When you’re job hunting, everyone from your parents to your neighbor from five years ago that you ran into in the grocery store wants to give you advice about resumes, cover letters, interviewing and the like. And if you’re job hunting—take that advice. Seriously. As a hiring manager, I’ve seen major problems in application submissions, but more often, there are some minor things that get overlooked—and they make a major difference to those who are hiring. I’ve hired two positions in the last four months and many of the application submissions lacked in some way.
So what really made me sit up and pay attention to a candidate—or pass one over? Consider the following:
- Write a cover letter. Even if you’re applying through an online system, there is usually space to write comments or to upload documents. Include a cover letter and follow all the basic rules. And please don’t highlight your qualifications as X if I’m hiring for Y. If what you’re saying doesn’t relate to the position, don’t say it.
- Express interest in and passion for my cause briefly, but don’t confuse that passion with qualification to do the work. I was hiring for volunteer coordinators in animal welfare, yet I got some of the following “qualifications.” “I’ve owned animals my whole life.” Cool? “I’ve birthed livestock.” Um, okay... (before you ask, yes, someone put this on their application). Where does it say on the job description that any of that is a qualification? Explain why you can do the work. Passion for the cause is great, but does not equal a good candidate.
- If you haven’t done exactly the same job before, translate your related experiences for me in your cover letter. Don’t make me work to understand why you can do the job. Spoon feed it to me. Treat me like I’m a super-busy person skimming hundreds of cover letters and resumes. Because that’s who I am.
- Completely fill out the online application. I don’t care if it repeats what’s on your resume. Take the time to do it. An application with a lot of blanks looks lazy and managers don’t hire lazy people. And no, “see resume” does not count as an answer.
- Capitalize on your connections. Don’t tell me in the application that you know someone. Have the person email or call me or swing by my office and put in a good word. If you know or have met me and haven’t reached out personally, you’re not showing much initiative and that reflects poorly on you.
- Use references from your most current job and your most relevant job. If those are missing, I’ll wonder why and will probably just call them anyway. It’s okay if you’re interviewing without the knowledge of your current employer—just tell me. If that’s the case, you might consider bringing a glowing performance review (see #7) along to the interview. Also—tell me how each reference relates to you (e.g., former boss, colleague).
- Show up for the interview. I don’t care who’s sick or why your car won’t start. I don’t know you. If you can’t show up for your interview, I’ll never believe you’ll show up for work. Have a plan B and a plan C if need be. (There are exceptions to this, but only extreme ones—think death or maiming.)
- Do not apply to every opening at my organization and expect me to take you seriously. I get that you may love the organization or cause, but you should only be applying for jobs you’re excited about and qualified for. There is no way that’s true for every role at the organization. A good hiring manager will simply start ignoring your name when it shows up again. Need help clarifying what you want to do? Try some online tools.
I’m not saying that following the recommendations on this list will automatically get you the job—far from it. But what these types of things will do is keep your name in my “good resume” pile. And that’s precisely where you need to be in order to be considered for the job.