Ten Job Application Mistakes
I’ve had the opportunity to review a few thousand resumes over my time, and I’m regularly frustrated by some simple gaffes that people make over and over. Want to get the job? Avoid these mistakes:
1. “Cover letter attached.” People insist on attaching their cover letters as PDFs. Who tells them to do this? All this does is guarantee an extra click for whoever is reviewing your email and a flash of annoyance at having to do so. The body of your email is your cover letter — period.
2. Be too formal OR too cute. For any job you really, really want the cover letter should be easy. Why do you want to work there? Tell them! Be sincere! Show that you’re excited! These letters are always easy to spot.
But of course it’s not always going to be a job that you really want. So what’s the proper tone? First, don’t be overly formal. What the cover letter is best at is conveying personality — something that matters for even the stuffiest position. Don’t miss out on that opportunity. Don’t plow through your education and GPA unless those things are particularly notable. Just do your best to summarize what makes you you in a clear and concise way — no more than three short paragraphs (four lines or less).
Showing too much personality is just as bad. Your potential employer probably doesn’t need to know that you bake gluten-free cookies every Tuesday (we hear that multiple times a week) or that your intramural kickball team has a hilarious, Charlie Sheen-derived name. These things are contrived. Keep it to things that actually pertain to the job in some way.
3. Address your cover letter to the CEO. It’s hard to know who to address an email to, but picking the most prominent name on the About page looks naive. I always enjoy it when someone takes the time to address the letter to every employee (“Dear John, Helen, Mark, Amir, etc”). Shows research, effort and an acceptable level of whimsy.
4. Make any typos. Any. Years ago I consciously overlooked a typo in someone’s resume and hired them anyway. Big mistake. They were careless in their work and I should have known it from the very beginning. If I see any — any — mistake in a cover letter or resume, that person will not be considered. Take the time to go over your resume and cover letter again and again. Hire a copyeditor if you need it.
5. “Dear Tumblr.” Mass mailing a resume and cover letter to lots of companies? Make sure you do a thorough find and replace first. Every week Kickstarter gets resumes that begin, “Dear Tumblr” or “Dear Foursquare.”
6. Think your resume matters. Your resume will only be looked at if your cover letter is interesting. The bulleted items you have listed under each position to detail your duties will be skimmed at best. The main things people are looking for: when you graduated school and to see how your career has progressed. Did you jump from legal to finance to advertising? Are you a career social media guru?
7. Fail to include links. If you’re applying for anything on the web, include links to the online profiles that you want people to see. Have an active Twitter account and a Tumblr that you’re proud of? Let’s see them! The first thing an interested company is going to do is Google everything they can about you. Putting the stuff you’re proudest of right into their hands is a must. Be aware that they’re still going to find the bad stuff. You might want to tone down the legalization tweets for a week or two.
8. Write in to ask questions about the job. You have one chance to make an impression. Don’t use it to ask how many vacation days are offered or what the salary is.
9. Have an “Objective” section on your resume. Everyone has the same objective: to get a fair-paying job that they will like. Why over-articulate it?
10. Have a resume longer than one page. Protests too much.
Conclusion: Write an amazing cover letter, keep your resume clean and simple and go the extra mile in whatever little ways that you can (but don’t go too far or you’re going to creep someone out). Do those things and an interview can be yours.