Thursday, January 15, 2009

Unemployed in Rhode Island? Listen Up

Recently a friend of mine posted a job opening on the local job web sites. The other day he frustratedly showed me the resumes he received in response. Let me just say I am shocked at the lack of effort these job seekers have put into their resumes and cover letters that they sent. The unemployment rate in Rhode Island has reached something like 9-10% , the second highest rate in the US.

Understandably my friend was flooded with resumes. There are more candidates than jobs right now, and the competition for employment is very stiff. This means that job seekers should be playing on their A game right now. Right? Not from what I saw in my friend’s inbox.

When my friend showed me the resumes he’d received, I sat there with my mouth hanging open. I lost count of how many cover letters didn’t even bother to acknowledge my friend in a greeting. There was no “Dear Mr. Smith” or “Dear John,” or even “Dear Hiring Manager” greeting at the top of the email, despite the fact that his name was in the ad in the form of “Send your resume to John Smith.”

I was stunned to see how many cover letter that started with “I seen your ad on” I seen your ad. Or worse yet, “I seen your add.” What?

Then there were the blatant misspellings. The “I spetiolize in Microsoft Office…” instead of “I specialize in…” The “I complited my program at the University…” instead of “I completed my program…” Well, if you were so damn good at Microsoft Office, perhaps you would have known that there was a spell check feature in Microsoft Word, right?

In response to an ad for a Computer Technician position, a candidate reported that he can “do computers good.” Well, that’s nice. Let’s try doing English now, shall we?

And what happened to citing the job description in the cover letter? For example, “I see that you are looking for a marketing specialist. I have 5 years experience in marketing and public relations…” No, instead he got a lot of "I seen your ad, here's my resume" emails. Delete! Delete! Delete!

I have had my share of employment dry spells, and in those times I have composed hundreds of cover letters. In my last bout of unemployment I averaged at least 1-2 interviews per week, and I sent out 1-3 cover letters and resumes per day. Each cover letter was written specifically for each job, and I spent hours painstakingly composing, proofing and editing each one. I will now share with you all what I have learned.

1. Use spell check. Then use it again. Then when you’re done with that read your cover letter to yourself out loud to make sure that it makes sense.

2. If you lack confidence in your writing skills, ask a friend or family member to help you proof read your cover letter and resume. What’s more embarrassing? Having to ask for help or sending a cover letter riddled with spelling errors, typos and nonsensical sentences?

3. Learn the name of the hiring manager and use it. For example “Dear Mr. Smith” or “Dear Ms. Jones.” If you are unclear about the spelling of the hiring manager’s name, try looking it up on the company’s web site, or call the company to ask an employee how to spell it. If none of that helps, either address it to “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” Also, pay close attention to how they spell their name. I once made a dumb mistake of addressing an email to “Teresa” while the hiring manager’s name was “Theresa.” On the phone she asked me “Would you say you have a good eye for details?” Of course I answered yes, and she said “Then if you are good with details, you probably already know that you spelled my name wrong.” D’oh! Bye bye job interview!

4. The hiring manager wants to know in the cover letter how you will meet their needs. Read the ad. Then take the required skills from the ad that you know how to do and write in your cover letter that you know how to do them. For example, if the ad says that they want someone who knows how to write a press release, and you know how to do that, say so in your cover letter. “In my past position at Such and Such, Inc. I have composed numerous press releases and other marketing materials…”

5. Do not assume the gender of the person you’re sending it too. I once made the dumbass mistake of assuming that Lee Smith was a man, so I addressed it to “Mr. Smith." Wouldn’t you know it? Lee Smith was a woman. And she probably threw my resume straight into the trash. If I couldn’t be bothered to do a little research on Lee Smith, then I probably wouldn’t do a good job, right? I remember at my internship in college my boss, a VP at a public relations firm, was a woman. She routinely received resumes addressed to “Mr. Johnson” even though she was “Ms. Johnson.” She didn’t bother to read those resumes, and they went straight into the trash.

6. Be polite in your cover letter. The words “please” and “thank you” will go a long way. For example “Please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience to discuss the position and my credentials…” or “Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.” Don’t say “Call me on my cell to schedule an interview…” You’re in no position to command the hiring manager to do anything. You are, however, in the position to ask the hiring manager to call as their busy schedule allows.

7. When attaching your resume, name it something like “Resume of Your Name.” My friend had received attached resumes that were named “Document.rtf” Not only does this file name not label what’s in the document; it makes it look like you are sending the hiring manager a poorly executed email virus. Help the hiring manager keep your resume straight from all the other ones he/she is getting by using your name as the file name. I’ve used my name and the position as the file name “Jane Smith-Marketing Specialist” as well. (This file naming method also adds a level of subliminal advertising. Maybe the hiring manager will get used to seeing my name with the position by seeing written that way.)

8. Keep a log of where you have sent your resume, which employers have called you back, and which ones you’ve visited for interviews. Keep track of dates, the names of the people you’ve spoken to, and what you spoke about. Print out the ads and job descriptions for the positions that you have applied to, and keep them in a folder. When the hiring manager calls you back you will need to have the job description in front of you so you can speak intelligently about the job and why you are qualified for it. In this market you need to sound like you are prepared at all times.

These tips might not land you the job, but I can guarantee that they will help keep your resume out of the trash can. If you can stay out of the trash can you just might get the interview, which is your biggest chance to impress the hiring manager. But first, you have to impress them with your cover letter and resume.

Labels: , ,


Blogger Unknown said...

That is great advice. I should pass this on to my sister who is looking for a job right now. I'm sure she's guilty of everything you listed in here.

January 15, 2009 at 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I also add, "Go all out; get yourself a non-x-rated email address. Because I'm not even gonna call you back," Seriously.

January 17, 2009 at 1:16 AM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

Heidi--to you and I a lot of this is common sense. I am amazed, after seeing these resumes, at how many people do not have this information installed as common sense.

Ginny--That's a great idea too. I knew a guy who didn't understand why his email address "" wasn't appropriate. LOL.

January 19, 2009 at 9:04 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home