Project Wonderful

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Cringe-Inducing Mistakes That First Time Job Applicants Make

A while back, I asked a recent college grad who had reached out to me for helping finding a job if he would be interested in speaking with a colleague who was hiring for a short term position. He asked if he could get back to me and then sent a very earnest email, which included the cringe-inducing sentence, "My interest does not guarantee that I am accepting a position, only that I am open to hearing more." "Oh excuse me, your Highness," said my asshole brain before my empathy kicked in.

Because this person had asked for my feedback on his job applications before, I felt comfortable reaching out and explaining why you should never, ever put that in a networking or job application email. For one thing, no one is offering you a job until they offer you a job. For another, the job application process is about fit. Until you have an offer and have accepted, it is understood that you and your prospective employer are mutually trying to determine whether you are right for the job and the job is right for you. And finally, when it comes to entry and even mid-level jobs you need them more than they need you. That doesn't mean that your skills aren't valuable, but it does mean that no one is sitting around waiting for you to return their call or begging you to apply to their jobs.

I am reminded of this story because it's January and I am starting to get resumes and cover letters sent to me, many of which elicit a good ol' fashioned "oh honey, no." One of the most upsetting aspects of reading cover letters is recognizing application-tanking mistakes that I made when I was first starting out. In retrospect I should have known better, but I didn't because no one told me. Since in most cases it is not socially acceptable to call job applicants and patronizingly explain why they are not being considered for the position, I am putting some advice out there in the hopes of saving future little Nancys and other applicants from making similar mistakes. Here are some first time applicant faux pas to avoid at all costs.

2) Taking forever to get back to someone. (Number 1 was above.) This goes back to what I said about you needing a job more than they need you. I once took 3 weeks (three!) to send back a writing sample to a local Planned Parenthood affiliate. Needless to say I did not get that job. I have similarly been guilty of putting off responding to an email offering me an interview because I was waiting to hear back from another opportunity. I was simply not sure it was the right job for me but didn't want to turn down a bird in the hand. My experience has been that if you are that ambivalent about an opportunity it probably is not the right fit for you. Remember we work in a very small community so it is best to respect people's timelines, say "thank you but no thank you" and move along.

3) "You have the opportunity to hire a real pro." I don't care if you graduated summa cum laude from Harvard or held twelve internships. You are an entry level applicant and we know what we're getting. This is not about the "opportunity" being afforded your potential employer or to you for that matter, it is about your. fit. for. the. job. Give specific examples of what you have done and why you would be good at this position rather than extol your own virtues in general or hyperbolic terms. Show don't tell.

4) Grammar or spelling errors. This makes u look like a iddiot. Proofread and then proofread again.

5) "I feel I am the best fit for the job." Really? Have you met all the other applicants? Because one of them can fly. Avoid superlatives all together. While you're at it do your best to avoid "I feel" and "I believe" qualifiers that are just taking up space.

6) Attaching a letter of introduction from someone completely unrelated to the company or position. I cannot tell you how many times I've gotten unsolicited letters of introduction from deputy ambassadors and random state senators and congresspeople. In general it is never a good idea to submit materials or information beyond what is requested in the job description. Again, no one is impressed by you. We work in politics. We all know a state senator or interned on a congressional campaign. If you know someone who has a genuine connection to the organization or person with whom you are interviewing, by all means ask your mutual acquaintance to call or email on your behalf (in fact I highly suggest that you do so) but you should not be the one facilitating that communication.

7) "Let's face it, you're probably only going to skim this." On the spectrum of things that are the worst, writing cover letters falls right after actual tragedies and is more or less on par with moving and online dating. When crafting my own cover letters I am often tempted to write "I'M CAMPAIGNSICK DAMNIT!" and then drop the mic, but sadly for everyone that's just not the way things work. Cover letters are painful to write and painful to read, but they're the system we go by. Comments like the one above come off as snarky and anti-social even if they are intended to convey that which we are all thinking. No one wants to hire someone who doesn't play by the rules of doing business even when those rules are intensely stupid, so stop trying to reinvent the cover letter wheel.

8) Writing a non-cover letter cover letter. "Dear Nancy, Please see my application attached for the position you posted on your website. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely, Person who obviously did not read this blog post." There's a reason it's called a cover letter and not a cover sentence. Your cover letter is your opportunity to connect the experience on your resume to the position for which you are applying, so don't let it go to waste.

9) "References are available upon request." Yeah, I would freaking hope that if you are applying for a job with me you will provide application materials when I request them. This sentence is entirely unnecessary and should be obvious.

10) Criticizing the organization to which you are applying Believe me, it happens. Sometimes people try to proactively offer advice as to what they would do differently to show how they could add value at an organization but, as the kids say, it's not cute. Unless an interviewer asks you a specific question about how you would change an aspect of the organization, leave the overhaul until after you get the job.

So there you go. I hope I saved you some embarrassment! And sorry for the long hiatus, look forward to a slew of more articles this week! Happy New Year!!!

Campaign Love and Mine,


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