I’m in the process of hiring an assistant, someone who can toil away at the work thing while I’m at school making crafts, and I’ve finally dug down to the bottom of the pile of résumés that began pouring in thirty minutes after I posted the job. (And if you haven’t heard from me yet, it doesn’t mean you won’t—I’m still sorting and procrastinating, as will soon become more obvious.) And do you want to know what’s the most striking thing about most of these hopefuls? They are completely wasting their time. And mine, of course, but mostly their own. Because they’re not only not going to get a job with me, they’re not going to get a job with anyone unless that person is as slovenly and illiterate as these applicants.
Howlers spotted among the hundred-odd submissions include
- Misspelling or camel-capitalizing my company’s name
- Next book
- Misspelling the name of a past or present employer
- Merril Lynch
- Pareksy Ctr. [This is at my own college, so I know it’s Paresky]
- Rollingstone Magazine
- Misspelling a degree or job title
- bachelors | masters
- B.F.A | G.P.A | F.I.T | C.U.N.Y
- assitant [I feel that this should be a word, but if it were, it would denote someone who is an undesirable employee]
- photo- retoucher
- Communication’s Coordinator
- Misspelling or improperly camel-capping the name of a piece of software the applicant supposedly knows inside out
- Quark Express
- the In Design program
- Word Press
- In-Design CS3
- Abode Photoshop / Abode Illustrator / Abode InDesign [this is presumably marketed as a hamlet]
- word, excel [but the same person managed to type PowerPoint]
- Misspelling or improperly camel-capping the name of the site where the applicant found the listing
- Media Bistro
- media bistro
At first I read through everything, partly out of a misplaced desire to be fair and partly because I couldn’t believe what I was reading. After a certain point, however, I had to admit that it was taking too long, and I started to be more brutal. One candidate had me at
and eventually I decided that anyone who used the word utilize was out of the running. But the reading becomes more painful, the more words you look at:
- Past Client includes . . .
- I am Jewish and recently visited Israel foir the firts time!
- Assisted employees troubleshoot computer issues. [Oh, do they? I’ll have to try that.]
- Book photographers, archive photographs digitally, including the creation of contact sheets, and physically. [Wait—what are you doing physically?]
- I will b moving to New York by the end of the month, and I would like to schedule a meeting with you . . . [I will b not returning ur msg.]
- since for around 3 years . . . coding basich HTML . . . advanced photoshop knowledge . . . Illustrator/Indesign [in a paragraph in which she claims to be “very detail oriented and an excellent proofreader”]
- I am willing to assist design related advertising projects by becoming a family of Nextbook Inc. [This person’s first language is not English, but she should have the sense to ask a literate native Anglophone (i.e., not any of the other applicants) to read everything before she sends it out.]
- I recently came across your company through online and . . . I am extremely interested in assistant art director position available with your company. [Appears native English speaker is.]
- I am hopeful that we can arrange a mutually convenient time to discuss job the opportunity. [Sister of previous applicant is?]
- I have worked in Fundraising field [I give up.]
- I had the chance to travel to New York City and work at their photo/art department. [Whose? The city’s?]
- Supervise Inters and student workers.
- Graphic design is the type of job that a person must love because at times, things can become frustrating and where most people will stop, I continue going because I enjoy intricate thinking. [Anybody care to diagram this?]
I am particularly impressed by the lines that are intended to impress me:
- Constantly listening to music and reading Hemmingway, Kerouac, and Borgues for inspiration . . .
- as a means of taping into the NYU undergraduate community [I do not condone hazing!]
- I am confidant that I have the skills needed for this position. [Also? The number of people who can’t tell the difference between compliment/complement and stationary/stationery? Appalling.]
- I am an excellent candidate for a Assistant at Nextbook, Inc.
- I cant wait to get started … please call me !!
- My experience at the [respected publishing company] and [top university] give we a strong advantage . . . Moreover, my experience has allowed me to work as an affective team player . . . [Respected publishing company] has also given we a wealth of experience . . .
And what may be my favorite,
I have a dedicated work ethic and will not finish anything without close to perfection.
Not close enough.
Okay, so it should be clear by now that everyone—and I mean everyone, especially those who fancy themselves copy editors or proofreaders—should be asking competent people to proof their cover letters and résumés before they send them out. No, but really. This means you.
What else hurts or harms your chances of getting an interview with a meanie like me?
