It’s a common feeling these days. You apply for jobs online and you rarely get a response. It seems almost like your resume just disappears into the ether, never to be seen by an actual person. You wonder: Is anyone on the other end reading these things?
We feel your pain. And while it may seem like there isn’t anyone on the other end of your applications, we can assure you, from personal experience, that there is. Not only that, but recruiters who post on job boards are—believe it or not—also frustrated by the process. Especially when they receive hostile emails from job seekers who receive a standard auto response.
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“While I understand the frustration of someone looking for a job and either not getting a response or getting an automated response,” says Emma Logan, director of human resources and IT at Mother Jones magazine, “it is really counterproductive to lash out at the people doing the hiring. If you’re on a job hunt, it’s not the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, it’s the honey that catches the fly.”
Try not to feel hopeless and helpless. At least you can make sure that you aren’t doing anything to undermine your chances.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for applying online:
1. Follow directions. Read the job listing and follow instructions to the letter. Don’t send attachments if the ad says they’re not wanted. And don’t call if they explicitly say not to. This is not the time to take matters into your own hands. You want to demonstrate that you can read and follow directions.
2. Don’t apply for a job that’s completely out of your league. For example, a recent college grad shouldn’t toss his hat into the ring for a job that requires 3-5 years experience in a specific industry. This approach simply clogs the recruitment pipes and won’t land the job of your dreams.
3. Always write a cover letter. A resume will never be enough to represent you as a professional. Use your writing talent and communication skills to describe the experience most relevant to the job.
4. Cherry-pick your opportunities. Rather than firing off 30 applications in a single hour, spend the same amount of time writing one powerful and persuasive cover letter. Random spamming with the same cover letter and resume will not get you any closer to employment. Recruiters won’t consider you as a serious candidate.
5. Address cover letters to a person. More often than not, a specific contact person is named in the job description. Address your correspondence to him or her. In other words, avoid nameless-and-faceless salutations such as “Dear sir” and “Dear Human Resources.” In the rare instance a name is not provided, go with the old-fashioned “To whom it may concern”—and remember that only that first T should be capitalized.
6. Nail the tone. Writing informally is fine for emails to friends, but it doesn’t fly in a job application. On the other end of the spectrum, an overly formal approach is just as much of a turn off. Check this out: “At this time I would like to present myself as a candidate for employment.” A bit stilted, right? How about this instead: “I’m very interested in learning more about this position.”
7. Ask not what the company can do for you; ask what you can do for the company. A winning cover letter speaks directly to the needs of the employer. Write about your experience, but put it in the context of the potential employer and how your skills are relevant to the job. Here’s an example of what not to do: “The position you advertise is attractive to me.” Instead tell the recruiter why your resume should rise to the top. Try this instead: “After ten years as a copy editor for national magazines, I believe my experience is relevant to your needs.”
8. Proofread on paper. Before sending your email application, take time to proofread it on paper first. It is difficult to spot spelling errors, typos, extra spaces and superfluous words on screen. And show it to a friend—preferably a copy-editor friend. Check job titles as well. Little mistakes are the kiss of death.
Of course, it’s still tough, and there are still an awful lot of people applying for relatively few positions. You won’t necessarily get your dream gig, but hopefully you’ll at least start getting some callbacks.