This is the first post in a two-part series giving advice on applying to work for us. This post concentrates on what not to do. There will be a follow-up post soon with details of positive ways to improve your application.
As usual, our summer internship advertisement has proven extremely popular, with almost 140 applicants for this year’s internships. We have noticed that some things that cause a raised eyebrow, to say the least, crop up rather frequently. It may be useful to bear these points in mind if you are planning to respond to future job adverts, whether ours or those of another company.
We routinely receive applications from well-qualified candidates that contain errors and omissions that are off-putting because they show a lack of attention to detail, a misunderstanding of what we are looking for in a candidate, or just general sloppiness.
Most of these mistakes are more common in applications for our internships, but they have occurred in other applications too and are red flags for us in any role. If you do the things listed below, to put it bluntly, you may not have much chance of being interviewed.
If you want us to invite you to interview, here are 15 simple ways you can avoid your application being dismissed out of hand. What follows is based on actual experience of applications received.
1. Don’t make spelling or grammar mistakes
Especially not in the very sentence where you tell us that you have good spelling and grammar. This happens more often than you might think!
All of the jobs we advertise will involve at least some copy-editing or proofreading, and we want to see native-level English, proper punctuation and strong attention to detail. You need to show that you can pay attention for at least the three or four paragraphs of a cover letter.
2. Don’t misspell your contact’s name, or fail to use it at all
No Dear Hiring Manager, Dear Sir/Madam, Dear Prepress Projects or To whom it may concern.
We always specify in our job listings the name of the person you should address your cover letter to. Use it.
3. Don’t misspell our company name or the title of the post you are applying for
Our company is called Prepress Projects (not Pre-Press Projects, PrePress Project, Prepress Publishing, Pre-Projects, Pre-Pass Projects, Press Projects or even Repress Projects, all of which have been invented by applicants). It’s at the top of every page of our website. How hard can it be?
Similarly with the title of the job you are applying for: not only should it be spelled correctly, it should be for a job we are actually advertising.
If you are repurposing a previous application letter, please be sure to update it to reflect the post you are applying for. We’ve had applications, for example, for the post of Conference Organiser, Personal Assistant and Public Relations Consultant despite never having advertised these jobs.
Getting the job title wrong does not give us confidence in your attention to detail.
4. Don’t apply for more than one vacancy at a time
If we are advertising for more than one role at a time, pick the one that you think you fit best and apply for that one. If you apply to them all, it makes us think you don’t care about the job.
Don’t worry, we will consider your application for the other roles on offer as well if we think it appropriate. In fact, because our needs can change, sometimes even while recruitment is in progress, you might find yourself being considered for a role we haven’t even advertised! This has happened.
Of course, if you have applied to work for us in the past and been unsuccessful, do feel free to apply again if another suitable vacancy comes up.
5. Don’t apply for the same vacancy more than once
We don’t want five near-identical applications from you. If your application has been successfully submitted, you should see a message telling you so immediately, and one of us will personally reply within a day or two.
If you’re not sure your application has been received, you realise you have made a mistake, or your circumstances have changed since you submitted your application, contact us separately and explain.
6. Don’t misspell your own name
Yes, really! We have had applicants who have spelled their name one way on their covering letter and quite another way on their CV. (One of them must be wrong.)
If you can’t spell your own name consistently, how can we have any confidence that you can spot inconsistencies in our clients’ documents?
7. Don’t tell us that you really like reading books
You want to work in publishing. Of course you like reading books. Everyone likes reading books – we certainly do.
Tell us something that makes you stand out from the other applicants – something that demonstrates your skill or work ethic.
8. Don’t tell us that you are passionate (about anything)
Too many applicants use the word passionate indiscriminately. Don’t be like them. Show, don’t tell: let your enthusiasm for the work you would be doing with us shine from your proven skill and dedication.
Similarly, be careful with expressions such as this is my dream job. If it really is, then impress us with your knowledge of what the job actually entails.
9. Don’t tell us about your unpublished novel
Actually, don’t tell us about your published novel either. Your experience of being an author of fiction, creative writing or poetry does not help in understanding our sort of publishing. (These are all worthy callings, but they just aren’t what we do.)
More generally, we will not be impressed if you clearly want to be a journalist or work with fiction, art or poetry and imagine that we work in these areas. We don’t.
If you can show solid experience and knowledge of technical writing (writing instructions, guides and manuals), copy-writing (writing to persuade) or rewriting (particularly improving the work of non-native English speakers), in any medium, then we will be more impressed.
10. Don’t tell us about things you did at primary school
That was a long time ago. What are you doing now?
11. Don’t tell us what your friends or relatives said about you
We are sure they like you and want to see you have a successful career. However, when recruiting we’re after solid evidence of your abilities, not opinions from your immediate circle.
12. Don’t add inspirational quotes
We don’t need to be inspired. We do need to know if you can do a job that we need done. And we want to know how well you can write your own cover letter.
13. Don’t tell jokes
You might think you’re making yourself stand out and be memorable, but in fact doing so may make you look like you are not taking the application seriously, especially when some jokes we have been sent aren’t even all that funny – and some could be classed as insensitive, or worse.
If you want to stand out and be memorable in a good way, impress us with your understanding and detailed insight of what is involved in doing the job you’re applying for.
14. Don’t send us a wall of text
Paragraph breaks make your letter easier to read. This is the sort of thing you should be picking up as an editor. Your cover letter should be representative of what you consider to be clear, correct and consistent use of English. Avoid verbosity.
If your cover letter is long, check that you aren’t including irrelevant information. (Irrelevant information is anything that does not clearly tell us why you would be a good employee for us.) But it is OK to send us a long cover letter if it’s well structured and all relevant.
15. Don’t apply if you live a long way away unless you have a plan for moving to the area if you are hired
Applying without thinking about or at least acknowledging the distance you would need to travel makes us think that you haven’t noticed where we are based. And if you genuinely haven’t, you’re wasting your time and ours.
Note that Perth is not really within easy commuting distance of Edinburgh or Glasgow, at any rate not in the long term. We have had good employees leave us because they couldn’t cope with commuting that distance.
So there you have it. Fifteen easy ways to ensure your application gets more than a moment’s cursory glance. If you can avoid all of these mistakes, you will be on your way to submitting a strong application.