How not to apply for a job

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Say you’re a developer who’s in the market for a job. You come across a job listing, perhaps something like the one I recently posted. It’s a job you’re interested in and you send in your resume. Here’s what not to do.

A cover letter is not just a standard part of your resume. A cover letter is designed to highlight the parts of your experience that are specific to the job to which you are applying. It’s supposed to be the thing I see first and should draw me in, making me want to get the details from your resume. Don’t stick your cover letter in an attachment and your resume in another attachment or your cover letter might not get seen. It’s certainly not doing its job, hidden in an attachment like that. If you are sending a resume by email, your cover letter belongs in the body of your email.

You need to proofread your cover letter carefully. This is my first introduction to you. This is your chance to impress me. If you have sloppy spelling, capitalization, and spelling in your cover letter I’ll expect that your code as the same sort of problems. I’m not looking for Pulitzer-prize-winning stuff here, but most kids learn in first grade to capitalize proper nouns and the beginnings of sentences.

Your resume should tell me what languages you know, what technologies you have experience with, and how you’ve applied that experience. Unless you’re applying for a job as a secretary, you don’t need to tell me you’re proficient at MS Word — if you’re a software developer, I assume you’re familiar enough the basic workings of a word processor to use it to open a document and read a spec. Do tell me what sort of systems you’ve built and what challenges you overcame while building them. Do tell me how you applied your knowledge of efficient database operation to decrease server load by 30%.

When I look at your resume I should get a sense of what size projects you’ve worked on. If you’ve worked with an internationally-known company, then I immediately understand you’ve had exposure to larger projects. If all of your experience was at no-name companies in North Dakota, then you need to tell me that the project you worked on had 15 developers and an annual budget of 3 million dollars. Otherwise I’m likely to think your prior experience was building simple ASP front ends to little Access databases.

And finally, follow the directions for applying for the job. If I went to the trouble of describing how you should apply, there’s probably a good reason for it. If I ask for a plain-text resume, don’t send a Word document or a link to your resume on your Web site. If I ask for a code sample, include it. If you can’t follow those simple directions, how can I expect that you’ll be able to follow a spec?

I don’t even look at those emails I get with Word attachments, no code samples, no information about availability or your location. I simply file them away in case I ever have a need to hire a developer that doesn’t know how to follow directions.

Ben
September 25, 2004 4:27 PM

And you often need to hire such people? ;-)

Greg
September 26, 2004 9:57 PM

Hey, I object to the dig about building ASP front ends to Access databases...haha.

Trackback from inluminent/linkblog
September 29, 2004 9:01 PM

How not to apply for a job

Excerpt: focused on developers, but a good read for job seekers.

Ngwatung Akamangwa
October 29, 2004 3:36 AM

Hi there! This is more than tips you've got here! Until I read this stuff I'd never have known I've spent over two years after my BSc killing my chances of getting hired!

Shauna
September 28, 2005 10:03 PM

My husband has a Bachelor in CS and didn't quite complete his thesis in Masters of Cumputer Graphics. He's having a terrible time finding a job. Do you have any advice?

Lorraine
January 5, 2006 1:26 PM

My nephew wants to grow up and work on computers. He is terrible at spelling. When brought to his attention that spelling is important in computer work, he replied "That is what spell check is for"! But spell check can only catch errors, not grammar errors. I have seen many Project Mangers come my way. That extra A is quite important, since manger is a word, spell check whizzes right over it. I have gotten resumes that say... hi, i'm looking for a job. if you hire me, you wont be sorry. And the one that said" I am interesting in this and any position" So, spell check, grammar check and have a friend who knows spelling and grammar, check before you send off your resume. Also, it is a good idea to paste your resume into a txt file. If you use a lot of columns, you will see how the information gets tumbled around. Many recruiters store your resume as a txt file and save in a file that can be keyword searched. If you come up in a search and the resume is not readable, they will move on to the next one. So, if you have a word resume, keep it simple. Another thing is if you have more than 5 years exp, putting it all on one page is no longer a good idea. A good idea is to have a basic resume and then to have the "long" version with full details, available upon request. Good Luck!

Joana
February 15, 2006 12:25 PM

Hello! I think I searched with the right words ("how to apply for a job"), because a reached this site. Thanks for the tips, but let me tell you that my mother tonge is not English, so you should be a litle less worried about the "spell check". Even so, I'd like you to correct my gramar or sintasis errors. What I'm really looking for is a sample of a good Curriculum Vitae in English, so I can write my own Curriculum. I have an Universitary degree in Physical Geography and It's a shame that I'm not abble to put it in the right words for an appliance in other countries than mine. Thanks again, and I hope you read my comment (If it's not too much trouble...Please write me back!).

Eric Yeoman
April 2, 2007 8:17 AM

Hi, So, would you give yourself a job as a developer :-) "If you have sloppy spelling, capitalization, and spelling in your cover letter I’ll expect that your code as the same sort of problems." I that reckon should be: "If you have sloppy spelling, capitalization, and spelling in your cover letter, I’ll expect that your code has the same sort of problems."

Derek Gebo
April 2, 2007 2:48 PM

I'm 14 and I needed to know this for a shcool project so when I read this it helped me a lot, Thank You.

Bruce
June 14, 2007 7:52 PM

"I don’t even look at those emails I get with Word attachments, no code samples, no information about availability or your location. I simply file them away in case I ever have a need to hire a developer that doesn’t know how to follow directions." Typical pompousness from your industry on display again.

Tam
January 10, 2008 10:18 AM

To bring this point home further, count how many time spelling exists in this sentence. “If you have sloppy spelling, capitalization, and spelling in your cover letter I’ll expect that your code as the same sort of problems.”

Adam Kalsey
January 10, 2008 8:58 PM

Tam, That would be a joke.

sesane
November 13, 2008 12:15 PM

My problem is that,when i try to speak english. i can't speak it well.so im scared that, i won't make an interview right.

sesane
November 13, 2008 12:47 PM

my problem is that, when i try, to speak english.I can't, speak it well.so im scared that, i won't make a good interview.

zuzanaaa
July 1, 2009 3:22 AM

hello, i am from Slovakia, i am working like a accountant in shared services in slovakia... i would like to start work in foreign country like UK or another english speaking countries... cause i want to know new people and also improve my english... i just dont know how to reply for job in England for example. coul somebody help me????

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