Why you need to talk with the contact officer

Surprisingly few people talk with the contact person to learn more about the job they are applying for. This is a risky strategy to take when applying for a job as you can miss out on vital information that will make a huge difference to your application. Possibly the difference between being short listed or not.

I can think of seven reasons why you would be wise to talk with the contact officer.

  1. Some agencies/organisations use very skimpy templates for their job descriptions. Some will give you a list of duties and selection criteria and little else. This is not enough information to write a tailored application.
  2. Vital information may be left out of the job description. For example, how the job came to exist (e.g. following a restructure), whether it is new or old, what the short term challenges are.
  3. Details about stated aspects of the job are not included. For example, the job could involve managing a team of staff and not tell you how many staff, what roles they hold and what levels they are.
  4. This is an opportunity to create a favourable impression about your interest in the role. The contact person may be on the selection panel, may be your future boss. Since so few people bother to call to find out more, you are bound to leave an impression.
  5. You may learn details about the job that other applicants don’t have. By being one of the few to call you may have a competitive advantage.
  6. You can find out what specific criteria actually mean in the context of the role. If it’s not clear how a criterion is related to a role, or what aspect is particularly relevant, then you need to find out in order to provide relevant evidence. For example, the duties may not make clear what aspects of communication are needed in a role.
  7. You may decide after talking to the contact officer and finding out what the job is really about that you are no longer interested in applying.

With shrinking job opportunities and greater competition for jobs, you need to make sure that you have obtained as much information as possible in order to write a tailored response. Even if selection criteria are not used and you are asked to write an Expression of Interest, you still need to find out more.

If you are an internal applicant you still need to make the call. Or better still, chat with the contact officer over coffee. What a manager wants to do with filling a job vacancy may be different from what appears to have been the case in the past.

While it may have been the case years ago that an applicant’s progress hinged on responses to selection criteria alone, these days agencies/departments are seeking tailored responses. You will often see guidance to applicants that says you need to consider the criteria in the context of the job.

Guessing what a job is about may result in an off-target response. Certainly some contact officers are less than helpful, assuming you can make contact with them. And some can be very helpful as they take their responsibilities seriously and understand that applicants need to understand the job they are applying for. These are the people you need to talk to in order to write an informed, tailored application.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.