Objective: Not to sound like an idiot.
I know that all the job advice people these days are telling you to include an objective at the top of your résumé, but I have to tell you, whenever I look at a résumé that has one of those, I assume that I’m dealing with someone who either is a n00b or has not researched the company at which he or she is applying to work. Perhaps an objective line has some purpose when you’re applying to a place so huge that all the résumés are dumped into a database and scanned for keywords, but if your target is a nonprofit arts organization, a small publisher, or, probably, any company having fewer than a hundred employees, the objective line is just one more opportunity to make an ass of yourself.
Saying that your objective is “To obtain a position as an assistant to the art director at Nextbook” tells me a great deal, but none of it is stuff you want me to know. Mostly, it says, “Hi! I’m a tool!”
Telling me that your objective is to “Work as an Executive Assistant at a premiere financial company” makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with you, as well as why you can’t read.
Of the twenty-five résumés that have thus far been withheld from the circular file, only four list objectives. Two of those harm the application; the others are merely uninteresting. None of them do any good. Please make a note of it.
If you are applying to make coffee for someone, how you format your résumé probably doesn’t matter. If you are applying to assist a so-called art director, however, even one who refers to herself as “so-called,” I suggest that you put a little bit of thought into your presentation. I’m not talking about fancy (though I admit that I did squeal when I got a square résumé; cute!), I’m talking about competent. If the job description recommends that you have an interest in typography, you might want to try to look like you know what the word means. I don’t have the energy to list all the horrors I saw on these documents, so let’s just say that I’ve seen every known typographic “don’t” at least fifty times over. A couple of hints:
- Find out what an en dash is, and then try using some.
- Pay attention to not only the characters on the page but also the spaces between them. Like, they should be consistent in some way.
- Learn to use style sheets, so that you can make your heading styles consistent. If you choose to ignore my request for a PDF résumé, try to make sure your Word attachment doesn’t demonstrate to me what a slob you are, formatting everything locally and aligning text using spaces instead of tabs.
- Don’t Capitalize Everything. I Cannot Emphasize This Enough. It Makes You Look Like a 419 Scammer.
- Inch marks are not quotation marks.
- If your résumé contains fake italics and fake bold, and especially if these are applied on top of real italics and real bold, design is not the field for you.
- Violet 9pt Arial is probably not a good choice for anything.
- View your PDF before hitting “send” to make sure it’s not full of red dotted underlines where your spell-checker has queried things.
Don’t list “StuffIt” under your skills. That’s just depressing.
Don’t tell me you are “incredibly” anything, unless it’s something you don’t want me to believe. Saying you are “incredibly proficient in Adobe CS3, basic HTML, etc.” says to me, “This person doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.”
Don’t claim to have copyediting or proofreading experience in a résumé riddled with typos.
Don’t say, “My skills are an ideal match for this position” unless you can explain to me why that is true and your work history supports it. Just saying you’re the best candidate does not get you anywhere at all. You might as well shout, “Flippendo!”
You needn’t include a list of references unless they’re asked for. Nobody’s going to call your references before interviewing you, so it’s pointless to list people unless they’re known to the person doing the hiring. The one reference I did recognize from among the handful of lists I received is a person whose design taste I find to be deeply flawed; your mileage may vary.
Putting “References available upon request” at the bottom of your résumé tells me nothing. Like, duh.
Once you get an interview, do bring a nice, neat list that you can hand over if asked.
Anybody who hires you without asking for and checking your references gets what he or she deserves.
It is very informative to me when you include in your cover letter—unasked—both your current salary and your desired salary, the latter being 225 percent of yours and 103 percent of mine. It tells me that you are going to be grumbling about your current job for quite some time.
I looked at or intend to look at the online portfolio of anyone who provided a URL and does not seem to be an idiot. In most cases they help me rule people out, but in two cases they’ve moved their creators from “Low Maybe” to “High Maybe” (on a scale of “NO!” to “High Maybe”). Does this mean you shouldn’t include a portfolio, because it’s more likely to hurt than to help? Well, do you really want to work with someone who’s going to think that your design sucks? I’ll find it out sooner or later, so why not save us both some time? Thanks in advance.
For what it’s worth, Coroflot seems to be a very popular portfolio site.
If you do choose to direct potential employers to your online portfolio or other website, get someone else to make sure it’s not full of typos. Also? Make sure there’s some work on it, please—not just a lot of “coming soon!”
