Management Tactic #9: The Application

I’m in charge of finding and hiring a new employee at my work. I’ve never really done this before, not on this level. After going through about 40 applications, I’ve learned a few things that people should know when they’re applying for jobs.

  1. Start with a blank piece of paper for your cover letter and then write three passionate paragraphs about why you want the job. I didn’t think cover letters would matter all that much, especially for this job, which had a separate application (created by yours truly) and a request for resume and references. But what I realized is that your cover letter is your chance to share with the hiring director all the really important stuff that’s relevant to that particular job. You don’t want a rambling list of your education and experience and passions–all I want is for you to have a three-paragraph conversation with me about why you want this job. That’s it. Some people did this beautifully, and it made a big difference. Others, on the other hand, clearly used a form letter. That was a big turn off. Especially when you forget to change the job title from the other job you applied for, or when you leave track changes on and don’t accept all changes. Also, don’t call me Ms. Stegmaier. I’m on our website, and I’m clearly a dude. Five seconds of research (online, not in my pants) will reveal that.
  2. Your application and resume should have substantial proof that you are passionate about this line of work. When I first saw that there were 40 applicants, I was a little overwhelmed. But then I created a metric for scoring the applicants (something I should have done before sending out the applications, by the way), and I realized that people with only a little bit of experience had a big disadvantage in a larger pool of applicants like this. And I’m not just talking work experience. I’m talking about a passion for what you’re applying for. If you’re applying to be a dolphin trainer, yes, it’s important that you have trained dolphins. But it’s also important that you show a passion for marine biology through what you do in your free time and as a volunteer. This is the type of thing you can’t fake. And if you woke up yesterday and decided that you want to be a dolphin trainer, that’s awesome. Do something about it. Today. Go volunteer at Seaworld or get an internship at a company run by dolphins.
  3. Humor is memorable. It’s okay to be funny in your application. Not idiotic, but funny. There were a few applications that made me smile, and I’ll remember them.
  4. Resume formatting doesn’t matter that much. I’m a resume guy. I’ve done extensive research and gotten tons of feedback about my own resume (mainly aboutformatting). But when it came down to me looking at other people’s resumes, their formatting really didn’t matter all that much. Most of them were quite poorly formatted, but I scanned them for the information I needed and moved on. I’m not saying you shouldn’t spend a lot of time on your resume; I’m just saying that I think a passionate cover letter had a bigger impact on me.
  5. Label everything with your name in the file name. Why? Because it’s just easier on the hiring director, that’s why. Do everything you can to make his job a little easier.

I know that several people with much more experience in HR are going to read this post, so I’m looking forward to what you have to say in response.

10 thoughts on “Management Tactic #9: The Application”

  1. HA HA HA! They called you MISS! HA HA HA! Oh, my stomach hurts! Too bad they didn’t research on you and the job. They just lost their chance in getting the work. Hope they didn’t do that for all the jobs they applied for.

    • It happens all the time, but people usually aren’t trying to get a job from me when they e-mail me. And I didn’t cut them just for getting my name wrong–I’d hate to miss out on a great applicant for something like that. But the little things add up…

  2. This post was really helpful. I’ve always wondered what actually resonates with someone reviewing applications, and your post was quite reassuring! Sometimes I’ve wondered, “Do the people who review resumes even read the cover letter?” I’m glad to hear that you did. Interesting post.

    • Well, it’s just one man’s perspective. But they really did make a difference, and when it was clear that they were generic, that had a definite negative effect.

  3. I could not agree more about the cover letter. I imagine after you looked through about 20 resumes they started to all look the same, but you were able to differentiate them based on the cover letter. That’s not to say certain resumes can’t wow you, they can. But the cover letter can help volumes to getting your foot in the door.

    • Yep, exactly. The cover letter shows you how badly someone wants the job. I feel like the advice you get in college is to follow these specific rules for cover letters, where you state your education and your best jobs and all that…but don’t listen to any of that. Don’t follow any rules. If you really, truly want the job, pour your heart on the page.

      Also, this goes against other rules that I’ve heard, but it’s okay to include a photograph. It’s distinctive, it’s memorable, and it may give me an idea about your personality. I’m not quite sure where this should be included–the cover letter, the resume, or as a separate attachment, but if you think you can give someone a good impression of who you are from a photo, include it.

  4. This confirms a lot of my worst fears about submitting resumes. That’s neither a knock nor a compliment. I’ll explain more in person.


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