Sunday, February 13, 2011

Job Application Incompetence Or A Guide On How To Not Look Like A Moron

Something I always find totally exasperating is advertising a job vacancy. It ought not to be, I am normally advertising writing vacancies after all; I ought to be receiving plenty of examples of fine writing. At least in theory...

Rather sadly, the majority of applications I read are depressingly inept and incompetent. You would think with a job market so badly constrained that people might want to make the extra effort. But no, slap-dash, ill thought-out submissions is the norm.

It’s mostly the cover letters that are to blame. Hastily written, not proofed properly... Yet they are the most useful part of any application. The CV is a-standard, the same for every application. But the cover letter is the thing that they have written specially for you, aimed directly at this vacancy, yet few seem to spend any time on it whatsoever. Not that CVs always come off well. Many of these are poorly thought out too.

Here are the most egregious errors I have come across, presented for your amusement, horror or education. Quotes used are real, but altered to maintain confidentiality.

Beginning your application

Just because you’re applying online, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to still be formal. It’s Dear Sir/Madam, not Hi or Hello, Greetings or salutations. I’m not your buddy; you want something from me so damn well approach me respectfully.

What always shocks me (because it seems so inconceivably stupid), is just how many applications begin ‘To whom it may concern’. Now to me, the phrase “To whom it may concern” is the kind of message I write on a notice I leave on the car that’s in my parking space, or on the gate at the end of my drive for the person whose dog is fowling outside my house. It’s a blunt and rude way to begin a letter and will get your application turned down in an instant.

Get the job title right

Here’s the opening sentence from a recent application:

”I found your advertisement for the position of article writer on”

Shame that I’d advertised for a Senior Writer not an article writer.

And pay attention to how things are spelt. I mean this in reference to how site names and company names are spelt and presented on the page. The website’s not called Gum Tree, it’s Gumtree.

Read the advert properly

Here’s another cover note opening of dubious quality:

“As a former writing teacher who currently writes and edits a wide range of writing projects full-time, I have the experience and connections to satisfactorily complete your projects on time and on budget.”

“Proud of my reputation for consistent, high quality, and affordable writing, which adheres to strict deadlines, I look forward to learning more about how I can use my experience to help achieve your writing and editing needs.”

Did I mention budgets or costs in my ad? No I did not, so that’s a sure fire way to show that the applicant has simply dusted off an old letter and not tailored it properly to this vacancy. I feel sorry for their students.

And take note of the bloody location of the job. You’re not going to be much help if you live in the Phillipines or New Delhi when the vacancy is based in bloody South London!

CVs should be two sides long

I don’t need an epic retelling of your life; I don’t need to know which primary school you went to, and every job you’ve done since you were able to walk upright. Keep it short and concise. Two sides of A4 and no more.

Photos are tacky

There’s a recent trend of people putting photos on their CVs, which, frankly, is pointless. What on earth does what you look like matter? I’ve seen pictures which made the applicant look like an adolescent super villain, and an applicant look a good ten years younger than they were. This is not helping your application. Worse still, if you’re a girl, adding a photo of yourself glammed up completely undermines any credibility you might have. Not every guy will hire you because you’re hot. Women certainly won’t!

Arrogance will get you nowhere

“This looks like an interesting position. I think I might be able to help you.”

Oh really? You might be able to help me? Well God bless you sir, please come along and give me aid in my time of need...

I am offering you a chance to work for me. I help you – you do not help me! Facts impress, not idle boasting.

Don’t be a poet

“Whilst I was overseas I enjoyed the stimulation that every new day within such a different culture offered me and the difficulty and sense of accomplishment that learning Arabic afforded me.”

And how will that help you to write ecommerce copy for me? Any writer worth his salt can smell bullsh*t a mile away.

Don’t sabotage yourself

Check out this bit of application copy:

“My English Literature with Creative Writing university degree has helped to perfect and assist in the development of my fluency of writing, accuracy in typing both oral material and written documents, writing to deadlines and researching relevant material both under the constraints of deadlines and also under the pressure of managing other projects running simultaneously.”

Paying attention to sentence length or repetition seems not have been part of this course. 55 words in one sentence, seriously? Still, it’s not as bad as this travesty. Is this person being sarcastic about being a teamplayer?:

"I'm writing to see if the position is still available. I have extensive experience writing for publication and deadline.My CV contains a full publications list at the end. I have experience writing copy, I am a good "team player", am highly organised and have strong editorial experience both in terms of academic work and in terms of editing and proofing for publication. "

Check properly before sending

Mistakes never look good, but in an application for a writing position, they are unforgivable. Here are some selected clangers:

"I believe I am greatly suited for this position as I have gained over 5 years experience at working in various different customer focust roles."

"I've attached my CV as requested and dome of my writing."

"To whom is may concerned."

And my personal favourite:

"I am a journalist, looking for a challenging career change and this opportunity looked ideal."

Was it some kind of sub-conscious foresight that made them put the opportunity in the past-tense?


Matt said...

Here in Germany it's expected that you attach a photo to your application. Whilst I disapprove of the practise and am sad to hear that it's happening in the UK now as well, I have to admit it's the first part of the application I look at. Another strange custom (that's thankfully dying out): writing the names and occupations of your parents on your CV...