How do you decide whether to apply for a job?

Elvis Elvis
At the very least, you don’t know where it is, you don’t know the package, you run the risk of being either over- or under-qualified and you don’t even know who the employer is.

You’d be surprised how many people leave it until the final interview or even after a job offer, before asking for missing information that’s important for their final decision. It’s almost as though we’re embarrassed to imply the job advert was less than perfect. Or maybe we think the questions will jeopardise our chances?

Let’s just take a step back for a moment and consider how much time and effort goes into a single job application, once you’ve found an advert that appeals:

Brushing up CV 1 evening (4 hours)
Biting nails, while waiting to hear whether you’ve got an interview days or weeks
Screening interview, with travel to the recruitment agency 1 day
First round interview with the employer 1 day
Assessment centre or final interview 1-2 days
Typical total 4 days
Plus weeks or months
of waiting
(that’s 3+ days you need to get past your current boss, without them noticing)
Imagine getting the job offer, only to find the salary is 20% lower than you’re prepared to accept.

Or maybe getting to the first round interview and finding the job won’t be based at head office, but at a location where you’re not prepared to work.

Or perhaps making it to the assessment centre, only to realise you won’t be managing a team of people after all, so you don’t really want the job. A real waste of time, effort and your hopes and dreams.

So it makes sense to find out as much as you can about the position and the employer before you even send off your CV. After all, the later you leave it in the process to ask the “embarrassing, stupid questions”, the more difficult it gets and the more time you have wasted.

The easiest way to get the answers you need is to pick up the phone.

It’s perfectly acceptable to phone the recruiter or future employer, before applying for a job or going for an interview.

If you’re applying through a recruitment agency, they may well have good insight into the recruiting company. However, if you can, it’s often better to talk directly to the prospective employer.

Be aware that recruitment agencies are paid commission when they place a candidate. However, if the employer finds the candidate directly, the agency can miss out on that commission. So it’s not uncommon for an agency to be reluctant to give you any more details about a job until they have submitted your CV. In some industries, even basics such as location could give away the employer.

If you call the recruiter rather than the employer, be clear about what it is you want to know and why. Be reasonable and use your best influencing skills. Usually they will do their best to answer your questions. If not, you could consider sending in your CV anyway, but must decide at which point you would back out, if you’re still waiting for information.

Before you pick up the phone, take a step back and do some quick preparation.

You can either call the contact mentioned in the advert (typically someone in the company’s Human Resources department or a recruitment agency contact), or try to get through to the manager of the position advertised.

This second option has both pros and cons. Your potential future manager may admire your initiative and remember you when your CV arrives, but they may be difficult and time-consuming to track down and might not appreciate the interruption.

Many companies prefer their Human Resources team or appointed recruitment agency to screen applicants before giving short-listed CVs to the recruiting manager. It’s up to you who you decide to contact. You could always start with the recruitment agency / HR contact and then go to the recruiting manager, if you still need to know more.

How do you decide whether to apply for a job?


If you get through to someone involved in the recruiting process, it’s your chance to make a great first impression. And you only get one shot at that, so it pays to make the most of it.

Before dialling:

  • Re-read the job advert and make sure you understand it. If you have any questions about it, write them down to ask during the phone call.
  • Write down 3-5 reasons why you are interested in the job and why you think you’re suitable. You may get asked this during the call and don’t want to be put on the spot, unprepared.
  • Work out your current salary and benefits package and what range you are looking for. Again, you may be asked this during the call. It is a common screening question. You can be ruled out instantly if your current salary is above the job’s threshold.
    If it is not mentioned, you are free to ask the salary range for the position, as a sanity check. It can be embarrassing to spend time on an application for a role whose salary could never meet your requirements. If you are happy to take a cut in salary, be prepared to explain why.
    However, be careful how you handle this topic, so as not to create the impression that money is driving your application.
  • Note down any other questions you have and decide your objective(s) for the call.
  • Take a deep breath, relax and smile.
    It might sound silly, but being tense and nervous really shows on the phone. A relaxed, friendly smile affects your voice (try this one out!) and makes a better first impression.

Typical objectives for the call include:

  • Find out more about the role (e.g. more details about the job and how it fits into the company’s structure; who does the position report to?).
  • Get a name to put at the top of your application’s cover letter. Check the spelling of the name: assume nothing! People can be offended by mis-spelling and it shows lack of attention to detail on your part.
  • Aim for agreement from the recruiter that you are a suitable candidate for the role.
    This can be vital. It can either give you a great confidence boost, because you know you have the general skills and experience they are seeking, or it can save you a wasted application.

    Note: you don’t have to take “no” for an answer at this stage, but you should use it as a cue to review your suitability for the role.

Remember that recruiters are busy and speak to many applicants each day, so thank them for their time and tell them you will be sending your application by, say, the end of the week. Make sure you do. They’ll then be expecting your CV and you can refer to the phone conversation in your cover letter.

In fact, it’s useful to have this to hand at any time after applying.


These days, recruiters often phone applicants for informal pre-screening interviews. These may not be a formal interview and can be an unprompted phone call, say, to “check your availability for interview”. Yet they may slip in questions about your current & desired package or your suitability for the role.

If you have prepared, you’re likely to make a good impression and are less likely to hesitate, if asked unexpected questions.

This exercise gives you a chance to prepare, before making the call.
Do I have any questions about the job advert?
Let’s continue with Jude’s example:

Where in the South-East is the position based
(Note: I don’t want to relocate with the kids at this stage. I’ll work within 45 minute drive of home)

What is the salary range – sanity check (childcare costs)

Is there any form of flexitime?

Who is the employer?

3-5 reasons why I’m interested in the job (don’t necessarily tell the recruiter these – they’re to clarify your thinking)
  1. I want to get back into marketing after my maternity leave
  2. I like working with advertising & consumer campaigns
  3. I want to work in a consumer-facing role, rather than a Business-2-Business position
  4. I want to work with people with similar attitudes to me, for an employer who understands the needs of mothers.
3-5 reasons why I think I am a suitable candidate
  1. I believe I have the experience required, based on my years in marketing with XYZ company
  2. I want to return to full-time working, after maternity leave, and believe this would be an ideal opportunity for the company to benefit from my experience and for me to consolidate my skills.
  3. I always loved the campaign management side of my previous roles and was good at making sure all aspects had been covered and ran to schedule.
  4. My market research experience helps with campaign design and analysis.
Salary & benefits package
Current package What I’d like next time
Previously £xx, xxx Aim to at least match this, to allow for taking a step down, but 7 years of inflation at £xx, xxx
Company car allowance Car allowance would be useful, though not essential
20% bonus scheme Some form of bonus would be great
Working 50+ hours per week Minimal overtime, ideally with flexitime

Objective of the call

To find out the answers to my questions and confirm that I have the skills and experience required, despite my maternity leave.

To get agreement that I should apply

Any specific questions (if not already covered)

What is the closing date for applications?

Do they have any preferred format for applications / CVs?

When do they require the position to start? (Note to self: childcare can take months to arrange).

Name & number to call:  
Notes from the call