I recently posted an available position for an important writing-intensive job at Hunch. The detailed job description asks candidates to send their resume, a brief email stating why they are interested, and their Hunch username.
I’m fortunate that the posting has generated a tremendous response from many qualified, articulate, and enthusiastic applicants. That’s a privilege for any hiring manager.
As might be expected, I have also received scores of submissions from candidates who made such a poor first impression that they would never be considered. I thought it might be useful to highlight some of the key differences in these two groups.
Side note: if you’re reading this and are among the candidates interested in a position I’ve posted, congratulations: you have already done more research than 80% of your peers competing against you. Good for you.
Here are some of the things which the strongest candidates do in their cover letters:
Express enthusiasm, with rationale. Examples: “This appeals to me, because I’ve done x and y throughout my career.” or “You want somebody to do x, which I consider my true passion.”
Call our company by name and give specifics. Show that you’ve done 30 seconds of research. Example: “I noticed that Hunch recently did x, y, or z.”
Reference specifics from the job description and add to them. “I can not only help you with the x and y you’re looking for, but also with z.”
Be humble. It’s better for your experience and background to speak for themselves rather than for you to thump your chest in every sentence.
Highlight interesting things in the cover letter that are not in your resume. Don’t just reiterate your resume’s entire list of bullet points.
Feel free to instill a bit of humor in a sentence or two. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Focus on the results you achieved rather than just the activities you did or the responsibilities assigned to you.
Keep it to about 3-4 paragraphs, max.
Among the most egregious deal killers that I’ve seen from candidates:
Forwarding a resume with no cover letter. This gets an immediate ‘delete’.
Sending a form email and calling us “your company”, as in: “I’m sure that I could become a valuable member of your company.” You might as well send no cover letter.
Grammatical/spelling errors and run-on sentences. It’s a writing-intensive position, remember? Among common errors: “I could definitely compliment your team”, “This job really peaked my interest”, and 50 word sentences that leave me scratching my head.
Don’t go overboard highlighting the fact that you consider yourself a hard worker, a team player, or a dependable employee. These are laudable traits but something which top tier companies will assume of strong candidates. The proof will come out during interviews, subsequent discussions, and reference checks. Instead, use the valuable space in your cover letter to talk about the things that make you truly unique.
I’ve had half a dozen candidates send me a cover letter which references another company or another individual. This just shows general carelessness and an inattention to detail.
Never call yourself a ‘guru’. Probably don’t even call yourself an expert. Instead, you can reference your “deep experience” or “passion and skill” and then point out the specific things you’ve accomplished in the field.
Don’t call yourself the ‘perfect candidate’. Probably 25% of the submissions I receive contain this verbiage. There’s no way for you to know who you’re up against, so instead, present yourself confidently and let the hiring company decide how well you are a fit for the position.
I had one generally qualified candidate close his email with a bible verse. This shows an extraordinary lack of professional judgment and an inability to separate (perfectly valid) personal beliefs from the neutrality of a professional workplace.
Don’t sell yourself short from the first sentence. I received one email whose entire contents consisted of: “I probably couldn’t do the x, y, and z portions of the job, but I’m pretty good at r and s.”
A sizable number of candidates exclude their graduation year from their college listing. This is confusing and calls into question whether all relevant work experience is included on the resume.
Overly long cover letters that lack focus and that are not tailored to the position that’s being offered.
Think hard about whether to include your GPA. In my opinion, the quality of a recent grad is usually a function of <quality of the school> + <optional gpa> + <relevant summer/intern experience> + <personal qualities>. If you are a recent grad from a less-selective school, that can be ok, but you’re probably not doing yourself any favor if you also list anything but a really stellar GPA or a “cum laude” designation.
It’s a tough job market out there, but there is plenty of room for strong people to shine. And I guarantee you that if you take the time to present yourself well starting with the initial cover letter, you really will separate yourself from everyone else from the very beginning. And that can make all the difference.
We ran some numbers at Hunch today and found that in a surprising upset, Cookie Monster is the most favored of 9 Sesame Street characters surveyed. Ernie is also favored 2:1 to Bert, which I hypothesized might have something to do with those old rumors and innuendos about Bert’s “private life“. But it turns out that’s not really the case: he’s actually liked a bit moreby the type of people who voted for Prop 8. The poor guy is just basically pretty unpopular in general.
Here’s the “Teach Hunch About You” question which more than 79,000 people answered:
We issued a new Hunch report today about the differences in personality + aesthetic & media choices among self-described “Mac People” and “PC People”. The executive summary:
Mac People are more likely to see the existing world in a light of “sameness” and thus express a need to be perceived as different and unique. This is consistently reflected in their aesthetic choices such as bold colors, “retro” designs, one-of-a-kind clothing and highly stylized art.
PC People are more likely to see the world as “different enough already” and appreciate “being in tune with those around them.” This is reflected in their more subtle, “mainstream modern” (neither retro nor extremely contemporary) design choices and their practical choices in clothing, footwear, and cars that favor getting the job done rather than making an overt design statement.
Media choices and preferences vary greatly between the two groups, with Mac People trending toward more independent films, specialized comedians and design-centric magazines, and PC People trending toward more mainstream alternatives as well as sports.
From a personality perspective, Mac People are more likely to describe themselves as “verbal”, “conceptual”, and “risk takers”, with PC People countering that they are “numbers oriented”, “factual” and “steady, hard workers”.
There are a lot of fun details and images in the full 13 page report, which is also available in a downloadable pdf version. And once again, we had an illustrator distill all this down to make the following 2 pictures roughly worth the report’s 3,000 words.
PC users are down-to-earth team players who enjoy sports, practical design, and mainstream media
Mac users trend towards retro design, bold colors, an appreciation for objects which express their individual identity, and "media with a message"
I published a report today based on Hunch data that examines how food preferences vary by political ideology. It has some findings that you’d probably find intuitive (conservatives favor homey, comfort food and meat-heavy options, while liberals trend towards more adventuresome and international cuisine). But it’s interesting to see hard data confirm these hypotheses.
I showed these to Paul and he said, “Wow, it’s like a nostalgic tour of our old artwork and unwanted furniture!” Sure enough, the Hunch office has 3pieces of Hiromi artwork that Paul and I bought years ago on eBay, 1 framed set of beer coasters that I collected while living in Berlin 20 years ago, and some kitchen cabinetry that we had to get out of the apartment when we redid the kitchen last year.
One of our prolific Hunch contributors created this handy topic about what to do about everybody’s favorite person on the other end of the phone: a telemarketer.
When I overtly express my irritation with telemarketers (or some other professions) I’m sometimes told by friends, “Aw, come on- it’s just some poor schmuck doing his job.”
I just don’t buy that rationale. A good telemarketer has a lot of skills: they’ve got to be persuasive, good communicators, and by definition- practically immune to taking rejection personally. Those kinds of sales skills are valuable professional assets and can be applied to an infinite number of professions in ways that actually help people rather than intrude on them. So to me their rude job is in most cases a conscious choice that merits the verbal wrath that’s often thrown upon them. Harumph.