Job hunting tips or, Why unemployment is so high

I've got a new theory, based on the responses I've received to my Craig's List posting for a software/hardware engineer: It's no wonder we're seeing an increase in unemployment, people seem to have no idea how to apply for a job these days.

Here are some of the things I've received to date in response to my posting (note: posting says attachments will not be read, application requires an essay, company consists of two people):

Of the more than 30 responses I've gotten so far, less than 1/3 have even followed the directions to apply. (Those that have though look really great and I'm looking forward to talking with them.) So here's my other theory: if you're currently looking for a job, you have a tremendous advantage over other people out there if you just do a few simple things:

Address your cover letter to the person who will read it

This is an easy one and should only require a bit of your time. Simply call the company and find out the name of the person who's responsible for handling applications for the position for which you're applying. Often the receptionist will be able to give you a name. It shows you've made a little effort and care about the job.

Write a cover letter

Writing a cover letter is the easiest way to distinguish yourself from another applicant. If you've got a standard letter you like to use, spend some time and enhance it for each application you're submitting so the person who's reading it can see, again, that you care about the position and have some knowledge and qualifications for it.

Quality is much more important than quantity

Rather than whip off thirty generic emails to any job listing that might be right for you, take the time to craft five quality responses for the five best listings you've found. Write those cover letters, address them to real people, triple-check your message before you send it (so you don't apply "for the UI position" or call a woman "Richard").

And most importantly,

Follow the directions to apply for a position

I know this sounds harsh but honestly, if you can't follow directions to apply for a job, what makes the hiring manager think you can follow directions if you get the job?

No matter what the job market, just following these simple guidelines should increase your chances of landing an interview, and distinguishing yourself within the applicant pool. Surely if this is something you plan to do for the next X months or years, it's worth taking the time to do it right.

And one more thing, once you do have that interview, don't forget to send a follow-up thank you letter. While these were traditionally done on paper, nowadays if you're applying for a technical position, I think you can get away with email. It doesn't have to be anything fancy: simply thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you, ask any follow-up questions you may have, and reiterate your qualifications for the position.

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