will naturally resonate with them, because these are the types of vocabulary and language they normally use.
  • You have a rubric or scorecard you can use to check your job application. When you’re done writing your resume, work through each row of the table to make sure that your job application covers that theme and includes keywords in the original job description. You don’t need to go back ot the job description for this, since you’ve already extracted the information.

Conclusion: Tailoring Your Job Application Doesn’t Have To BE Hard

If there’s nothing else you’ve taken away from this post, it’s that reading through and writing tailored job applications for a job you’re interested in doesn’t have to be a matter of pure guesswork and luck. You can improve your chances of getting that interview if you spend time thinking about what the recruiter is looking for, and writing your job application in a way that shows them that you’re the one for the job.

Just remember the 3 simple steps, and you’ll be well on your way to getting more interviews.

  1. Identify the keywords in the job description
  2. Classify the keywords into broader themes
  3. Evidence your suitability for the role with skills and experience


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