Why your job application went straight into the bin

By Oliver Sylvester-Bradley on 7 May 2015 - 10:53

If your applying for jobs you only have one shot to make a good impression with your prospective employer, so it pays to do everything you can to make sure your application gets read!

Mikael Cho, founder of Crew explains why he would throw your application in the bin and shares his top 15 tips about things to avoid when applying for a job.

I’m frustrated.

I’ve worked in the online industry for seven years and as a founder for the last three, where I’ve been responsible for hiring.

I spent most of today going through the emails in our company’s hiring email inbox.

I log in full of optimism. 497 messages.

“Yay!”, I say to myself. “There’s got to be someone awesome in here, we just need to find them.”

But by the 10th email, my optimism fades.

The emails are so poorly written my head starts to hurt. With 487 emails to go and more coming in, my mind begins to look for shortcuts.

I love when our inbox is full. It means people would rather work with us than do any of the millions of other things they could do instead. This means a lot to me and I pride myself in looking at every email.

But as I slog through each message, I notice myself moving emails straight to the ‘no’ pile without reading them.

An impersonal subject line or a ‘To whom it may concern’ greeting immediately triggers a mouse click to the trash bin.

I don’t want to filter emails this way but like many companies, we have a limited amount of time to review applications.

On average, the person looking at your application gives it 6 seconds.

I’d like to say we give more time than that but if I think about the fast ‘no’s’ compared to the applications we give more time for, 6 seconds might be our average too.

This sucks for us just as much as it does for you. Every company is desperate to hire great people and only giving an application a 6-second review likely causes us to miss someone who is talented.

I’m sure we’ve missed people with the skills and work ethic to be great teammates but we don’t have the time to dig deep on everyone.

So instead, we look for early signs. Although it doesn’t work all the time, it works most of the time. The people who are looking to hire you are likely using some set of early signals to determine if you’re the right fit. It’s the only way they can afford to spend 6 seconds per application without feeling like they missed something.

After going through these latest messages in our hiring inbox, I wrote down the red flags we were seeing over and over, and decided to put them here.

If you’re looking for a new gig or career, I wanted to share this list of hiring red flags publicly. These things to watch out for will vary by industry and company, but if you’re looking for a position at a startup, an agency, or something in the online industry, this list may help you avoid ending up in the immediate ‘no’ pile.

Don't do the following things and give yourself more than a 6-second chance:

The Red Flags of Hiring - Don't do these things

  1. Apply for a Marketing position without having a Twitter profile. If you're not building a following on at least one online network (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever) I assume you're behind the curve and don't understand how marketing in today's world works. Going to networking events, a resume with a business degree, and having a profile on LinkedIn is not the bar. It's below the bar. If you want a marketing position, you should be starting an event, throwing out your resume, and regularly sharing things on a network that's probably not LinkedIn. If you don't like online networks, then build a following through your personal site or an email list. I'm looking for a glimpse of what you will do in our company if we hired you. Not what you say you can do. Show me.
  2. Apply as a designer or developer without a personal portfolio or examples of anything you've made. "It doesn't matter where you learned code. It just matters how good you are at writing (it)." -President Obama. You might know you're good but the only way for us to know is to see something you've made. If you haven't shared anything with us that's currently live, we will assume you don't have enough experience building and tending to an online product. Go make something. Anything. Contribute to an open source project or build a personal website. Push your work live and share that link. Even if it's just a project for yourself, that's fine. It shows you can make something and keep it live. That alone puts you ahead of 80% of people.
  3. Start your email with "To Whom It May Concern" or "Sir/Madam." The formalist of the formal greetings. This tells me you didn't research our company and you don't value a personal touch. We're all in the business of making things for other people no matter what company title we have. An instinct for empathizing with people is just as important in a marketing position as it is in a product one.
  4. Only applying to our general hiring inbox. As much as we want to check our hiring inbox daily, things come up. There are variables you can't control that may cause us to miss your email. Instead of just writing to our hiring inbox, write to me or one of my teammates directly too. I'd prefer if you found my email and wrote me a personal note than just left your email to chance in our hiring inbox. I'm not annoyed if you write me at my personal email. I welcome it. It shows me you really want to work with us. You will move to the top of my mind when we make a decision and you will stand out from everyone who only wrote to our hiring inbox.
  5. A major spelling mistake. Your introduction email might be your only shot. Spelling something important wrong, like your previous company's name, especially when the stakes are this high, shows you probably don't care about the quality of the work you produce for most things you make.
  6. Only attaching a PDF resume and leaving your email blank. Did you even try? Attaching your resume with no words written in your email makes me feel that you're probably sending your resume around to hundreds of companies hoping to see if one bites. It feels inhuman. Like you don't really care if you work with us or someone else. You just want a job. These make me the saddest.
  7. Your email takes more than 1 minute to read. This is probably the most important one. Stop wasting words. Don't start your email saying, "I'll keep it short." If you write that, you didn't keep it short. Focus on mentioning or linking to things that show you're the right fit for the position. If you do this, there's a high probability we will write back to you. Keeping your email short shows you value our time and that you know how to write the minimum number of words to deliver a punchline, another important characteristic we look for.
  8. Asking if we are open to working with good people because you're good. Let your work do the talking.
  9. Saying 'IT' when referring to software or technology. This might be just me but, referencing 'IT professional', 'IT-oriented', 'IT specialist' tells me your skill set is probably outdated.
  10. Using cliches no one understands. When I read something like, 'task-oriented', all that means to me is you face in the direction of the thing you're currently doing. A trait I would assume we all share.
  11. Replying to the auto-reply that tells you not to reply. A simple thing to follow. Not following it says you don't pay attention to things. This is not a good thing.
  12. "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn."
  13. Linking to a Word Doc that has words you could have written in the email.Just write it in the email. Attaching a Word or Google Doc creates an extra step. Making people do extra steps is not good. Every business is (hopefully) created to remove steps. To make something easier for people. How you create your email is a reflection of your understanding of this.
  14. Over-formatting your email. Authenticity trumps beauty. Changing the fonts or adding a bunch of images in an email will not get my attention. It will lose it. If you over-format your email, I think you don't know how to get someone's attention through email, one of the most important skills you could have. Say what you need in plain text. Link words to things you've made so I can click them. That's it. If you need to do more formatting than that, I assume there's not enough substance in your words and you're trying to make up for it with design. In the context of email, plain text is beautiful anyway.
  15. Sending an email with an anti-virus checker.

If you apply to a position we're hiring for, we want to see an email that feels like a human wrote it and says what you've done in as a few words as possible. We want to follow up with a video call or meet in person. We want to grab beers, coffee, wine, or water and share stories into the night about how we see the world the same way and want to change it for the better, together.

If you promise to avoid these red flags, we'll promise to give you way more than 6 seconds.

Read on for five examples of covering emails which successfully land jobs!

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