Saturday, January 26, 2013

Your Resume and Job Cover Letter, does it leave a good impression?

When I worked at one of my former employers, which I’ll call ESPA (standing for Employment Service Provider A)  whenever the marketing team sourced an employer vacancy that we were unable to fill quickly from within our large caseload of approximately one thousand registered unemployed jobseekers, rather than lose the new or pre-existing employer relationship to another employment service provider who may have a suitable client on their caseloads – for which there were many providers in the area with the same contract as our own – my former employer, ESPA, did what none of the other providers did. They still attempted to fill these vacancies even though they may not receive any payment.

Now, for anyone unfamiliar with how employment services works, the provider earns money from the government in a number of ways: pre-placement servicing of clients, placing clients into employment either brokered or un-brokered, and follow on payments when the client successfully reaches two key retention milestones if the client works at or above required participation levels.

In other words, providers receive commission for training and assistance provided throughout the clients participation in the service program, and then rewards the provider for placement and post placement conditions and milestones being met.

Chances were ESPA reasoned: if there was a suitable client that was not on our caseload then there was a perfectly reasonable chance that a suitable candidate was sitting on one of the other providers’ caseloads.

So, rather than turn the employer or vacancy away, or worse, let one of our competitors snap up our hard-won employer so they could fill the vacancy and claim the fees, ESPA adopted the unique practice (well, I think it is unique seeing as none of the other companies I have since worked for have done the same practice) of still attempting to fill the employer vacancy – despite no guarantee of any payment for doing so – with externally sourced applicants.

Don’t be fooled into thinking, wow, what a caring company.  ESPA were still business all the way. They didn’t do any of this coming from their heart, they remainder purely dollar driven.

ESPA advertised the vacancy on the free government job board, with the purpose of soliciting interested unemployed candidates registered with other agencies; who could potentially be enticed to transfer to our services rather than stay with our competitors under the lure of near guaranteed employment. With this job carrot dangling in front of many long-term unemployed people desperate to get off welfare payments and end their employment service attendance, only a signature on a transfer form was all that was needed to entice many into sealing the win-win-win for ESPA’s stats, the employer and the client. It also inadvertently made ESPA look fantastic in the eyes of the governing department, when our stats demonstrated how quickly we were able to place some of our clients!

To give you an indication of how successful ESPA was, we had one large office fax machine dedicated solely to the task of receiving faxed applications for each of the ten to fifteen sourced vacancies per week we couldn’t immediately fill.

My role in ESPA was as frontline receptionist and amongst many other things one of my (minor) tasks entailed removing the never-not-printing machine of the two- to three- hundred applications that were pumped out each day to match the applications to the vacancies. On the application end date, I was required to hand to my Site Manager ‘absolutely no more than three resumes and accompanying cover letters for each vacancy’.

Yes, you read that right. No more than three names (and documents) for each vacancy. Only one, if I could effect it.

When my manager first told me this would be one of my duties, I admit, in my nervousness to make a good impression I nearly had a panic attack!

How could I, with no previous experience in this industry, possibly sift through so many job applications to come up with only three or less applications to hand to her?  Was this lady nuts? Did she have any idea how hard it would be to filter two- to three- hundred applications down by this much? I mean, I knew she was a very busy person and all, and didn’t have time to waste on going through the applications her own self, but, this was excessive. Was she so far out of reach in her management job that she had no idea the difficulties she was dumping upon me on my very first day?

She must have had an inkling of what was going through my mind, because she patted me on the shoulder with a smirk on her face, and before she left me to it, told me she had full confidence that I would get it right: “You are a smart woman.  You had an unusually good resume, I’m sure you will have no trouble culling the piles down to hand me only the ones worth me taking a look at. You already know what a good one looks like.”

To tell you the truth, bolstered by her vote of confidence and the state of the very first cover letter, I suddenly realised just how unproblematic this task would be for me, after all. My Manager was right. I would have no trouble with the culling process.  Not while I mimicked an Acquisition Editor culling a Slush pile.  Jobseekers, the applications coming through, like amateur writers with their manuscripts, made this task absolutely cinch easy-peasy. 

