Getting a Job in a Recession

So, I’ve made no secret that I’ve headed in a different direction recently, starting up my own actual “thing” and enjoying every second of it. It has enabled me to slow down and enjoy my client work even more. As the new venture has a physical presence, we need staff, and over the last month have gone through the pleasures and pains of recruiting.

Well, that’s something you’re not usually exposed to in the web world as a freelancer. It’s been quite a roller coaster. At the time of writing this, there’s been over 100 job applications. As much as the volume of entrants surprised me, I was more surprised by the quality of the applications, and not in a good way. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some tremendous applicants, but the more applications flooded in, the angrier I got.

I was very fair on the job application, I don’t need an endless CV, I’m more interested in whether you can do the job beautifully and have a lovely personality to go with it. I also stated that both written and verbal English skills were of the utmost importance. You’d think that would be a clue, right? Wrong.

Here’s the list of things I’d personally say, to watch out for when applying for any job, because I’ve been on the flip side of that piece of paper now and can tell you the frustrating mistakes I’ve seen over and over.

1) If your job is public facing, whether that be via email or telephone, your new potential boss is going to be looking at your grammar and writing skills. Not just looking, scrutinising. At the very least, keep that spell checker close at hand.

2) If the application asks you “why do you want to work at *workplace*” they’re not looking necessarily for your personal reasons for getting out of your current job that you hate – which is what most applicants wrote about. Instead, look into the company, concept or model and find something about what they can offer you that appeals to you.

3) Don’t copy and paste answers from the internet. Especially don’t leave “best answer chosen by asker was:” in the application form (that actually happened). Your tone of voice never matches what you copy and paste and can be seen a mile off. You’ve just made yourself look silly.

4) Only list relevant qualifications. You wouldn’t believe the qualifications I’ve read through only to wonder how on earth they are relevant to the job at hand. One applicant even listed all their dance trophies. Keep it on topic.

5) Be careful about having an open Facebook profile. Before the applications started flooding, I was looking up every single applicant on Facebook to see what other information I could glean. One person who stated in their form they were “proficient on a Mac” had written, not 10 hours prior, that she was “so bad with technology (she) could barely turn on her iPad.” not exactly a confidence booster.

6) Don’t jump questions. The application form I put together was fairly short. There were questions on there that could, theoretically be jumped. They especially wanted to jump the “salary expectation” question for some reason. I then made it a “required” field so that it couldn’t be jumped and yep, you guessed it – the amount of application forms that then came back with a single character in there or just jumble to get them past submission, was quite absurd. If it’s in the application form, it’s there for a reason – don’t jump it.

7) Inject personality. There was a question that read “If you are called to interview, are there any special provisions we need to make for you?” – the amount of people who took this as an invitation to inject some personality, was quite funny. On the better applications it almost became a ‘given’ that something funny would await. Another applicant listed that the best thing about her previous employer was “they had nice cake on a Friday.” – sometimes a small giggle is exactly what the reviewer needs and makes you stand out from a large crowd.

8) Read everything properly. Twice if necessary. I placed an advert on a third-party job board, this advert read, in the first paragraph, “please don’t submit applications here via email – only applications submitted via our electronic form will be considered” – what happened? 8/10 applications came through via email, with a typical CV and cover letter. If you can’t read and follow instructions, it doesn’t give me much confidence as a potential employer.

9) Research the company or concept. It only takes a few minutes. We no longer have to trapse to the library and get out a book, it’s at your fingertips. The amount of people who wrote things that were completely incorrect was bizarre. One person stating that she wanted to work at the new business because “(we) already had stores in America” of which, we have none. A little research will never do you any harm and certainly will get you through the paper sift.

So, nothing groundbreaking at all and what would seem to many, outwardly, as common sense, but with so many people out of work, I wanted to be transparent as to why certain applications got turned down. Most of the time, it was because they fell into one of the above traps. Traps that are easily avoidable.

