Column: Easy ways to make sure you don't get a job
There have been some rumblings around town lately concerning the COYOTE program, which helps prepare teenagers and young adults for employment. Most of the lambasting is based on ignorance, so I'm not going to give them a forum here. I do know that many of the job-seekers who send me resumes when we have openings could benefit greatly from a program like COYOTE.
I have to admit, I'm a stickler for proper grammar when it comes to a resume or cover letter from an applicant. As I see it, if you can't edit your submission to me, you probably won't edit very well if given the job. If I find a handful of typos and improper punctuation in a cover letter, it usually ends up in the trash. (Not really. I have to save them for three years, but there's no way they're getting a job here.)
Some people know how to prepare a cover letter. Most don't. Heck, I'm not even sure exactly how to write the perfect cover letter, but perfection is not really what I'm looking for. I'm looking to see what points the applicant thought were the most important to highlight concerning the position they're seeking. It's truly astounding to see what some job-seekers come up with.
My "favorite" cover letters are from folks who think I care what they do when they're not at work. I really don't care. I want to know if you can do the job you're seeking. Now don't get me wrong. A short paragraph listing your hobbies or "passions" outside of work can be beneficial to a prospective employer, but if your cover letter is mostly filled with these "likes," then it tells me that work is secondary in your life, and that's not what I want to hear. I received a cover letter similar to this when I worked for a paper in Wyoming:
I am applying for the position of copy editor at your fine newspaper. I really think I have the skills you are looking for.
I love to rock climb, and Wyoming has some of the best rocks to climb in the U.S. I have scaled several mountains over the years, which helps me as an editor because journalism is like rock climbing. You have to push yourself to overcome obstacles, and only when you've reached the top can you rest.
Not a bad start, I guess, however, this job-seeker chose to use the rock-climbing metaphor throughout his cover letter, even ending it with, "I do it because it's there." Needless to say, he didn't get the job "there." I felt that hiring him would have taken him away from his rock-climbing duties.
Other bad cover letters concentrate too much on what the employer can do for them and very little on what they can do for the employer. "This position would further my career." Don't tell me that! I would hope you're not seeking a job to hurt your career.
A good cover letter should never be longer than a page and never more than five paragraphs. It should highlight skills that match the position being sought. I remember one that stated: "I like to have fun when I'm working." OK, that's not work. You should enjoy what you're doing at a job, but it's still work. Take a vacation for fun.
Some cover letters focus way too much on what the job-seeker has accomplished at their most recent job. "Everyone loved me there. They all said I was the best reporter." Well, not everyone, like the boss who let you go. Others try guilt. "I have applied for so many jobs and no one will take a chance on me." Try being less needy and someone just might.
Some applicants make it through the cover letter with flying colors, only to lose it with their resume. Employers do not want your life history on a resume. You do not need to list every "significant" achievement in your life, just the ones that pertain to the job you are seeking. While "winner of a go-cart race" may seem important to you, it's only significant to list on your resume if you're seeking a job at an amusement park.
As with the cover letter, a resume should never be longer than a page. As an employer, all I really want to know is what schooling you've had and what jobs you've held. All listings under these categories should include the years (or months) you worked or went to school, a brief description of your degrees or duties, and a name and number of someone to call to verify the information.
Some people list references, and that's OK as long as they are people you worked for or with in the past. Never list a relative or friend in another field of employment, because we both know they will say wonderful things about you. I never look at references for that very reason. If I want to "check" on someone, I will call their past supervisors.
The best bet when it comes to a cover letter or resume is to READ the employment listing. Then read it again. Then again. Design both your resume and cover letter to fit what the employer is seeking. Your objective, which should be the first category on your resume, should ALWAYS reflect EXACTLY what an employer is looking for.
If the employer says they want a well-rounded person with many skills, then highlight just that in both your cover letter and your resume. Show them that you are the most well-rounded person ever put on Earth.
And I can't stress this enough. NEVER finish off your cover letter with:
I've gotten two of these over the years (not from Anns), and neither job-seeker was hired. I doubt they still love me.