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How to apply for a job

March 28, 2014

This post is a public service announcement for all job seekers everywhere. Or maybe it’s just a rant from me. I admit I’m a bit murky about where the line falls.

I’m currently hiring for a couple of positions at the Toy Factory. The job market being what it is, I’m being overwhelmed with applications and they are making me a bit crochety in a when-I-was-a-kid-I-walked-5-miles-to-school-barefoot-through-the-snow kind of way. Maybe it’s because I tend to put so much time into my own applications, but even the good candidates have done a lousy job presenting themselves. And I don’t think online job application platforms have done the process any favors.

Listen up, job seekers. I will say this from my own perspective about my own particular hires, but I will bet it is true for many if not most open positions. Hiring people is not my job. It’s something I do out of desperation because I need help. I hire when I have the least possible amount of time to spend on searching and I squeeze it in around the edges of what else I need to do. I get hundreds of applications for every position. I look at every single one (Unless they come in late. Then you’re out of luck.). My time being what it is, I have to make quick yes or no decisions to weed down the list. It’s surprisingly easy to do because so many people do a bad job at applying. If you want to have a chance of ending up in the yes pile, here is my advice to you.

1. Write the damn cover letter. Unless I specifically say no cover letter (and I will never, ever do that), you should send one. You should *want* to send one. It’s your chance to show me how to get from point A – your resume – to point B – the job description. Otherwise I have to figure it out myself and you may not like the solution I come up with.

2. When you write the cover letter, please make sure it is addressed to the correct person/company and discusses the job you are applying for. You may think this seems obvious, but 20% of applicants to one of my recent hires failed to do this. I know you’re applying to a lot of other jobs. Just give me the illusion that you care about this one.

3. If you are applying to work in a toy factory, please do not discuss your desire to be a fashion model. Or an investment banker. I have nothing against those aims. But even if the rest of your application is perfect, having unrelated goals suggests to me that you won’t stick around very long. See aforementioned time shortage. I don’t want to be doing this again soon.

4. Do your research. You parents may have told you that it can’t hurt to ask for the salary you’d like to have, but if that salary is, say $20,000 more than what the hiring manager makes per year (actual figure from recent application), you will not be getting an interview (you may get some howls of laughter), no matter how great you are. Find out what the salary range for this position for the field and for this company in particular. If you don’t like that range, find another line of work. The internet is your friend. Use it. I recommend starting with

5. Don’t do too much research. If you track me down at my home email address or contact me on linked in to say, “Hey, I saw you were looking at my profile. Does that mean you want to talk?” or if you email me every several hours to ask how things are going (all things that have actually happened), you will not get an interview. There’s a fine line between informed and stalker. Know where it is.

6. Unless you are in high school, I do not need to know your high school GPA. I will not hold it against you if you just graduated from college – you may not know any better. But there’s a limited grace period for keeping your teen years on your resume.

7. Don’t apply for this job if you’re in high school. Study hard and go to college. Read a lot of books. Do things you love and try things outside your comfort zone. Try me again in a few years. But by all means ask me for an informational interview if you think this is what you want to do. I will almost always say yes and wish you good luck. I may even remember you when you apply for another position after you have a diploma in hand.

8. Some people will tell you your resume has to be one page and one page only. Don’t believe them. It depends on the industry, on the job, and on your experience. If you have a lot of relevant recent experience, if you can show a pattern of growth in your field over time, I’d like to see it even if it is 2 pages or more. But I come from academia, where we like to see a lot of information. Do your homework. Find out the norm in the field you’re applying to and observe it.

9. If you have an objective on your resume (and it’s totally optional), make sure it sounds plausible – no one likes a brownnoser— but also relates to the job at hand. If I’m hiring for a creative position at a toy factory and your objective is a marketing position for an investment banking firm, I will not read the rest of your resume. If you were an investment banker and your objective is to be a toy maker and your cover letter explains how your work in investment banking can benefit the toy making business, I will pay attention.

10. Follow instructions. If the application asks you to answer screening questions, do it. If it asks for a cover letter, write one. If it asks for a head shot or your dress size and you are not an actor or model, find another job to apply for. This one is creepy.

10a. Yes, if they ask you to state a preferred salary/range, you should do it. Some career advisors will tell you otherwise, but I know too many people who throw out applications without a salary range to think it’s wise to avoid that question. See above on doing your research. This is generally not used as a binding statement of salary. If you get an offer, you should feel free to negotiate something else. But it should be a range that makes sense for the position and your field and this should demonstrate that you have done your homework and have realistic expectations. And it should be a range you’d be willing to take. If it’s not, then you’re in the wrong line of work.

11. If you try to follow instructions but can’t – say the website won’t take your cover letter – be a problem solver. Figure out a way to make it happen. Email HR and ask for assistance. Figure out another way to get it where it needs to go or to let the hiring manager know that there’s a glitch in the system. Because chances are they won’t know and will just think you screwed up.

12. If you’re not interested in a job, don’t apply. All it does is waste both of our time.

13. If you are not quite qualified but have skills you think might work, make a case for it. That’s what the cover letter is for. Sometimes a hiring manager thinks she wants one thing but can decide, in the process of the hire, that she wants something else. A good cover letter can sometimes make a difference. I’m looking for good reasons to hire you. Give them to me.

14. If you get turned down for a job, be polite and say thank you. It’s okay to ask if the person can give you more info about why you didn’t get the job, but be nice about it and if they don’t respond, don’t badger them. They may be busy – hiring takes a lot of time. Or they may not have a good answer for you. Or they may be rude or afraid of confrontation. If that last one’s the answer, you don’t really need to hear what they say anyway. Be glad you got a response at all – it’s increasingly a rarity (see aforementioned hundreds of applicants).

Okay, I feel better now. Go get a job!

Anyone else have advice to add?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2014 9:07 am

    This is all very good advice. I probably needed some of it when I was a job seeker. Good luck with the hiring!

  2. eleanorio permalink
    March 28, 2014 4:57 pm

    Excellent advice! I’m going to show this to my son for when he goes on the job hunt again.

  3. March 30, 2014 6:39 am

    I think you should send this to Ask A Manager. Bet she’d run it in a heartbeat and job seekers could use a voice from the hiring side.

  4. magpiemusing permalink
    April 4, 2014 9:36 am

    No unnecessary hobbies. Like, please don’t tell me that you’re into colonic irrigation.

  5. April 12, 2014 4:12 pm

    Mine have more to do with interviews. 1. Don’t chew gum when interviewing for a professional position that has interaction with the public and executives. 2. Don’t show me your gum repeatedly during the interview (see 1). 3. Don’t use call the person you’d report to by the wrong name repeatedly.

    That said, they were hired . . .

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