Saturday, February 22, 2014

How to apply for a job and actually get hired

I recently wrote a grant which enabled me to hire additional help for my collections. This, apparently, is both a blessing and a curse. It's been about five years since I've been involved in a hiring process. It was around the same time that I not only served on a search committee but also started applying for jobs. I do not claim to be an expert in this area, but I've gotten as far as phone interviews for all the jobs to which I've applied and feel like I've helped find successful candidates for every opening for which I've served as a search committee member. So I must know a little something, right?

After two weeks of receiving applications, I have a few things to say to all those people out there applying for work. Will following these steps guarantee you will get a job? I can't promise that. Will following these steps mean you won't frustrate some poor person overwhelmed with job applications? Yes, I can promise that. And if you don't frustrate the people sitting on the hiring side of the table, the next time your name comes across, you may be just the person for the job. Bear in mind that these lessons learned from from the academic, private, non-profit, library/archive setting. Each profession is a bit different, but I'm pretty sure these tips will help just about everyone.

So, in no particular order, Joy's guide to not frustrating the people you hope will hire you.

1. Don't spend the majority of your cover letter explaining how good you are at something that wasn't even hinted at in the job description.
Job description: You will work with old paper in filing cabinets.
Cover letter: I rock at customer service.
Evaluation: The old paper doesn't care how well you work with people. Tell me why your experience qualifies you to work with old paper. If you can't come up with an answer, don't apply to the job.

2. Don't spend your entire cover letter addressing how much you want to work in one particular type of organization if that's not the type of organization to which you are applying.
Job description: This is a non-profit research library.
Cover letter: I have always wanted to work with students in an academic setting.
Evaluation: Well then, why don't you go apply to an academic institution? Even if this isn't your dream job, at least pretend like you read the description or did a bit of research about the institution online. In other words, lie, openly admit your shortcomings, or apply to another position.

3. If you put one of those super trendy goal sentences at the top of your resume, be sure it matches the position to which you are applying.
Job description: This is a job in an archive at a nonprofit institution.
Resume: I hope to find an awesome job working with debt collection (No. Lie. Though perhaps paraphrased).
Evaluation: Why are you wasting my time? Even if the job doesn't exactly match your professional goals, at least try.

4. The cover letter should be a concise document highlighting how the skills you have listed on your CV/resume directly fill the requirements of the particular position. This is not a thesis or dissertation. I tolerate two pages if you make it good, but if you cannot communicate in closer to one page why you are the perfect candidate for the job, you have not demonstrated an ability to communicate effectively.
Evaluation: I stop reading after the second page. And if you went on to say something brilliant on the fifth page (I kid you not), and it's not in the last paragraph, I did not read it.

5. If there are specific ways/formats/items that are requested for your application packet, make sure you include all of them. Especially if attention to detail is one of the job requirements.
Application instructions: Email a cover letter and resume to the following person as a pdf.
Result: Emailed a resume to another person in WordPerfect format with no cover letter.
Evaluation: You  obviously cannot follow directions, so I am concerned that you lack an attention to detail which was a requirement for the job. I will not waste my time when there are a dozen other candidates who know how to follow directions.

6. At least in the library/archive world, ask questions. If there is something you don't understand about the position or you are just interested in a little more information, ask politely and don't be annoying. Any and all interaction you have with anyone at the hiring institution will influence the evaluation of your application.
Application instructions: If you have questions about the position, contact this person.
Result: You ask a question, then ask more, then start asking more and offering advice on the hiring process as well as the nature of the work. Then say you're going to apply.
Evaluation: You are annoying, and you are wasting my time. While you may be the perfect candidate for the job, your behavior does not win brownie points.

7. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and tone are all very important in a cover letter and resume. Lower case "i" when you refer to yourself is incorrect. Ellipses all over your resume are incorrect and make me think you are hiding something. Misspellings are incorrect. Have someone else look at all of your documentation BEFORE you send it.Check, double check, and then have someone else check, especially if you really want the job.
Evaluation: Unless the sum total of your experience and application are so completely, overwhelmingly outstanding, these errors will reduce the likelihood of hiring.

8. Include your complete contact information, which would include your address. I'm not going to write you a letter, but it's always nice to know where someone lives. Will this influence the hiring process? It may, but by being honest, you may find that you really are judged by your qualifications.
p.s. If you have one of those super cutesy, quirky, snarky, silly, or crude email addresses, go to your free email service of choice and register yourself a plain, boring, professional email address. Now.

9. Before you send in any application, double check your online presence. Facebook page decent? LinkedIn profile up to date? Any other surprises out there that some enterprising hiring agent will find? Clean it up or lock it down. Also, bear in mind that if a hiring agent can't find you at all online, that's suspicious these days.
Bonus advice: If you've slammed your current or previous employer(s) openly online, that does not look good for you. If you've talked about your application process openly online, the hiring agent will see that. I've been on search committees in the past where a candidate has been eliminated because of the public, online reaction that was posted concerning the interview experience.

10. Always include references, even if they weren't requested. It makes your application stand out and proves that you have nothing to hide. And no, your mom should not be a reference.

So, turns out I had ten tips. Perhaps I'll have another post after phone interviews commence.