Part 1: Teething Trouble
“I’ve got another winner for you, Stace. You’ll love this!” Carla laughed, trying to hide the irritation in her voice. “This guy has applied for six different positions, one of them being ‘Senior Marketing Executive’, and another ‘Email Marketing Intern’. What do you think, have we struck gold on this one?”
Stacey’s eyes, just about visible over the top of her black computer monitor, narrowed slightly. Tuesdays. They’re like the wet ring left over from the steaming mug of nightmares that is Monday.
“Jesus Christ. I would love to understand the thought process that is responsible for this kind of bullsh*t. How exactly do these people expect us to react?”
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been employed before. Heck, you’re probably employed right now! And if you’re not, you’re definitely looking to become employed again very soon.
You’ve done everything by the book; you spent hours slaving over your MS Word CV, desperately switching between various fonts and bullet point styles until your retinas threatened to detach in protest. You’ve written a cover letter (maybe even a custom one for every company you apply to, if you’re fancy), and you’ve definitely filled out enough buggy online application forms to last you a lifetime. Sometimes even for jobs you never knew you wanted. Customer Configuration Officer? ….Sure, why not. Sounds fine.
So what’s going wrong? How come you only make it to interview stage for about 15% of the positions you apply for? You’re no Elon Musk, but you’re not a bad person. You shower, you’re literate, you can even google some basic Excel formulas when the occasion calls for it. Damnit, you’re a catch, and anything you don’t already know you are more than willing to learn. So, what is it about your application that seems to make every HR employee in the world grit their teeth, clench their bowels, and click “reject”? Let’s find out.
Please Find Attached my CV.docx
I’d just like to point out, I’m not judging you. I can’t. None of the things I am writing about today would have ever crossed my mind had I not accidentally face-planted into the hilariously irrational world of Human Resources a couple of years ago. But this does not take away from the fact that receiving a CV in Word format is, quite literally, the HR equivalent of finding a really nice dress in the back of your closet, but then discovering that it’s covered in great big wads of chewing gum. You still want it, but it’s going to be a pain in the ass getting it into a state that will allow you to actually put it on and evaluate it properly.
Opening a .doc / . docx file requires your PC to open MS Word, and MS Word, no matter how often you use it, seems to be perpetually hungover. And when it does finally start up, and you take your first glance at the unlucky candidate’s details, it decides to instantly blind you with some irrelevant popup or other. Now I’m not saying this is something I know from experience, but if a company were to, say, illegally download their MS Office software…..this popup will appear every single time the program is opened. Ergo, we try to avoid it. Spare a HR employee’s mental health, send a PDF.
On a more professional note, the reason for the PDF is quite obvious; a Word document is kept as such for editing purposes. A finished text product, that you invite someone to merely read and not fiddle with, is usually saved in PDF format.
If you don’t do it, I will end up having to save it as a PDF anyway, with a proper title (FirstName Surname CV.pdf). And I may be a lot of things, but I’m not your secretary.
My Name is Michael and I am 24 Years Old
Ah, the cover letter. No one’s really sure what it’s supposed to look like and there are enough quirky, creative ones bouncing around the web to make us question our own sanity. Is this real? Is this how jobs work now? I just want a desk and paycheck.
The short answer is, no, you don’t have to hire a failed sitcom writer or ask your cousin who married that Hallmark guy to give your cover letter a bit of “pizzaz”. If you’ve got pizzaz, it’s going to come out naturally. If you don’t, it’s going to sound like you forced the hind legs of a cow through a meat grinder and onto paper. Not something anybody wants to see the results of, and you’re probably going to give yourself away in the interview as being some sort of maniac.
Job applications should be about emphasizing the person you are, and providing enough opportunity for the Hiring Manager to see why that’s a good thing. That’s the main reason for a cover letter — highlighting examples of how your OCD-like attention to detail is going to help the company avoid spelling and formatting errors in their online content (bonus points for pointing out existing mistakes), or how your natural flair for communication in Spanish can help them gain new clients in South America (maybe there’s a gap in the market they can fill over there).
Do you see what I mean? Just listing the basic facts about yourself or, even worse, writing a life story that began somewhere around middle school means nothing if those facts are not backed up by examples of how to help develop the company further. You don’t have to be funny, but you do have to be relevant.
Recently, I have noticed x about your company. My skills in xy could prove very useful in developing / improving this area of your activity.
They know you want a job. Everyone does. Show them why choosing you is a win-win situation and not a concession.
I’ll Literally Take Anything, Isn’t that Great?
“What a compliment!”, said no one ever. Think about it, there is no situation in life where that kind of attitude makes you sound like a confident human being who has their sh*t together, and the job hunt is no exception.
There is a specific, poignant feeling of disappointment I used to reserve for candidates who, as I later found out, had applied for more than just the vacancy I was in charge of filling. It was like finding out the guy you like has also asked out every single other girl within a 5-mile radius. Suddenly, you don’t feel so special.
This might be a tough one for those of you who are not 100% sure of the career you would like to pursue, and probably think that your best bet is applying for them all and leaving the Harry-Potter-style Sorting Hat work to the Recruiting Team. “This one’s definitely PR material!” they’ll squeal, excitedly sorting CVs into neat little piles on the carpet of the HR office.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s not our job. We are not career counselors and even though we do perform this sort of service on occasion, it’s usually to do with slight desperation on our part to fill a certain vacancy. You need to choose one field to apply for (say, online marketing), and prove that your personality / skillset / education makes you the perfect candidate.
To put it plainly, would it be fair to give a Public Relations position to someone who didn’t really seem to care what they were employed to do over someone who clearly has their heart, mind and soul set on it? Would that be a good gamble for the company to take?
No, probably not. What if Undecided Larry decides next month that carpentry was really more his thing? That’s a lot of HR time and effort gone to waste. And we’re expensive.
That was just a basic introduction to the do’s and don’ts of job applications, and it was obviously more anecdotal than anything else. I will be creating an easy-to-swallow checklist of the Rights and Wrongs of written applications, as well as continuing this essay project with my next installment: Navigating the Job Portal Realm.
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-> Read More: Why HR-Led Recruitment is Killing your Start-up