Sargent's solutions - tips on how to optimise your application for a gardening job

Making your job application stand out can be key to landing a senior or head gardener position, Alan Sargent explains.

Part of my consultancy work involves finding new senior or head gardeners for clients, usually owners of large properties who realise that they do not know what the job entails. Their previous employee may have been with them for many years and his or her role and previous management skills are a closed secret to them.

My role is perhaps a little different from searching via an agency — a business that may have several dozen people seeking employment and a number of employers seeking employees on their books. I operate on a one-to-one basis with all concerned and this insight allows me to see matters in a closer and more intimate light.

For example, I always visit the garden or estate to evaluate what I consider to be the important
matters from a wide range of angles. Horticultural issues are paramount, but there are often more subtle influences that determine what type of individual will be suitable for a particular position. Some owners prefer to leave the garden completely in the hands of the head gardener, while others wish to be closely involved at all times, which can often lead to conflict and disagreement.

Some gardens will be used for corporate or family events that disrupt normal professional horticultural practices, but must be maintained to high standards at all times. An ability to provide this type of service requires a different set of skills and temperament in an employee. I normally set the salary based on skills and responsibilities, arriving at a figure I feel will attract the right applicants. I write the advertisements and agree with the owners how and where to place them. In other words, I am engaged to oversee the whole project.

High-profile opportunities

This freedom allows me to understand and influence many factors, and it has become increasingly clear to me that there are several different types of applicant for these high-profile employment opportunities. There are also a fair number of highly suitable people who do not present themselves in a way that befits
their talents.

Once an advertisement is placed, usually via an online system, within minutes I begin to receive email applications. Within hours, I have a dozen or more, and by the end of the first week I begin to trawl through perhaps several dozen emailed curricula vitae applications of varying quality.

When I place the adverts, I make it clear that I am not an agent but working on behalf of a client. So many people do not read that information and simply send off their curriculum vitae without any thought or research into the job or location. They fail to make any attempt to find out more about the information supplied in that advert or take on board any of the facts that are set out. They simply submit their application based solely on the attractive salary.

It becomes difficult to discern between applicants when all I am presented with is dozens of similar documents with no personalities showing through in any of them. Consider how you would like be seen by a prospective employer and how to attract the eye of someone who is sifting through reams of the same format. What can you do to make your application stand out from the rest?

May I make a few suggestions? I know that some employers will not accept applications with a photograph attached or shown on the CV but, if it is not forbidden to do so, I always welcome a small black-and-white, passport-style photo because it personalises the application and makes it stand out from the others.

It is obviously essential that a CV is presented in a formal standard manner, which is little more than a résumé of your previous employment, showing the number of jobs you have had, when you started and left, with a brief outline of your duties and responsibilities. However, you could include a separate sheet showing your personal profile, listing, for example, your accreditations and membership of meritorious organisations in such a way that they stand out from the rest of the words:

"Full member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture since 2006."

"Full member of the Professional Gardeners’ Guild since 2005."

"Higher National Diploma."

Lift your application

Start with your professional accreditations, then move on to your hobbies, if they may be useful within the job role. For example, if you keep koi fish or chickens, make a note on that document. These are important factors that will immediately lift your application above the standard.

These facts will also make you more of an individual. I am now looking at your photograph, your personal profile and CV in that order. I am now engaging with you as an interesting candidate who has taken the time and trouble to present themselves to me as an assessor, and not simply pushed the button on your computer that says "CV" without any thought of trying to attract the attention of the reader.

Believe me, when you are ploughing through up to 100 applications, the process is often quite brutal. To stand a chance of gaining an interview, make yourself appear interesting. Read the wording of the advertisement. Analyse it and learn to read between the lines. Carry out research on the job and location, if possible, or at least find out more about who may be interviewing you. Knowledge is power, but research is essential. 

Alan Sargent’s latest book, Employing a Gardens Manager or Head Gardener, is now available (email

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