Saturday, 26 October 2013

3 Application Mistakes Job Seekers MUST Avoid

In my role as Employment Consultant and again as private resume writer and professional typist/word processor, I have seen a lot of, and had to fix up a vast number of, resumes.

Mistake One - Poor Presentation
In my experience, it is rarer to see a good quality and presented resume - which really stands out in a crowd when you receive one - than it is to see poor quality and presented ones. So in today's post, I am going to discuss what I have identified as being the number one reason behind a terrible resume: not knowing how to use word processing features, so winging it 'the best you can'.

Time and time again, as I have commenced clients into servicing, I have seen that the biggest mistake a non-computer user can make is to word process their resume for their own self when they have no clue how to use the word processing program (whether that be Microsoft Word, Open office or equivalent), and as such the person resorts to trying to replicate what is in their mind to that of mimicking using a typewriter to achieve the final product, e.g., pressing the space bar repeatedly instead of using the tab key, manually doing things when there is a feature that could do it for you - that sort of thing. What these people ultimately get are resumes that are poorly aligned, inconsistent in style, and more often than not just plain ugly to look at.

Mistake Two - Unwittingly demonstrating lack of skills to employers
Job seekers (except the truly ignorant ones) instinctively know that their resume isn't presenting them in the best possible light, so the alternate for these people is to use formulaic templates instead - to gain better presentation. But templates aren't the answer. Hiring managers hate templates just as much as they hate resumes that are self-made without having any computer knowledge.

In the case of the self-made without having any computer knowledge, the candidate may not know it, but they are announcing their lack of computer skills to the hiring manager when they send this type of resume off. The person creating the resume may be proud they managed to create the resume - even to the point of denial in seeing what is wrong with it, but hiring managers have seen a lot of resumes; they can gain a lot more information about the candidate than just the words laid down in black on white.

So what is this candidate telling the potential employer? The main thing is that they couldn't be bothered getting the help of a third party or professional - in order to save costs, they would prefer to send out a badly formatted and presented resume than spend the money to put their best skills, experiences and attitudes forward to potential employers. Another thing is that they are demonstrating that they don't value learning - these days people use computers, technology and gadgetry in the workplace all the time; as an employer, I want people who have taken the time to formally and informally educate themselves since leaving school, why would I want to hire someone who is 'standing still' or ''has moved backwards' in life?

I can't afford to get the help of a professional I hear a lot of people protest.  And that is true for a lot of job seekers; but the key point to learn here is that if you don't have the skills to do the job required, then you need to find someone who does.  This could be a friend who knows how to type and is better at spelling than yourself.  This could be engaging the services of a typist/word processor to type up your document for you, or, if you have no clue as to what to put in your resume, working with a professional resume writer to create one for you.

I don't have a computer! other people protest. My answer to that is: so what?  There are libraries with free computers, there are courses you could take that enable you to keep your skills current and in line with the workforce.

Mistake Three - Misunderstanding "Make your Resume stand out in a crowd"
If you visit any career advice or resume writing service, you will find that these experts will advise and encourage you to have a resume that 'stands out' from the pack.  Unfortunately, and this is the second biggest mistake I see job seekers make, people often mistake 'standing out' to mean 'do something gimmicky' to get yourself noticed.  I've seen advise that job seekers should use coloured resumes, attached coffee or tea sachets to their application (so the hiring manager can sit back and peruse your resume while they drink their freebie morning tea).  But these types of moves are misguided - they don't make you stand out in the right way; only demonstrating your relevant skills, experiences, knowledge, qualifications, licensing, and attributes that match the position on offer will have you stand out from the crowd.

A Small Story
To examine this point, let me re-tell the story that I once shared on one of my other blogs.  A number of years ago, when I was returning to the paid workforce as an employee rather than self-employed, I accepted an entry-level job in the employment services industry because this is an industry that requires a lot of industry-specific knowledge before you can advance to higher levels, and the way to get in is by doing a stint in the receptionist/junior case manager role.