  • Dan L

    I haven’t had MUCH exposure to this but the few resumes I’ve reviewed have had similar things. Spelling and grammar mistakes, TOO MANY acronyms (development jobs) and my personal favorite. Attention to detail listed TWICE on the resume. *palmtoface*

  • Hey Sarah,

    Just interested to know your opinion; since your head’s around jobs n all. How would you go about “head hunting” someone as talented as your self? …and would you head hunt, or are “fresh minds” more deliciously preferable? 🙂

  • I’d be interested how many of that 100 or so weren’t rejected because of those things. Did you still have lots of good candidates to choose from?

    • Sarah

      We’re interviewing 40 in total, that’s split between reception staff and stylists. So still a good number, but when over half of the applications cannot be taken further, I feel that’s when there’s a point of education to be had. Thus, this blog post.

  • GT

    The only thing I think I take issue with this post is about the humour aspect. It seems a little unfair to expect someone to be funny about getting a job when presumably they’re going to rely on this for income.

    Certainly when you’ve had time to get to know your boss you might want to crack jokes but doing so on your application really sounds like you’re playing with fire to me.

    It would be very easy to wind up sounding glib or as if you’re not serious about getting the job and ruling someone out because they didn’t know about your hidden criterion sounds deeply unfair. If someone genuinely has special provisions (say they’re diabetic and don’t want to be offered tea with sugar in) isn’t that what the segment would be for?

    • Sarah

      That’s entirely what that section was for GT, or – to ensure we had disabled access should we need it. Some candidates just used the space to write something whimsical, which was actually a light-hearted and welcome break from some of the applications.

      You’re right though, it’s a very very fine edge. Maybe I should just say, inject personality rather than try and be funny. Good point.

  • Pingback: design for the web » Blog Archive » preparing for working on the web()

  • I’ve had the sad misfortune to plough through literally thousands of CVs over the years. Generally for tech / admin positions. Trends are quite easily spotted.

    For example, I found it very noticeable that for positions which attract younger applicants, they appeared to be acting upon generally poor quality guidance from schools, colleges and careers advisers. It is then compounded by the extent to which this sub-standard coaching falls on deaf ears. Sadly, your experience doesn’t really surprise me half as much as it depresses me.

    Thankfully I am now ancient and my days of a thrusting and dynamic career are long gone – which means I have no need to recruit in the standard manner for my current business. I like it that way.

  • I totally don’t get this. Almost every single thing on this list seems like a no-brainer to me and the only time I’d expect someone to maybe mess it up is if they’re 19 and applying for their first job (and even then I thought high schools usually taught a lot of basic job application skills).

    I used to do the hiring for a big box store and we got a lot of dud applications, but I assumed it was because they were young people applying for entry-level minimum wage jobs & it’s only to be expected. But if you’re interviewing professionals? Sigh!

    Also re inject personality rather than try and be funny… totally. I think a lot of the time when people applying for jobs try to be funny they just come across as annoyingly cocky.

  • Dan

    It’s hard finding good staff, no matter what industry it is.

    I’d kill for a web developer who can follow simple instructions.

  • Rachel

    I know this is an old topic now and I hope you found lovely people for your positions, but I wanted to make a comment about jumping questions.

    If were answering your job ad and saw that I could skip the ‘salary expectation’ question (as you first set it up) I would have too.

    To me, this sounds like a similar question to businesses that wonder why customers start the process of a purchase but drop off before completing it. Perhaps people were deliberately missing that question for a reason, and forcing them to answer it isn’t the best solution. I’m sure as a UI designer you’ve come across these questions before!

    From my point of view, I would feel uncomfortable answering any question on salary before an interview without any indication from the employer what their own expectations were. Neither do I like giving quotes to clients before they brief me on a freelance job for the same reason. What if I state higher than you expect/the job warrants and you reject my application out of hand when in reality I’d be interested in negotiating? What if I state lower and get the job, but for less than I could have gotten for the same quality of work?

    I think it’s best to keep salary negotiation until the end, when both parties know more about each other and whether they want to work together. Before then, it’s just shooting in the dark and an uncomfortable situation for a prospective employee who may not feel they have equal power for negotiation at that stage.

  • Antoine Becaglia

    If you had that level of frustration to recruit for Blush Bar, I can assure you it would have been very similar for any other industries: I recruited for beauty therapists and SEO people for the last 10 years…I am still amazed applicants cannot put together a relevant CV and appalled by the level of grammar/vocabulary in the CVs and cover letter received.