It's As If These Applicants Don't Even Want a Job

Last Updated Aug 19, 2010 12:04 PM EDT


No arguing it is a tough job market out there. But a shortage of positions is not the whole story. Sometimes our good jobs go unfilled because of a shortage of desirable candidates. I'm not talking about qualified, I'm talking about appealing candidates -- there's a huge difference, especially for companies like mine and others where the culture is the soul of the business.

My belief and "policy" has always been to hire for chemistry and personality first. Of course the required skills must be there but skills can be taught and continuously improved; personality and attitude can't. And you can learn a lot about someone's personality and attitude by paying attention to how he or she approaches a job search. I am increasingly shocked and disheartened by the lack of quality, professionalism and maturity with which many people conduct themselves in the process. For every job we have ever posted, many possibly-qualified-on-paper candidates never made it past "hello" because they introduced and presented themselves so horribly.

Here are four of the worst and most common offenses in my book, any of which will guarantee that I won't invite a candidate to interview with us:
  • No cover/introductory letter -- I am a realist. I accept that the days of handwritten and snail-mailed cover letters and résumés are over, and for the most part that's OK. But even in the era of e-mailed job applications and online résumés, the lack of a proper introductory note -- no matter how brief -- is inexcusable. A good cover letter can be as valuable as the résumé itself, since the cover is the "personal" part of the application, while the rest is the same work history that every other employer will receive. If I get a blank e-mail with a résumé attached, or an e-mail with nothing but a link to someone's information online, the chances I'll look any further start at zero and go down.
  • Terrible cover letter -- An atrocious introductory note is almost as bad as no letter at all -- and sometimes even worse. I have received e-mails written in text-speak ("u sound like an awesome company, and I think I'd b an awesome employee, LOL"). I've gotten short notes that read as cavalier or arrogant ("my info attached, call for more info and interview"). And I've been sent e-mails that were short-sighted turn-offs ("what are the pay and benefits of the job? If they are what I am looking for I will send my résumé").
  • No homework or attention to detail -- If someone shows no initiative or interest in learning about my company, they'll get no serious interest in return. As such, I'm turned off by notes addressed to "Dear hiring professional," or worse, "To whom it may concern." I might appreciate a little creativity if I were to receive an e-mail that said, "Dear Skooba Design (sorry, I tried everything but couldn't track down your HR person's name)." But even then, no one in our company is that difficult to identify or reach. Even if you address it to the wrong person with the best of intentions, it's better than no person.
  • Bad résumé -- Despite all of the resources available, quality résumés are very rare. I'd be surprised if one out of 20 that I read even comes close to what I consider "well done." Granted, I was raised in a business and family where there was a practically insane obsession with this kind of thing, and perhaps my standards and expectations are unreasonably high. But my feeling is that if someone can't do a good job with the most important document he may ever write, what does that say about the work I can expect from him? When I wrote my first résumé, I had everyone I know read it to make sure there were no typos, that it flowed well, was well-written, honest and concise, showed me in the best possible light, raised no red flags, and so on. I knew I had exactly one, fleeting chance to get and keep an employer's attention. No room for error in that.
There are countless ways to make me ignore or toss out a résumé -- far too many to describe here -- but here's my short list: typos/grammatical errors, excessive length, inapplicable experience, poor organization or layout, hyperbole, excessive personal information (it may be great if a candidate raises champion gerbils, but she should save it for the interview -- that's the time and place to get to know each other). And there's so much more. One day the letters and résumés I've collected might make a great book.

Reading this, you might think I'm a rigid, pompous hard-ass when it comes to hiring and employees, but the exact opposite is true. If I have a job opening to fill, I obviously want to fill it. If a candidate is interested in and qualified for the job and a good fit for our culture, I want to hear from that person. I genuinely cherish the people who work here. So in reality, I am pulling for all of those job applicants. Getting a great letter and résumé and meeting the great person behind them is among the most gratifying things for me and, I think, for most business owners. All I ask is that if someone really wants the job and wants to be a part of the company, he shows it.

Am I too rigid? Are my philosophies and policies too tough? Business owners, as always I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences. And job hunters, please share yours too. It's a two-way street.

(Flickr image by bpsusf)
  • Michael Hess On Facebook»

    Michael is an entrepreneur who has launched businesses including Skooba Design and Hotdog Yoga Gear travel bag brands, as well as Journeyware Travel Outfitters. Michael sold his company in 2014 and is now focused on writing, speaking and consulting. Learn more about his ventures at www.businesswithclass.com.

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