On my first day, my manager briefly explained that one of my (minor) duties, apart from answering the phones and directing clients to their appointments and activities, was to stock the two large printer/fax machines with paper and to empty the trays on a regular basis of the applications that were faxed in so the machine didn't jam. One printer was purely to receive vacancy applications, the other handled the staff printing and faxing requirements. Both machines worked very hard each day. Our company had 'Sales Reps' who went out and met with employers and gained exclusivity to advertise and assist fill their vacancy.  Most of the time when a vacancy was sourced, we were able to fill it almost immediately with a client on our caseload; but there were occasions when we were unable to fill positions, so we advertised and went through the candidates because those candidates were probably sitting on one of our competitors caseloads, and only a signed transfer form was needed for us to help that client into a suitable job, satisfy the employer and earn us the income the government paid our company for delivering services and achieving results.

My manager explained that at any given time, out of the forty to fifty job vacancies that we were trying to fill, only about ten to fifteen were advertised externally - it was always better to fill the vacancies with a client on our caseload if it could be done. So my job was to sort through all the incoming applications and for each position, at the end of the week, only to hand her no more than three applications.

I was horrified at first.  How could I cull approximately 200 - 500 applications per vacancy down to just three candidates per vacancy?  I had resume writing experience, but I had never worked as the hiring manager.  I felt a huge burden of responsibility had been placed upon me for which I was not ready!  My manager sort of knew what I was thinking and reassured me that I wouldn't find the task nearly as difficult as I imagined... and it didn't take me long to work out she was right.

The criteria she gave me was simple: she only wanted to see the resumes of the best candidates.  I was to bin the rest.  Put myself into the employers shoes.  If they wanted a forklift driver, what qualities would the employer be looking for?

Umm, let's see.  The first thing they would want to know is 'Does the person have a forklift licence?'  that's required for all forklift drivers.  The second thing they would want to know is "Do they have experience doing this type of work?'  And the third thing they would be wanting to know is 'Are they available to do the morning shift starting at 5 a.m.?'

So, here I was, answering phones and counter enquiries, and whenever I got a spare chance, race away from my desk to ensure both industrial printer/fax machines were topped with paper, and to empty the in-trays to distribute the contents to the appropriate pigeon-hole.  I didn't have time to go through the applications until Friday - our quietest day because half the staff were on their day off and those working could catch up on their admin.

I had to hand my manager the resumes by lunch time. Most weeks, I never took her any resumes to look over.  Why?  Because culling the applications down was so much easier than I thought it would be. I actually had applications that did not include the person's name anywhere on the application - not their cover letter (if they bothered to write one) nor their resume.  Yes, you read that right.  Some people sent out applications and forgot to include details of who they are!  It would be a waste of my time and my manager's if I handed those applications to her - so I binned them straightaway, without hesitation or remorse.

Then I had applications where the person included their name, but not their contact details - what a waste of effort applying, don't you think!  Yes, these got binned immediately too; is the person clueless, or are they not serious about wanting the job? (Either way, bad impression).

And then there were the applications where the person didn't know how to use a computer, so they did a fax cover sheet with only the words 'resume attached' - no Dear Hiring Manager or anything to tell the hiring manager a little about themselves to entice them to review their resume.

Now most employers want staff who are at least up to date within a modern workplace, or have the smarts to learn quickly, so even though each of the forklift drivers who submitted their resume probably had the licence and experience to be considered for the job, these essential details just weren't immediately obvious within their resume - it took too much hard work and time (which I didn't have) to try to work it out, so their applications were binned immediately.

A couple of tips
So, my first tip to help you gain work is to make sure you always keep learning. Computers are everywhere these days, if you don't know how to use one - learn!

My second tip is if you don't possess the skills and experience to send out quality applications, then along with tip Number 1 (learn), then seek assistance from someone who does possess the skills and experience to help you create a quality application.  This person doesn't have to be someone you pay; they can be a family member, friend or colleague - so long as that person has the computer skills and experience to create a professional looking document.  Too many job seekers turn to people who are just as clueless as their own self. If you don't have someone skilled to help you out, you need to spend money and hire someone.

My third tip is to recognise, value and present your relevant skills and experiences within your resume.  I have been utterly dumbfounded at times that people applying for say a forklift driving role do not make mention anywhere within their resume or cover letter that they possess a forklift driver's licence and or have any experience.  Remember, employers don't know anything about you, they can only make guesses; you need to provide them with all relevant information that will help them guess that you might be worth considering further for the job - enough to invite you to an interview.

Happy Job Searching!

Char Mesan