Now, I had long been interested in becoming a published author one day, even if I didn’t have any completed works to submit.  Over the course of my informal study I had learned about Slush Piles, and Acquisition Editors who discarded and rejected significantly more manuscripts as unsuitable after reading merely the first chapter, because they could tell so much more about the manuscript and writer from this little slice of reading enough to know far more than what was on the page.

The same became true in my resume sifting duties: I immediately became a sort of Vacancy Acquisitions Editor, only my slush pile wasn’t novel manuscripts, it was resumes with cover letters.

For each position, I quickly looked up to determine what the basic needs of the employer were, and then I scanned each of the cover letters accompanying resumes underneath.  Almost all of applications that I pulled from the catch tray I immediately determine ‘I wouldn’t hire this person’ and so I heartlessly tossed the application and resume immediately into the Secure Disposal bin positioned next to the bulky laser fax-printer – without even flipping past the cover sheet (in most cases) to look at the resume, and without guilt, because I was too busy in this very demanding role to stop to think about two to three hundred people sitting at home hoping that their phone will ring sometime within the next week after having sent that fax off.

But mostly I didn’t feel any guilt because of one simple fact: the applicant had already failed to make a good impression. It was not my job to make a good impression. My job was to decide which applications made the first round cut and which ones didn’t, and hand only the best applications to my manager for her to assess their merits at the next level.  And if those applications had failed to impress me, they would most definitely have failed to impress my hard-to-please Manager. 

I didn’t need to come up with reasons to justify my placing resumes in the rejection bin, the jobseekers themselves bombarded me with every reason imaginable for me to easily just make the decision to reject it.

All I wanted to know, in my bottom of the hiring process role, was ‘does this applicant have a forklift licence, and does he have any experience’ for the Forklift Driver vacancy I was culling for, or perhaps ‘has she worked with MYOB’ for a bookkeeping one.  I didn’t have time to shift through reams of terrible handwriting, or read about how candidates saw our ad and think they will be interested in working for the company (which by the way, we didn’t identify within our listing, so was just cliché phrases being bandied about).

I wanted to know – and too many applications didn’t tell me – what the applicant’s name was, did the person have any experience as a forklift driver, did they already possess the required licence, and was the person available to start when our employer wanted them to start.

When our employer told us ‘they must be available to work weekends’ we listed this in our position vacant listing. So, why dear applicants, would you write within your cover letters ‘I’m looking for day work only’ and thus ensure your elimination from consideration at such an early round?  Did you even read the ad?

The trouble is, now that I am three and half years or so experienced in this industry since that early position, that too many jobseekers only care about their own needs and wants, and go looking for employers who will give them what they want.  But employers only care about their own needs and wants, and if the candidates currently submitting applications aren’t prepared to meet these essential and desirable requirements, then they will just keep looking until they find someone who will.  And the jobseeker remains on the caseload building up resentment that no employer will give them a fair chance.

Sorry, but reality check: you did have a fair chance.  A position that you were interested in came up and you blew it because you fail to see past your own needs and wants; you failed because you weren’t flexible and therefore made a bad impression, so you were (rightfully) dropped out at this early stage of the culling process.

I got very excited whenever I was able to hand my Manager even one or two applications to review for any of the vacancies.  My manager never questioned ‘why’ on the regular occasions when I didn’t hand her any applications for some very popular vacancies. Actually, she praised me.  I soon learned that we would just run the listing on the job board for another week, and get another batch of applications to keep the fax-printer being the highest working member of our medium sized team for me to play acquisition editor of the job searching world.

My time at ESPA taught me that every step of the job application process is about making a good impression.  It also taught me that too many people are completely clueless to how to achieve this though.

In upcoming posts, I will discuss how you can get the edge over pretty much 99% of the competition by continuously leaving a good impression at every stage of the hiring process. And. how if you get something wrong in the application process the mistake generally causes someone like me to drop you, heartlessly, out of contention.

Do your applications make a good impression?

No comments:

Post a Comment