How NOT to apply for a job

The publisher of this website tells how one freshly minted, just-out-of-school candidate did everything dead wrong.

Dear graduating student:

Think before you fire off those job applications for the first time.

It seems like an obvious tip, right? Well, apparently it’s not. Let me explain.

I recently posted an ad on an online jobs site for reporters and editors.

I give a detailed summary of the job and specific instructions for applying. On the top of my list I asked for a cover letter that goes beyond the words, “Attached please find.” Show me some voice, personality, style.

Within an hour I received an application with NO cover letter. The resume came from a young man with a graduate degree from a prestigious journalism school.

I replied to the young man, reminding him of my request for a cover letter. A few minutes later I get this reply, “which company are you again?”

Going against my instinct to move on, I informed him that he had applied for a position at PR Daily.

Moments later I received a two-paragraph reply about his passion for PR and his eagerness to land the job. Ok, this is worth pursuing, I thought. Let’s give him a shot.

I asked him to write a how-to story of his choosing and to focus on helpful advice about any aspect of social media. I provided tips on how to cast the story, research it on the Web, and pivot off breaking news. Finally, I promised to pay him for his story.

A half-hour later, I received this cryptic note: “I have decided not to go the next step in the application process.”


Now let me count the lessons:

1) Never, EVER spam employers with your application, even if job sites allow you this option. Know what companies you’ve approached. Make a list and be sure to include the email addresses of companies using a blind gmail account. I disclosed my company in the job description and gave an enormous amount of detail about the website and Ragan.

2) Do what you’re asked. If the employer wants a cover letter, send one.

3) If you decide against applying after you’ve begun the process, at least say why. Make up a reason if you have to. I know this young man’s name. I’ve reviewed his LinkedIn profile and Twitter feed. In today’s digital world, there is nowhere to hide.

4) If you say you’re eager for a job, act eager. Do what it takes to land the job. If the prospective employer asks that you write a story, don’t shrink from the task, even if it makes you nervous.

Finally, think before you make any move at all. Remember, what you do and say in today’s online world has the half-life of plutonium.

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