How Not to Apply For a Job
12/5/2011 8:23 AM
by John Sciacca
The job market is tough right now; I totally get that. If you’ve got a job, you’re probably pretty thrilled about it, and are doing what you can to hold on to it; no matter how dark and dusty that coal mine you work in happens to be. And if you don’t have a job, you’re probably pretty highly motivated to go out there and get one. Or, join a local Occupy protest. You know, whatever you think is the best choice for you.
My little company is one of the many that is NOT looking to hire right now, but that doesn’t stop people from contacting us about employment and we general take their applications and resumes and hold onto them in case anything does turn up.
So a few nights ago I’m going through my e-mail in-box and I see a message from a name I don’t recognize with the subject line “Cover Letter & Resume.” I open it up and there is…nothing. Like *literally* there is no message there at all. Where an e-mail normally WOULD be was just white space. Stark, cold, lonely and totally blank white space. The entire e-mail consisted solely of two attached items.
This is just a TERRIBLE way to send an “I’m looking for a job” e-mail. Do I know this person? Have we met? Did he call and say he wanted to send me a resume? Did I say, “OK, go ahead and e-mail me one”? Are we buddies in some social networking group? I don’t remember. Clearly, it didn’t make enough of an impression and he didn’t offer any reminders to make me say, “Oh, yeah! That guy!” Is he planning on moving here and he’s just testing the waters? Or is this really some new Nigerian bank scam, where I’ll click on one of his attachments and it’ll install a backdoor, key-logging virus on my computer?
Also, kind of unrelated but not totally so, he sent the files in .docx format. This is less compatible with older word processing programs than the far more common .doc format. When you are sending something out, I would send it in a way that the most people could open in the most hassle-free manner possible. That's just me. (Ironically, my partner received the same message and he was unable to open the attachments, proving my point exactly.)
So I open his cover letter – on my iPad, cause, you know, the virus thing – and see lame-sauce number too. The letter is addressed to “Human Resources Director And/or Personnel Manager” and begins “Dear Sir or Madam.” When applying for a job, if there is any way that you can find out the NAME and TITLE of the person you are trying to get a job from, I would highly suggest it. You somehow managed to get my e-mail address, which means that I’m *guessing* my name was somewhere nearby. I highly prefer that to “Dear Sir or Madam.” That’s what I use when I send a pissy, “You totally screwed up!” e-mail to a company. And barring getting their name how about at least their GENDER! Or just assume that since you’re applying for a job in audio/video installation that there is a 99 percent chance I’m gonna be a dude and play the odds. Not bothering to find out even this most basic of info makes me *highly* question the genuine-ness of your desire to join my team.
So I read on and get to the second paragraph where I find he describes his skills in a adjective laced sentence that included the word “puissant.” Now, I scored in the 700s on my verbal SAT. I also happen to write for a living and play a pretty mean game of Words With Friends. Ergo, I think I have a pretty good vocabulary. And your resume is not the time to play “stump the professor” and pull out 15th Century French words like “puissant.” (Unless you are applying for a position at stumptheprofessor.com — then knock yourself out.) It makes me just feel like you went trolling through the Thesaurus and hit up all the buzzword catch phrases you could think of. I'm disappointed I didn't get something on directing workflow and promoting synergy ("Like a boss!"). And I get it; you think you’re awesome and you want to find every adjective in the book to tell me just exactly how awesome you are. This didn’t do it.
So, I finish reading the cover sheet which was actually not that bad in itself. It didn’t have any typos or glaring grammatical errors and if he would have included this in the body of his e-mail – you know, instead of absolutely nothing – along with maybe something a little more personal like, “I have been reading your column/blog for a while and would love to discuss the opportunity to come and work with you,” or “I am considering relocating to your area and found your company on-line,” or *anything* to break-up the automaton sounding I AM THE PERFECT EMPLOYEE; YOU NEED TO HIRE ME cover letter, it would have had WAY more chance for success. It would have felt less like a cold-call, mass e-blast resume blindly sent off to lord knows how many other people and more like someone personally reaching out to me.
And also, the cover letter, while decently written, was just totally generic. He could have been applying for Any Job, USA. The ONLY thing that mentioned my industry was this line: “…ability to deliver superior excellence in the home theater segment of the consumer electronics industry.” Take that single line out and replace it with “superior excellence in the brake drum refinishing segment of the automotive industry” or “superior excellence in the unclogging of fecal straining unit segment of the wastewater treatment industry” or “superior excellence in the art of awesomeness segment of the awesome industry” or plug-in whatever you like. A cover letter should be focused for THIS job not ANY job.
But after reading his cover letter, I figured that maybe he had some strong industry experience or something so I opened his resume. Now, I don’t know this guy — least I don't think I do — and I’m not here to shame or embarrass him. (And if you are out there reading this, once you get over that initial thinking of what a dick I am for posting this, maybe these tips will actually help you craft a better cover letter and resume for the next go ‘round. When you land a job, buy me a drink at CEDIA. Something single-malt.) But from this resume, it is clear that this guy has totally played-up his experience and credentials. His experience is in being a waiter. And there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that. I’m sure it’s a tough job, and I know that waiters in some high-end restaurants pull down nice 6-figure salaries and that it can be a great career.
But, I’m not a restaurant looking to hire a server. And when 4 of 6 jobs on a resume are “server,” another is basically answering complaint phone calls and the current job is “pizza prep,” you REALLY need to give me some better story as to WHY you are going to be suited for the custom installation field.
His resume didn’t show me ANYTHING that says, “I have a real passion for what you do, and I’m gonna be great at it!” And since jobs are scarce and I have the pick of who I want to hire right now – you know, IF I was hiring – then I’m going to pick the person that I think is going to come in a LOVE what we do and be with us for the long haul.
Also, looking at the dates of your employment history – cause, I do – the ONE job he had that was kind of applicable to this industry – at a Circuit City – he had while working as a server. This tells me that it probably wasn’t a full-time gig and that since you quit a year before Circuit went out of business to go back to being a server, means your heart might not really be in THIS industry.
As a laugh – and maybe a bit of education – I dug through the old file cabinet here at CTA and dug into my personnel file. Here is the cover letter I sent when I applied for my job WAY back in January 1998. I had no industry experience either. But instead, I played up the skills that I DID have and focused them for the job that I wanted. For the record, this letter and my resume got me THREE job offers.