Entrepreneur-dom 103: Do not apply like this


This time around, it is advice. What I learned, for you to voluntarily build upon. I made the decision to be a new company’s founding part. This is Entrepreneur-dom, Season 1, Episode 3: I will not hire you if you cannot apply.

People management is key. Attracting the best talent, managing candidates, hiring your best future team mates. It has become fashionable to try making your application “stand out”. This is a terrible idea. Let me tell you why and give you advice about how to increase your chances of applying successfully.

I have been there and I am still there. Introducing and selling yourself is a key skill to be successful. Be it making friends, meeting your parents in law — or landing your dream job. The better you sell, the better are your chances of success.

Content matters.

First, it matters what you are selling. Imagine you meet your parents in law for the first time. Your chances of success (=them approving you) are higher if you are selling a nice, caring person with solid but not over-ambitious career plans. Your chances are lower if you are selling a drug-dealing freestyle trap phenomenon.

Presentation matters.

Second, it depends how you are selling content. How do you communicate who you are in an efficient and effective way. Coming back to your parents in law: wearing a shirt, brushing your teeth, smiling a lot helps. Showing up late, bad hygiene, and arrogant behavior makes a bad impression.

Let’s close the metaphors here: “Content” = CV and application letter. “Presentation” = how all of this is put together into letters, words, pictures.

So far so good as for theory. Now comes real life. This is my transcript of some applicants’ thoughts:

I am afraid that my content may not good be enough for the job. I need to make sure by 100%, no, 200% that my application will be recognized. But I cannot upgrade my achievements over night, so content is no option. Uuh, but wait! PRESENTATION! If I totally overdo my presentation, that must make them think that I’m the sickest of em all.
*brain melts so much it hurts*

There are many other applicants for a specific job. There are 5, 10, 50, 100 other applicants. On the other end of your email, there is often one person sorting out all applications. Who are promising candidates and who may be better-suited for another opportunity.

Let me get one thing straight. This person is all about making one decision: whom to follow up with and who is being replied with a nice but clear declining response. This goal keeper is your application’s target audience.

The worst thing you can possibly do is confusing this person with an application and a CV that is glamorous and fancy. The best thing you can do is provide information that helps that person to quickly put you in the “follow-up”-bucket.

Here are some things to consider that I’ve learned during my past years in startups to make sure it works:

  1. Startups are not less selective with their applicants than corporate companies. Applications should be done with at least the same amount of effort as others, if not more. Yes, they may pay less money. Yes, you may work longer. But for startups, resources in absolute terms are more valuable than anything else. If they spend it, they make sure to do so wisely. An additional employee in a team of 5 has more impact than in a team of 500.
  2. Read the job posting and respond to it. This might seem obvious but it is not. I repeat: Read the job posting. It highlights what is relevant to the job and company you are applying for. Do they require a cover letter? What should the cover letter contain? What are they looking for in their candidates? Is it social, analytical, or cooking skills? If you reply to the requirements in the posting, it is way more likely that your application is considered. You show that you care what this job and company is about.
  3. Your email is read even before your CV. Make sure it looks professional and it’s directed towards the person in charge or at least the company you are applying for. If the job posting is in English, apply in English. If it’s in German, apply in German. If it’s in Hindi, apply in Hindi. Attach one file only or not more than two files: CV and cover letter, both as PDF files. The CV should contain all evidence, if necessary (e.g. recommendation letters, certifications, etc.). If you cannot write an application email, why should we talk about your business development skills?
  4. Always porof-read. Sorry, I meant proof-read. Even minor spelling errors mean large discredit. When you finished your application, take a deep breath, take a nap, sleep a night, then re-read it. Ask friends and family to proof-read as well.
  5. Do not pick more than one typeface. If you use Arial, use Arial everywhere. Using several typefaces will not give more information. If you want to put emphasis on certain topics in your applications, use bold, italic, both, or different font sizes. And…
  6. Use font sizes wisely. The magic ratio between font sizes is 1.618. If you use 12 as basic font sizes, use 19 for headlines and 31 for even bigger headlines. Avoid using 12, 14, 10, 11, and 15, and sometimes 9.
  7. Build your CV from top to bottom, left to right, on one page. Just like people tend to read. Your goal keeper screens your CV for your achievements and why you are a good fit. If the goal keeper gets confused and cannot find the information relevant to the job quickly, he/she tends to get annoyed. It also shows that you are not a good communicator because you cannot articulate important information in a structured manner. Please do not use power point presentations. Please.
  8. Give your CV a clear structure without interference. Here’s my favorite: start with “who am I and how can I be reached”, followed up with latest work experience to older work experience, followed by education, followed by additional information. Not more, not less.
  9. Use black and white. Avoid other colors unless it is inevitable. I could not think of a case like this. If possible, make your picture also B/W (Word can do that for you). Color only distracts from content.
  10. Use words instead of icons or flags. Nobody cares that “skiing” can also be 🎿. Eventually I may think you have worked in sports retail. Adding a flag next to “English: fluent” does not provide additional information, it’s just filling free space.
  11. Do not use bar charts. Seriously, who came up with this? What do you mean by Adobe Illustrator is a 65% bar chart? If you are a web designer, it should be 100%. Anything below is not relevant if you look for web designers. If you are a manager, what do I care about 65% and how do I know what a 100% bar chart means to you? “Can add cat pictures and create GIFs”? If you think this skill is relevant, add it below “Additional information”. Put it in context, e.g. “Adobe Illustrator: basic knowledge”.

Good luck with your applications. Obviously, it is more relevant what you will say in interviews. But your application letter is the first step towards landing your dream job.

Leave a comment and give it a ❤ if you found it useful. Check out my other articles, Entrepreneur-dom 101 and Entrepreneur-dom 102. Sincerely yours,


PS: Some examples of bad and good application practices.

Left: screams “Where do I start, and why?”. Right: provides information by importance before even thinking of where to start. Two pages would fine as well.
Left: I open the email and I face an unstructured scattered text that does not reflect the job posting. Right: Short and nice email, I can directly read or print the attached file and respond to the application.