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I just reviewed 60 applications. Here’s what I learned.

At my birthday dinner last month with my family, I received a buzz on my phone.

This was rare for a Saturday evening, so I took a break from dinner to check my phone to see what it was.

Turns out…

I was offered a consultancy for a UN agency.

That was a nice way to cap off my birthday celebrations.

As part of my work for this new consultancy, I reviewed 60 applications received for 6-8 open opportunities last week.

Here’s what I learned.

1. 73% should never have bothered to submit their applications

UN rules tend to state pretty clearly WHAT they want to see.

If they want a P-11 (a UN form that captures your CV and other details) – you are best advised to submit one.

If they DON’T want a technical proposal… Well, then, don’t submit one.

For this opportunity, there were 3 very clear requirements:

  • Fill out a Technical Proposal
  • Submit a Financial Proposal
  • Send in your CV

Of 60 applications, 44 or 73% of them all – DID NOT SUBMIT THE REQUIRED MATERIALS.

Of these 44, 6 were actually kind of relevant or interesting. But where did they end up?

In the FAIL to meet requirements pile. And what happens to them? No one else reviews them.

So 73% of applicants wasted their time and, worse, MY time as a reviewer. Which leads me to….

2. You can tell with 95% accuracy by the names of the document who will Pass to a second round of review and who will get IMMEDIATELY rejected

If you sent in a Word document titled, “My thoughts (1)” as part of your job application, I am immediately predisposed to rejecting your candidacy.

Yes, I will open it up and review it just to be sure. But do you really want to already get a tick in the rejection box from the start?

Instead, act and present yourself professionally EVEN in how you name your documents.

A document titled:

” UN [agency name] – Technical proposal – [Your_Name] ”

… already speaks huge volumes about your attention to detail, your professionalism AND most importantly…

That you care about wasting or not MY time as a future boss or teammate.

If you think I’m being a bit harsh, let me ask you…

Who do you think will be a better team player and colleague…

Someone who cares for your time or someone who doesn’t?

Your application materials speak for you before you are able to speak for yourself.

Make sure your ambassadors show your professionalism from the start.

3. Even among those who PASSED, several didn’t read the ToR / Call for Proposals

The first round is to make sure an applicant submitted all the required materials.

After that, you see how relevant and of what quality the application is.

If you’re talking about a project NOT relevant to the work… Yes, it will be a mark against that job application.

At best, it usually makes it to a “long-list” – a stand-by list of those waiting to see if there are other BETTER applications.

But usually, it’s just another quick rejection. So stay relevant in what you share.

4. There are a few regional patterns 

The call was open to all the world, with no geographic preference. The numbers of applications per region, then, were both interesting and surprising.

Contrary to expectations of several reviewers, there were more applications from Sub-Saharan Africa than we would have thought.

Of the 16 applications that met the basic requirements:

  • Global North (UK and USA) – 4
  • Latin America and Caribbean – 2
  • Asia – 1
  • Africa – 9

Just 3 applicants of the total 60 were from the Middle East, but none passed the requirements check.

From Africa there was also a clear pattern: many were guilty of just wanting ANY job.

It was clear they did not want THIS specific opportunity, had studied the ToR and opportunity announcement, or made a persuasive case for why they should be considered.

Instead…

They left me – the reviewer – the task of making connections between their profile and what we were looking for.

When I wasn’t bored or frustrated, I tried, but honestly not that hard. You are better advised to make any and all connections relevant and clearly.

Additionally, many many applicants submitted their personal projects requesting for funding from the UN agency.

While several may have been of some quality and would likely impact their communities for the better, they would have no chance of being funded by a very specific call that held particular requirements and interests.

Simply put, there is no possible way a budget line earmarked for one result can suddenly be used to fund another, quite different objective.

And while understandable that applicants may be looking for ANY opportunity to seize, it’s generally a waste of their time to have bothered to submit to something completely irrelevant.

Time that could be BETTER spent on a much more relevant opportunity, researching and understanding organizations and their mandates further, or building their professional networks.

5. Reviewers get tired, bored and frustrated

I spent 12 hours straight reading applications.

Why did I read all applications in one go?

Because of the urgency and not enough time to do the contracting.

In international organizations, you will see this pattern come up time and again…

  • An opportunity was identified.
  • Advertisements were made.
  • Deadlines get extended.
  • Then, suddenly, there is a time crunch.
  • Because BIGGER deadlines cannot be missed.

So it’s unavoidable, the time to review is short, urgent and must get done NOW.

The key lesson?

Your reviewers are human, too. (In development organizations, AI and computerized keyword searches hardly exist, if they exist at all—I’ve never seen this working with 5 UN agencies over nearly 20 years.)

After hour four of reading dozens of applications that were a waste of time, I was pretty tired and wanted my life back.

I want to get back to doing higher impact work than reading 60 applications – of which 45 should never have been sent. Or even just to my couch watching Netflix.

The result of so many people applying to opportunities without reading the ToR or tailoring your application materials to make them RELEVANT and CLEAR is…

You soon begin to deal with a reviewer that is pretty frustrated.

Yes – I did my job. I read every application, and even passed some through that shouldn’t have because I saw the potential.

But believe me, those applications that weren’t relevant or made their case without me thinking hard about them got QUICK rejections.

To recap…

  1. 73% should never have bothered to submit their applications. So focus your job search strategy to spend your time on applications where you have relevant and clear connections. Don’t waste your time or theirs.
  2. You can tell with 95% accuracy by the names of the document who will Pass to a second round of review and who will get IMMEDIATELY rejected. Be a good team member, attentive to details, and professional—even in how you name your documents.
  3. Even among those who PASSED, several didn’t read the ToR / Call for Proposals. For the love of humanity, read the job or project descriptions. Do your research on the team, department and organization. Learn their strategies, who funds them, and their language. It’s all public information. This will give you rich, deep insight into what they are looking for. Your effort will show through and payoff.
  4. There are a few regional patterns. Draw key lessons to avoid common pitfalls that trip up others.
  5. Reviewers get tired, bored and frustrated. Use the psychology of hiring managers to truly stand-out and give them want they want: to quickly, easily fill their hiring or open opportunity need, so that they can get back to growing THEIR careers.

Have you been guilty of any these?

Leave a comment and let me know!

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