As an editor of California Job Journal, my sympathies naturally lie with the jobseeker. My compassion comes from devoting much of my week to writing, editing or assigning articles designed to help people find meaningful work.
I am constantly trying to get into the mind of those on the hunt, to better anticipate what their needs might be. Who doesn’t like being the champion of the underdog – in this case the un or under employed?
But in recent days I confess my loyalties have been vacillating. Suddenly, I am beginning to feel deep sympathy for those on the other side of the fence – the people who do the hiring.
My emotional waffling began shortly after I placed an ad soliciting freelance writers. As a small publication, we rely on the work of a variety of journalists-for-hire.
Staring at a stack of resumes from wannabe writers, I thought to myself “it’s no wonder hiring managers get demoralized.”
My frustration? While they all want a job, few have the willingness, dedication or common sense to submit a well-conceived cover letter and resume. For any serious jobseeker these documents are critical in reaching the next step, the interview. But even more so for fledgling authors trying to break into a field that places a premium on writing and attention to detail.
I have decided to share some of their more glaring gaffes in hope that you may learn from and avoid the error of their ways.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: One of the worst cover letters I received did not even bother to use my name. It read “Dear Human Resources Professional.” What am I, a piece of furniture? Why should I take the time to read your resume, I thought, if you didn’t even take the time to find out my name? So, while we have said it before, let me say it again: Never send a letter without knowing the name of the person you are attempting to reach. Dear Sir or Madam just doesn’t cut it. While you’re at it, get the name right. One applicant who got trash-canned called me Rob.
THERE ARE LIMITS to what your cover letter can do. For example, it cannot make you qualified for a job that’s clearly out of your league. One applicant bent over backwards to describe his abilities – which his resume did not support. While we encourage jobseekers to apply for positions that may be slightly over their heads, you need to be realistic. This applicant knew he wasn’t qualified and could have saved his time and mine by not applying. Make sure you have sensibly targeted your job search, or you too will be spinning your wheels.
CLEARLY UNREADABLE: Sometimes the problems I encountered were visual. In one case, a resume was almost too faint to read. In another case, the italic type style blurred the email address. Your application package should never make a hiring manager work hard to read or understand your information. Make sure the type on your resume is dark, clean, easy to read, and printed on quality paper.
DISCONNECTED: After reading one applicant’s numerous writing samples and being duly impressed, I decided to call him. But I couldn’t. There was no phone number anywhere on his resume. It had an email address and a street address – but was it my responsibility to track down his phone number? More importantly, did I want to work with someone so careless? I actually got the phone number when the applicant called me – and professed disbelief at his oversight.
DATELESS: It’s important to date your cover letter. Two applicants didn’t, and I thought it was unprofessional. You may think this is a minor point, but to me it reflects a lack of courtesy and attention to detail. It also suggests that the cover letter is generic and undated so the applicant can send it out anytime without any “extra work.” Managers often keep resumes filed in the order they were received. A handwritten date across the top of your resume will be a constant reminder of your carelessness.
CUT THE CARDS: Another aspirant decided to enclose a business card – with her last name crossed out and a new one hand-printed above. Not only did it look sloppy, it interjected an element of her personal life that I did not care to know. If a garbled business card is the best you have, don’t enclose it. In fact, don’t enclose a business card at all – your employer didn’t have them printed up for you to use as a job-search tool.
BE BRIEF: You might argue that your extensive career warrants a two-page resume, and you may be right. But three pages? What was this applicant thinking? Any writer who cannot condense their resume into two pages need not apply.
SPELLING COUNTS: While most wrote to say they wanted to be a freelance writer, one insisted on being a contributer (sic). Not a good mistake in any cover letter – but especially unforgivable in one seeking a writing position. This type of error could have been easily avoided with a spell-check program.
I must confess I found most of these mistakes and omissions mildly amusing. At the same time, I am disheartened that so many people do not know or care to follow the basic courtesies in their job search.
If you don’t have time to check your cover letter and resume for accuracy, spelling and completeness of information, you are probably wasting your time sending them out.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. Who is more likely to be invited to interview – the experienced worker who provides a professional packet of information, or the lackadaisical applicant without a clue?
The question should be rhetorical. But after a week of doing the hiring, I am afraid it isn’t.