Have you ever wondered what hiring managers are really thinking when they review your application? Sure all the usual resume rules apply like use correct punctuation and highlight your relevant experience, but what makes your resume really stand out from the rest? More importantly, what keeps it from ending up in the reject pile?
Don Fornes, the CEO of ERP Software Advice, recently revealed 10 screening secrets he uses when filtering through job applications. Instead of filtering for who he should hire, first he looks for candidates to reject. It sounds harsh, but when reviewing hundreds of applications at a time, managers look for any way to be more efficient.
To help you avoid some of the “head-smacking” errors often overlooked by job seekers, be sure to read through his article: Don’t Name Your Resume, “resume” & Nine Other Head-Smacking Tips for Job Seekers. Here is a quick preview of Fornes’ recommendations:
- Don’t name your resume, “resume.” About a third of applicants name their resume document, “resume.doc.” “Resume” may make sense on your computer, where you know it’s your resume. However, on my computer, it’s one of many, many resumes with the same name. I used to rename them, but then I noticed the strong correlation between unqualified candidates and the “resume” file name. Now I reject them if I don’t see something really good within ten seconds. By using such a generic file name, the applicant misses a great opportunity to brand themselves (e.g. “John Doe – Quota Crusher”). If you’re qualified enough to sell or market for us, you won’t miss the opportunity to at least use your name in the file name.
- don’t use all lowercase. i’m not sure where this trend originated. is it some text messaging thing? it’s so easy to capitalize properly on a keyboard. how much time is this really saving you? to me, it screams out, “hi. i’m lazy. my pinkies are really heavy and I’d rather not move them to shift. when i start working for you, i’ll look for other ways to be lazy. i’ll also rebel against authority figures like you, just like i’m rebelling against the english teachers that dedicated their lives to helping me become literate.” seriously though, this bad habit buys you next to nothing and is bound to offend countless detailed-oriented hiring managers.
- Don’t write like a robot. I’ve noticed a funny phenomenon with many grads that are entering “the real world.” While their speech is still littered with “ums,” “likes” and “you knows,” their writing is exceedingly formal, long-winded and boring. The people that are reviewing your application were young once too. They may still be young. Most of them have a sense of humor. They get bored. Please, don’t make them parse dense cover letters and resumes that read like some robot ate a thesaurus and puked. Just use concise, well-written prose. Keep sentences short. Toss in a joke or two. Show us a little bit of your personality. We’re going to have to work with you more than we see our spouses, so show us that we’ll enjoy it. No robots.
Go read Don’s other seven suggestions – Don’t Name Your Resume, “resume” & Nine Other Head-Smacking Tips for Job Seekers.
This is a guest post by Derek Pangallo.
Through much trail and error, I may have written the *perfect* cover letter. No — not bragging: I’m still getting turned down after each interview (I’ll write another post when I perfect that.) The simple method I have been employing runs contrary to conventional wisdom, but has taken me from a 1% to a 10% call-back rate.
After sending out a thousand applications and only landing about 10 interviews, something had to change. Literally my Gmail storage limit was maxing out from attaching my resume so many times. I decided to take a (qualitative) scientific approach at writing a better cover letter.
A student of Political communications, I subscribe to a lot of fundraising emails. A LOT. Most of them are pretty ineffective, all the way from subject to signature; after automagically knowing my name, “Derek–”, there isn’t much feeling of personalization… it’s all “me, me, me; donate donate donate” (Here’s looking at you, Barack.) I thought hard about what language hit the right nerve in these emails.
Next, I dug out the cover letters that actually worked (one of the better ones was addressed to Lindsay.) I went through each, looking for common words, phrases, or conventions. Synthesizing those letters into one, I ended up with the standard four-paragraph template you could read about on any number of websites, but with one notable exception: parentheses.
What could it be about use of parentheses — usually discouraged in formal communications — that made my letters click? I wasn’t sure, but was confident enough to keep using them. And while continuing to apply for the same kind of jobs, my success rate increased by 10 times. After further thought, I now understand what makes parenthetical commentary so
Parentheses let you be personal and professional simultaneously.
No one wants to read a cover letter. The letter is the arbitrary barrier to entry, the price of admission showing you’re willing to research a company, caring enough about the job to invest the time. Parentheses let you prove you understand convention while giving you carte blanche (almost) to speak as yourself, making a personal connection with the reader.
