Wednesday, May 4, 2011

To Do & Not Do: Job Application Tips

Every time we go through a hiring process at work, I say that I am going to write a book on what to do and not do when applying for a job.  A blog post will do for now. 

Disclaimer: My experience with hiring staff over the past (almost) nine years has been with a mid-size nonprofit organization.  Not all of these tips will translate to other fields but many of them do.

This is not an exhaustive list.  I would love to hear your tips so please share away in the comments section!

 Submitting a Solid Cover Letter and Resume:
  • Read the job description.  Read the application instructions.  Follow them.
  • Share why you are interested and qualified for the position in the cover letter.  
    • If you don't have much (or any) experience for the job you are applying for, explain why you are interested in changing fields.  Identify the transferable skills from past paid and volunteer jobs that make you a strong candidate.
    • My friend shared this on Facebook: Dear applicants, I just want you to know that I refuse to read anything past "Dear Sirs" on your cover letter. You might have better luck finding a job if you realize that women have the ability to hold management positions as well as men.  Ditto on what Chelsea said.  Not sure who to address the letter to?  Stick with "To Whom It May Concern".
    • "My resume is attached." does not count as a cover letter. 
    • Write your own cover letter and have someone proof and edit it.  I got a cover letter once where the first sentence read: "My name is x and I am writing this cover letter for my wife, x."  Needless to say, I did not ask her to come in for an interview.  
    • When submitting attachments of your cover letter and resume, send in .doc (not .docx) or .pdf formats.
  • Be accessible by phone and e-mail.  If I can't reach you, I can't contact you for an interview. 
  • Monitor your online presence.  Google yourself.  Set your Facebook and other social networking sites to private.  No one needs to see you wasted at your cousin's wedding or complaining about your current boss -- especially not prospective employers. 
  • If you get called in to interview: 
    • Do your research.  Reread the job description.  Check out the company's website.  Know who you are applying for and have some questions ready to go. 
    • Identify your professional strengths and challenges/weaknesses beforehand.  Oh, and "I'm an overachiever." is not a challenge/weakness.  Be honest. 

You Scored an Interview!
  • Arrive 5 - 10 minutes early.  
  • Bring a copy of the job description and your cover letter and resume.  
  • Have 3 - 5 references available. 
    • Check with your references to make sure they are willing to be a reference for you before providing their contact information to a prospective employee.  
  • During the interview:
    • Don't forget to breathe. 
    • Be concise and sincere with your responses. 
    • If you don't understand the question, ask for clarification.
    • If you don't know the answer, say "I don't know."  Don't make up something...or go completely off topic...for 15 minutes...
    • When asked, "where do you see yourself in five years?", be honest.  But also know that the person you are speaking with may want their organization to be included in your plan.
    • Ask questions.  Appropriate, open-ended ones.  Three of my favorites are: "What does a week-at-a-glance look like for this position?" and "What do you need the new person to immediately focus on?" and "What do you like most about the work you do?"

After You Rock the Interview:
  • A simple thank you e-mail is appropriate.  I love receiving flowers as much as the next person but gifts are not appropriate.
  • There is a fine line between being persistent and being pushy.  Be cautious with follow up communication.
  • Trust the process.  When I applied for the organization I currently work for, I was brought in to interview for one position, was offered an open position with another program and ultimately ended up working for neither of these programs.  Seriously.
  • If you are offered the position, it is okay to ask for a day to think about it.  I would much rather someone turn down a position that isn't right a good fit then for someone to take a job and leave it a couple months later.  One time we had a Program Assistant last only one day with us.  I never even had a chance to meet her. 
  • If you are not offered the position, don't give up.  You will find something that is right for you.  I just know it.   


  1. Thanks for posting this! Lot's of great tips that I have a feeling I will be referring back to several times in the next year :D

  2. I just bookmarked this blog so that I may refer back to it in a couple of months when I am job searching again!

  3. Coming in late to this as I just found your blog, but putting a bit of context on this: "Dear applicants, I just want you to know that I refuse to read anything past "Dear Sirs" on your cover letter. You might have better luck finding a job if you realize that women have the ability to hold management positions as well as men."

    When I was in high school taking secretarial classes - yes, thirty years ago this summer - we were taught that if you could not obtain the name of the person handling inquiries you were to address the letter as "Dear Sir or Madam." If that was the expected form of address, including women specifically, THIRTY YEARS AGO there is no excuse for anyone to use "Dear Sirs" now.

  4. Ayshela - You bring up an excellent point! It is not like this is a new thing. :)