If you can send your cover letter as a tweet, it’s not long enough. Preceding your punchy BIG TYPE résumé with the single line, “Email me with questions, thoughts, criticisms, and/or praise. Thanks.” does not count. This is not a classroom critique; I want to know if you can write an entire paragraph without revealing yourself as a nutjob. Were I to reply to your application in kind, it would be as a sheet of paper filled with the huge, artfully arranged words “FAIL WHALE.”
If your letter is longer than one printed page, it’s too long. Whatever it is you’re saying at such length is almost certainly digging you into a hole. The circular hole at the top of the basket to the left of my desk.
This goes for résumé length as well, if you are under the age of twenty-five. Really, you’re not fooling anybody when you pad it out with irrelevant crap. If you’re trying to tell me something important by listing all those restaurant jobs—like, you’re going to bring a cake to work every Monday morning—it would be better to say so in your cover letter: I can’t wait to start bringing you cakes every week! Please call me!! Then I’ll know that you’ve done your homework.
If you are over the age of thirty, it may not be appropriate to try to cram your work experience into a single page. Being selective is good, of course, but make sure that whatever is left emphasizes the right things. Don’t squeeze five years of relevant freelance work into ten lines while devoting twenty lines to four years of completely irrelevant full-time jobs.
Ideally, I won’t notice yours. If you begin, “Dear Human Resources” or “To Whom It May Concern,” it tells me you’ve got poor reading skills since, in defiance of common sense, I put my name on the ad. Did you Google me? I’m very Googleable. You can find out whether I’m a Mr. or a Ms.; there’s no need to hedge.
Acceptable salutations from total strangers include,
- Dear Ms. Amos,
- Dear India Amos,
People who were referred by people I know are welcome to be more casual—
- Dear India,
- Hi, India.
- Hello, India.
Punctuation counts in all instances (see above under “Hello,.”).
If I know neither you nor the horse you rode in on, starting your letter with “Hi” is an eye-catchingly weird choice. You don’t want to start out with me looking for other ways in which you are weird, because I will find them.
When you write your letter, try to sound like a real person. (See above under “Bullshit.”) I can’t tell you how refreshing it is when I get a letter that sounds like it’s from a human being rather than from Faceless Job Applicant #666. Several of the letters that have succeeded at this are from people who were referred to me by mutual acquaintances—“So-and-so told me that you were looking for someone . . .” The others are from people who wrote to me as one competent professional to another—not smugly, not overconfidently, but professionally, with poise. So maybe the trick is to write as if you have been recommended for the position by someone who is known to the person who is hiring. If you can set aside that desperate must-have-job-so-can-eat-more-brains tone, you’re more likely to get a friendly reading.
What is a cover letter for? It gives me an idea of whether you are smart or sloppy or crazy or pompous or a zombie. It is also the place where you tell me how to interpret your résumé. As in, “I know that most of my paid work has been at this thing, but I’ve also been studying on my own time to learn this other thing.” As in, “My degree is in x, but my real passion is y, and I can prove to you that I’m not just making that up because I’ve been working on interesting side projects a, b, and c.” As in, “All my previous jobs are at high-paying megacorporations, but I’d really like to move into the nonprofit sector, because making faster, shinier widgets is eating my soul.”
Your letter should tell me why you are applying to this job, and that message should be something more specific than, “Because I need a job.” Why are you applying to this place? Did you look at our website? Do you have any interest in the specifics of what we do? Are you paying attention?
It took me a long time to even begin reading these résumés, because I have been busy, and because I went to TypeCon, and because I was sick, and because looking at the folder filling up with e-mails filled me with dread. So far, I have conducted exactly one interview, which was with someone I had already corresponded with through work. I specified “No calls” in both ads that I placed, and to my surprise, nobody has called. Yay! If they had called, they would have gone into the “NO!” folder. One person did e-mail to follow up, in a nonannoying way; she is still in the running. One person re-sent her application; she is still in the running. One person e-mailed me on my personal account, because we went to the same high school though not at the same time, and although we ended up having a friendly chat, I must say that I found his contacting me on the back-channel manipulative and uncool. Had he been qualified for the job—which he was not—he would have been at a disadvantage for having tried to influence me in that way.
In the immortal words of Morrissey, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”
I could go on, but I’m hungry and I want to go home. On Monday I will schedule interviews. Honest.