Parentheses are an aside, the inside joke between two professionals. Where the letter is the white-washed outside persona, the parentheses are a just-for-you nudge and whisper. You’re able to convey personality with a sense of humor and amicability — without using exclamation points, emoticons, or saying “I” too much (as feels like a problem in this post,
Long story short: write a standard cover letter, then spruce it up with parenthetical commentary. Some of those annotations you might turn into “real” sentences. You’ll create a more enjoyable read for the hiring manager and will likely be rewarded Just don’t over-do it (you wouldn’t want to come off as schizophrenic, either.)
Let me know how it works out: @derallo or derek.pangallo[@]gmail.com
Derek Pangallo is an Online Community Manager, Communications Consultant and Advertiser aspiring toward a Political New Media career on Capitol Hill. He hates talking about himself in the third person and thinks anyone whose Twitter bio is written as such should be banned from the Internet.
The example below is one of the worst examples of an employment inquiry I have ever received. You don't need to read more than the first paragraph to see where this is heading. But read it thoroughly, maybe even twice.
Is it just me or does the negative tone and desperation of this email just make you cringe? Aside from the negativity, the unnecessary sarcasm, and a few typos, it is obvious that this candidate sent this blanket inquiry to dozens of recruiters. Big time fail. I can't imagine I'm the only person who wouldn't feel comfortable putting someone who presents himself like this in front of a client.
A couple weeks ago, Stephanie Lloyd made a good point in her guest post on my blog about how candidates shouldn't come across as desperate in their job search. Career Hub also did a good piece recently called 10 Ways To Avoid Sabotaging Your Job Search By Being Desperate Godsend hd
The Relic video .
Telling candidates not to sound desperate always raises a lot of questions, especially for those who are out of work and need a job to pay the bills. We all need to pay the bills. We may have alimony, mortgages, credit card bills, student loans, and child support - the list goes on and on. Your financial obligations are a given, so bringing it up in the job search is completely unnecessary. I get numerous inquiries each week asking for help with blatant statements about personal financial situations. Don't be that person.
Tips for writing a good employment inquiry letter:
1. Make it personal. Remind the person where you met, how you found his or her name, or who gave you the recommendation.
2. Explain why you are writing and exactly what information you would like to find out. People don't know how to help you if they don't know what you need.
3. Stay positive and cheerful. Do exactly the opposite of the example above.
4. Market an accomplishment or two. Make people want to call you.
I'm not a huge fan of cover letters. The "Is a Cover Letter Necessary?" topic is a highly debatable topic between recruiters. Most will tell you cover letters are absolutely necessary, but there are some of us out there who will openly admit that we always look at your resume first. It's true. A cover letter is secondary. If the resume fits the job specs and you didn't send me a cover letter, I could care less. I'll still interview you.
Before you get too excited, I'm not recommending a complete omission of the cover letter. Some companies put a lot weight on deciding who comes in for an interview on the letter itself, so it's better to have one ready. I'm just sayin'.
The type of cover letters I prefer are more like introductory letters embedded in the email. I'm not talking about that cover letter everyone learned about in college. You know the one: traditional, long, full-page 5 paragraph monster filled with boring adjectives that everyone uses to describe themselves. Blah! This introductory email is brief, direct, and cuts to the chase. It tells me everything I need to know to decide if I should open the attachment before moving on to my other emails.
A good introduction includes:
- A brief description about why you are contacting the person and how you found him or her.
- The position you are interested in exploring (a link is helpful if you found it online somewhere).
- Top three reasons you fit the position. Be specific. Add a previous accomplishment that addresses the possible challenges in the position.
- A bit of personality.
- A closing statement and contact information.
Here is a basic introduction letter outline of someone I would be inclined to call.
I began following you on ____ and I recently came across your current search for a (position title) in (city). (Add link here if you have it).
If the position is still open, I'd like to put my hat in the ring. Even though (industry) is a new field for me, I'm a fit for the position's background criteria.
* 10+ years in corporate communications (in-house at (company) and two agencies: (company) and (company).
* Built out the PR function and brand from the ground up for a major (industry of company).
* Reported directly to the (title of person reported to)
I was the (insert your title here) at (company). But don't let the title fool you: I built the PR program from scratch starting in (year) as the company's first departmental hire. By the time I left in (year), (I accomplished this which meant $$, %, or something significant). I left (company) to (reason for leaving) and ....
I've attached my resume and would like to learn more about the position. Please let me know if you're interested in speaking further. I can be reached at _____.
The accomplishment and the three bullet points should be address some of the requirements or challenges you might face in the position.
Customization and personalization are the keys to writing effective cover letters. While your cover letter may include some of the same material, it needs to be changed for each individual position. A job search is a job in itself and requires some extra effort for each position for which you apply. Blanket cover letters reek of laziness and do little to set you apart from your competition, so don't go there with your intro.
Do you think cover letters are always necessary?