How Not to Get a Job

We’re hiring again at Jampole Communications, and for the first time in a few years it’s because the business is growing past the resources of the existing staff.

Growth is good, but I think I’m not the only businessperson who has more fears approaching the hiring process than when involved in any other aspect of managing an organization, large or small.

Job applicants don’t make it any easier. Perusing through resumes and interviewing candidates makes me more aware than usual that the overwhelming majority of job candidates shoot themselves in the foot and don’t even know it.

I wrote in 2002 for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the many mistakes jobseekers make are a problem for them, but an even bigger problem for employers, especially at small businesses.

Virtually all my fellow employers tell me that hiring is the hardest thing they have to do. It’s made harder by the numerous missteps that most job applicants take.

In the interests of making life a little easier for the many people seeking jobs in the current tight marketplace as well as for the businesses doing the hiring, I want to present a few tips on applying for a job. What I have to say applies specifically to seekers of professional positions, but it should help other job applicants as well.

Make sure your application is error-free. About half of all cover letters and resumes we receive have grammatical, syntactical or spelling errors. If there is one mistake only and we like what we see on the resume, we will sometimes contact the applicant and ask that he or she find the error and resubmit. If there is more than one mistake, the resume goes into the trash bin.

Follow all directions. When a prospective employer asks you to provide something or do something, if you want the job, you had better follow the directions (assuming it’s legal and ethical).

For example, one time we placed a classified ad for a public relations writer, in which we asked that applicants send resumes and writing samples. We received 150 responses, but only 20 of them had writing samples enclosed. The other 130 went right into the trash bin.

Keep it relevant. While I may personally be intrigued by the job applicant who writes poetry or paints abstract images on guitar cases, it isn’t really relevant to the job we have to do every day.

Deciding what is relevant often involves a judgment call.

For example, participation in extracurricular activities and holding summer jobs are relevant when a job applicant has just graduated from college. They are no longer relevant five years later. But getting a full academic scholarship covering room and board for four years (as my son did! says the proud dad) or winning a Fulbright Fellowship—these kind of academic achievements are probably relevant until the end of your career.

No time for more right now, but next time I really should also write something about frequent interview mistakes that are killers.

They’re Still Doing It!

They’re still doing it!  Corporations are still saying no comment, or worse yet, not being available for comment.  I just did a Google news search for both “no comment” and “not available for comment” and found pages of recent examples of both. 

  • No-commenters included the TNA Wrestling Association, the German Economic Ministry, New York Police Union, New York Racing Authority and Hicks Sports Group, among many others.
  • Those unavailable for comment included Whirlpool, a Michigan school district, several Indian ministries, the South Korean government and the head of the Minneapolis Labor Federation, among many others

Those people should just stop not talking.  Not talking to the news media today is a bad business move.  Whenever a reporter calls an organization, that organization has a golden opportunity to enhance its reputation and say something it wants to say to people to whom it wants to say it.

And when the news is bad, the news media are giving the organization the means to defend itself or give its point of view.  The news media are likely going to report the bad news no matter what.  In most cases it will be in the organization’s best interest to tell its side of the story.

Even if you can’t give a comment because the subject is confidential or related to a lawsuit, you can at least tell why you can’t comment.  When you say “no comment,” the organization comes off as secretive.  But when you say why you can’t comment, you evoke empathy, because most people intuitively understand that sometimes constraints exist.  They just want to know what the constraints are.

Sometimes the news media will call with what they think is bad news, but which really isn’t.  By responding with accurate information, the organization can persuade the reporter not to cover a story or to see that it’s really a positive development.

Often when the news media call, the news is good, or neutral — a reporter may need an expert to comment on a news event, for example.  If it’s good news, the organization can enhance its reputation, using the story as a platform to present the good news and to make some basic messages about its mission and objectives.  And there is no organization that will not benefit from one of its staff being proclaimed an expert by the news media.

In short, there is never a reason not to respond to the news media when they call, as long as the organization treads carefully.  It is all too easy to turn a golden opportunity for positive media coverage into a disaster.