While the U.S. job market is on the upswing — with the unemployment rate down to 7.7% — there are still plenty of people looking for work. So you’d think that qualified job candidates would be easy to find. Think again.
As head of communications at a rapidly growing company, I’m building a team of top-notch writers and copy editors. But it hasn’t been easy or encouraging. Generic cover letters that barely mention our company or the specific job posting are filled with misspellings, grammatical and punctuation errors, and sloppy sentence construction — often sprinkled throughout the applicant’s promised qualifications of being “detail-oriented” and “meticulous.” (Real example: “My style for quality assurance is the read the copy a number of times, searching for grammatical, diction, and spelling errors.”)
And, really, a cover letter is not the place to tell me your life story. Think of it as a first date: Pique my curiosity with a few choice highlights that connect with my stated needs, and I’ll want to hear more.
Resumes are just as bad, with misplaced apostrophes and dropped letters that can put an entirely different spin on your prior experience. (Perhaps one candidate really did work on faulty university communications but, hey, that’s not a selling point.) The fact that a writer or editor candidate doesn’t double- and triple-check every word and punctuation mark in a document that can be revised as needed is simply mind-boggling. It’s like wearing dirty, ripped jeans to a job interview.
To be clear, I’m not talking about those who present themselves well enough to get in the door. Just this past week, more than 800 readers with horrendous job interview experiences commented on a New York Times article, “With Positions to Fill, Employers Wait for Perfection,” about job seekers falling victim to “hiring paralysis.” After being called back for eighth and ninth-round interviews, one job candidate was finally told, oh, well, we’ve decided not to fill the opening after all. So we can all agree that the hiring process on both sides is less than desirable.
But why are so many college graduates — many with years of work experience — so lackadaisical when it comes to searching for a job? It’s easy to place some blame on our schools, but the truth is that everything from how to write a cover letter and format a resume to how to prepare for an initial phone interview (Hint: Know what the company does and the position requirements) and what to wear to an in-person meeting are all easily accessible via a quick internet search.
But the internet also makes it too easy to shoot one generic cover letter and resume to hundreds of companies. That may feel proactive, but it’s really just a waste of time. Taking the time to target one or two companies with an engaging, personable letter that lays out how a particular job opening perfectly matches your experience and qualifications is a much wiser strategy.
Thoughts? Personal experiences? Please chime in.