What we all could learn from the job applications of sixteen-year-olds

3 Jun 2015 | Ville Polvinen | 3 min read

When asked “What is the single most important lesson you have learned during the past few months with this company?” I would refer to my new favorite quote by inspirational speaker and author Simon Sinek:

Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them; they hire already motivated people and inspire them.

The past six weeks or so I got to work with a truly inspirational project, where we helped Unilever Finland Oy find enthusiastic young ice cream vendors to tour Helsinki with their ice cream bikes, cheering up ice cream lovers across town this summer. By conducting the entire recruitment process in an ethical and positive manner, we wanted to ensure that also those that did not get the job still were left with a positive and useful experience from the application process that can help them in their future job searches.

How to stand out from hundreds of applicants?

The position required an enthusiastic attitude towards working and customer service: the rest would be taught on the job. As such, there were no clear-cut requirements in terms of skills. In a more conventional recruitment process, one has a certain set of specifications that can be used to qualify the most potential candidates for a round of interviews. We received over 500 applications, so standing out from the crowd was quite a task for the young applicants.

Lucky for us, the eager ice cream salesmen-to-be made our job easier with their great applications. Let us remember that most of these youngsters were applying for their second, maybe even first summer job, which made the quality of their applications even more impressive. As an applicant, when you have no previous experience to showcase or no diploma to present, you really have to do something different to differentiate yourself from the other applicants.

Show that you are genuinely interested

Dozens of the applications I read managed to do exactly that. Especially when there are no skill-based requirements to be met, attitude and motivation of the applicant is what really piques your interest as a recruiter. The young applicants managed to convey a genuine interest in working in a customer service and sales position, and many were quite vocal about wanting to fulfil their childhood dream of working with ice cream. That level of enthusiasm is something that any job seeker could learn from, regardless of age.

Use your personality

It was great to see how inspired and clever the best applications were. Sure, proclaiming that pear is your favorite flavor of ice cream might not be the most important piece of information from the recruiter’s perspective. It does, however, show that the applicant is passionate about ice cream and has a sense of humor. Two qualities that are quite essential for any aspiring ice cream vendor. Pair that information with a glowing motivation and a genuine interest to learn basic sales skills and you’re making it pretty tough for the recruiter to not consider you seriously for an interview.

Articulate your motivation

I understand that singing praise to applications that “think outside the box” is cliché. But is it really more cliché than a string of three to four positive adjectives in the middle of a cover letter, with no context or evidence provided? In the end, the same rules apply for both those applying for their first job and those applying for their 20th. When push comes to shove and a choice must be made between two equally qualified candidates, more often than not the scales are tipped in the favor of the candidate that can more clearly articulate their motivation for the position, company and industry. So the next time you are applying for a job do yourself a favor and clearly state your motivation. That is a lesson we all can learn from the job applications of sixteen-year-olds.

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