Over the past few years I have been a judge for numerous national business awards and competitions: start-ups, digital, social media and growing business, fast growth, bio-tech, working with the ‘good and the great’ to recognise and celebrate the achievements of individual businesses and their owners and their teams.
The process of judging is always a humbling affair; it involves a lot of highly-heated debate as well as a lot of laughter. The refining and narrowing down of a group choice to one winner is not as scientific as a one would like, but at the end of the day the best business wins. There is a lot of similarity between the way that job applications get handled and award applications get dealt with.
The sifting process
The first sift is very binary and somewhat cruel, depending on the award. Someone sifts the big pile to create a shortlist. This is more about putting people in the rubbish bin than anything else. So simple questions are addressed:
Are they applying for an appropriate category?
Do they fit all entry criteria?
Have they followed the entry guidelines and presented their case properly?
Are they a good example/case study of their category?
Those that don’t meet the above get cut; it’s as simple as that.
The pile then gets filtered again to start picking out the exceptional from the ordinary – amongst all the noise some (but not many) entries always stand out as being better/different/more interesting.
More than anything this is a marketing exercise – you are being judged on your ability to tell your story in a compelling way that will attract the judges’ attention and demonstrate that you are a worthy contender. Speaking bluntly, too many applications are simply ghastly.
The judging panel
At the judging panel, the judges work in small groups and all they have to go on is the competition applications, a quick look at the website, Google, social media, and maybe a brief presentation from the contestants.
In a very short period of time, with limited information, a decision has to be made. A little like Dragons’ Den or X-Factor, the judges apply their own criteria to what they see. That’s all there is to go on. Constant reminders of the judging criteria or the specific category criteria are referred to but the judges will select according to their own experience, wisdom and belief as to who is the most worthy or appropriate winner.
So, at the last judging panel, we passed over the application that had been emailed in as a pdf printed in Arial 9 as it was totally unreadable. We passed over the hand-written one put together while watching Eastenders I suspect. Likewise, we were highly suspicious of the ones that didn’t fill in all the boxes (you must know this year’s turnover?) and those that didn’t stack up, probably because of mistakes (surely you realise that gross profit cannot be bigger than turnover).
Judges are individuals and will apply their own filter and prejudices to what is presented to them but you need to make it easy for them to see why you are the right choice. I repeat, make it easy.
For me, I usually look for three key criteria:
What’s the overt business benefit (show me the money)
What’s the real reason to believe you can deliver?
What the dramatic difference that make you different from the rest?
Next I will look at:
People and Culture
I will always look for proof. There is nothing worse than empty slogans without any back-up eg “We are the UK’s fastest-growing agency” or “above-average profitability” or “the best social media agency in Wolverhampton” Where’s the evidence?
So, present your application clearly, fill it in thoroughly, and make it easy for the judges to understand your business model and your story. Most importantly, market your business so that it stands out, enabling the judges to crown you their winner.
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