The company I work for recently had a position open; we needed to replace someone who left in our deployment group. I wrote a fairly targeted and reasonable advertisement (e.g. it wasn’t a laundry list of random acronyms;
it really did describe the position and list the qualifications) and posted it to a local bulletin board. About 100 responses came in (side-note: I was expecting more; the job market really is getting better). And it was my job to find the suitable resumes, and do the phone screening.
I realize it’s a tough economic climate. But people could manage the initial stage of the process a lot better. Here’s the most important things that I noticed repeatedly, that people could do to improve their chances:
- Only apply if you have a chance. The number of people who sent me their resumes when they didn’t meet most of the listed criteria, and only met some of the criteria by coincidence, was staggering. If I list 10 criteria, and you only meet 3, you’re not going to get the job. Sending your resume is just wasting both of our time.
- Write a cover letter. You should always include one. Please. Especially if the position is customer-facing and emphasizes communication skills. A well-written and concise paragraph explaining why you’re interested in the position and what makes you qualified is invaluable.
Note that I said paragraph– we’re talking a short note that positions you well. More than that is overkill.
- Get the name of the position right. Lots of people invent position names. If the advertisement says the job is ” Technical Support Specialist,” don’t apply for “QA Engineer.”
- Use a specific subject heading in your e-mail. “Re: [job name]” works perfectly. “Hello?” or “Job Application” does not.
- Use spellchecking. Use grammar checking as well. I know that most grammar checkers reject perfectly valid sentences. But they also catch some howlers.
- Don’t send word documents. In this age of viruses, why would you deliberately send me a Word document? Why assume that I have the right version and can read it? And why assume I’d take the risk? If you feel the formatting is that important, send the word document *and* a text version and let me choose. Or send me an HTML or PDF document (and if you have Word, you can send me HTML). I wound up running all the e-mail through a virus scanner and then opening the Word documents anyway. But … people who sent me text or PDF or HTML (and especially the people who sent both a Word
document and an HTML document) got a leg up. It makes a good impression when the cover letter says “I’ve included both a Word version and a text version of my resume.”
Slight modification to this, based on feedback. This should really be don’t send unsolicited word documents. If the people doing the screening want word documents then, by all means send them one.
- If you send your resume as a separate document, name it correctly. Resumes named “Resume” have a higher chance of getting lost somewhere. Resumes named “Resume_BobSmith_QAEngineer_Feb2003″ are much easier to find.
- Don’t make assumptions about the person reading your e-mail. Sometimes it’s an HR manager. Sometimes it’s the person who will be supervising you. Sometimes, it’s someone else who got dragged in to help process the applications.
- Don’t negotiate price in the cover letter. In the first stage of screening, the company is mostly interested in figuring out whether you’re a fit for the job. Anything else is a distraction and, worse, will lead to the “Hmmm. Why is she mentioning that?” question (once the screener starts wondering that, your chances have gone down). Similarly, mentioning availability isn’t a particularly good idea, unless you’re not going to be available for a while (the default screening assumption is that you’re available in a reasonable time frame. Otherwise, why would you have applied).
These aren’t rocket science. But, when you total up the statistics, over half the people who applied broke two or more of these guidelines (the single most common submission was a word document without a cover letter. In more than one case, the subject line of the e-mail was empty too).
Thoughts? If you’ve screened resumes, what do you look for?