Thursday, March 31, 2011

Simplifying the Job Application

Where I work, we do not have a centralized Human Resources department to handle all of our hiring. Over the last few years, I’ve been involved in the hiring process several times and have witnessed some of the ups, downs, and just plain weirds of certain applications & resumes.

For anyone out there looking for a job, I've got some tips.

Your job application and resume are your time to shine. You have the opportunity to make a spectacular first impression and to confidently state, "I want this job and here's why you should give it to me."

This being said, capitalize your name. Particularly in the Midwest, an uncapitalized name like "john smith" doesn't look edgy, artsy or otherwise captivating. It just looks like you don't know grammar. When you're famous, then you can take artistic license with capitalization.

Make every effort to answer every question truthfully on a given job application.

Actually read every question on a job application. Pay particular attention to a question that might read something like, "Are you eligible to work in the United States?" Carefully think through the given syntax before you check Yes or No. You would not believe the number of born and bred Americans who indicate they are ineligible to work in the US.

Do everything in your power to fit your resume on one page. You can definitely hit the high points of yourself on one page. Anything past two pages is narcissistic. The resume is intended to give a brief history of your academics and pertinent experience to see if you have the basic skills and training for the job. Your resume does not need to include itemized lists of every training class, project, software program, and certification. Hit the applicable high points. Unless they are associated with the wanted job and you have extra space to fill, do not include your hobbies on your resume.

Don't lie about experience. Don't even stretch the truth about experience. Under no circumstance should you say you know Microsoft Access if you saw a coworker open the program once. It is much better to report your experience truthfully than to look really stupid if they ask you how to set up a report feeding from a T-SQL left join query also utilizing the count function.

If you are actually serious about wanting the job, include a cover letter. If you are applying for a job outside your community, include a cover letter. If you want to make a good impression with your writing skills, include a cover letter. If you want the employer to know you're not simply submitting the application so you can continue to receive unemployment benefits, include a cover letter. In your cover letter explain three topics-

  1. Specific, good reasons why you are applying for the job, especially if you don't live in the area. The phrase, "I want to work in this field to improve my skills," is not a winner around here. "I have been in this field for the last three years, but am looking for a position closer to where my bed-ridden mother lives," is much better (but realistically skipping the sob story, even if your story is a sob story, it's not a good idea to try to gain a job out of pity).
  2. Specific, good ways you have used your skills to benefit your current workplace or someone in your life. Don't say, "My mom says I'm really good at this." Try, "In the last six months, I've been able to use my experience with such and such to improve so and so's workflow by twenty minutes." This isn't the time to rehash the resume, but here you can include personal examples and stories. Keep it short though.
  3. Specific, good reasons for time gaps in your resume. Employers want to see a continuous timeline of your activities. They want to be able to easily see timely transitions from places of study to places of employment to other places of employment. If you have a conspicuous gap of activity from August 2007-February 2009, it's best to explain truthfully that you were deployed, started a family, needed to care for a relative, were incarcerated (yes, get it out there in the open), quit your fulltime job to pursue a blogging career, etc.

Whether or not you are confident in your writing skills, have someone else proofread your cover letter and resume. I am not joking. I don't care if you've won a flipping Pulitzer. Get them proofread. This is a cover letter we received; specifics have been edited, all spellings, capitalizations, and syntax are unedited.

"To whom it concerns
Would Like to obtain a position where I and can use and expand what I have learned at XXX. I completed training for XXX but have not received all certifications yet and have no experience in the field. Have been interested in XXX since I graduated high school, and have worked on my own for many years. I am a quick learner and love a challenge."

Just get it proofread.

Another perk of having your resume and cover letter proofread by a colleague is to see if you are over or underselling yourself. If you really want a particular job, have a colleague read the job ad before checking out your application packet to see how well the two match.

Some resources instruct job applicants to drop by the employment agency or to call to check on the status of the application. If you decide to do this, know that your "interview" starts the moment you initiate contact with anyone at that place of employment. This could potentially not bode well. If you do decide to repeatedly call, know that your approach, tone, and general demeanor could come off as harassing to the receptionist. Additionally, if you call, do not try to manipulate or guilt said receptionist into providing details of the application process that s/he doesn't know. Do no ask how many people have applied for the job. Do not offer additional reasons why you should be hired. Furthermore, do not threaten suicide to the receptionist, even jokingly. This will not help you get the job. If they drop any line about, "We will contact you," it's code for "Stop calling. Seriously." It's generally better to represent yourself well in your application packet and to let your skills speak for themselves.

If you want to drop your application packet off in person, dress like you're going to an interview. Look in a mirror before you leave. Check button alignment. Check your teeth, check your hair, check your collar, iron your shirt, check your breath, don't use too much hair gel, don't look creepy, don't talk too loudly, don't insist on meeting the boss, don't flirt with the receptionist, don't try to chat up anyone. Look good, pleasantly drop off your application packet, and leave.

Prior to applying for the job, it’s a good idea to Google yourself & see what shows up. It’s also a good idea to see what shows up on Facebook. You might want to change your profile pic from you with a duckface or you holding a beer or a stripper to something slightly more responsible. And you might want to double-check your privacy settings. People have been skipped over for interviews and jobs based on what’s on their Facebook or MySpace, particularly their photos. Take the time to present the image of a hire-able candidate.

But above all else, please properly capitalize your name.

1 comment:

  1. It's so true about reading questions carefully! One time, I re-read an application I had done and realized I had checked the box that Yes I am a sex offender. Oooooops.