Tolerance and Mediocrity: Clash at the Office

I’m hiring for an admin job at my office right now. Given the job market, I guessed I’d get between 100-150 resumes, 50 of which would be useful/worth following up on and do 10 interviews. (For perspective, the last time I interviewed for this role, about 2 years ago, we received maybe 50 resumes and interviewed five candidates.) So far, I’m a little off (it will be much more like 200 resumes and 75 to follow up on) but not desperately so.

Now, I’m a basically nice person. I admit that I am a little obsessively detail-oriented, but my feeling is that when I’m hiring is one of the few times I can honestly expect to see people trying to impress me. I’m not expecting a lot from the (specifically requested) cover letter, but when did ‘Hi Lisa, I saw your ad and I’d like to apply. Sincerely, Jane’ become acceptable? (Especially when the ad says I’m looking for exceptional verbal and written communication skills.)

Let me tell you a secret — there are a couple of tests to pass and when I have 100 resumes to sort though on my holiday weekend, believe me, you won’t get a response other than ‘no’ if you fail them. What are they?

First: Write your cover letter to me, the person posting the ad. When they are addresses to ‘dear hiring manager’ or ‘to whom it may concern’ or (my personal favorite) ‘Dear Sir’ I know two things about you: you are too lazy to personalize your cover letter and you don’t pay attention to details. Oh, and by me, I do not mean that its OK to call me Lisa (Dear Lisa:). You haven’t met me, and responding to an advertisement — at least in the non-sex industry environments — is not the equivalent of an introduction.

Second: When you respond, make sure you include the items I specifically requested: a cover letter, a resume, and your salary expectations. I know that all the ‘wisdom’ says to not get specific about your expectations when applying for a job. I don’t care. I’ve asked you what you expect and I will toss your resume if I don’t find out before I go to make my first round cuts. I don’t like playing games, and if you are expecting to make $65,000/year as my administrative assistant I need to not bother wasting our time. (Don’t roll your eyes, I have one candidate who was the EA to a fortune 500 executive and that was what she made there. She will not get a generic ‘no’ but a fuller explanation.)

Getting those two things right will get you into my maybe pile — even before I look at your resume.

A few hints about resumes:

1. If you have an ‘objective’ line (which I personally despise and loathe) make sure its relevant to the job you are applying for. You get credit for saying “an administrative assistant at <name of company>” or even “administrative assistant in a growth-oriented company”. You neither gain nor lose by saying “a job in <industry>” or “a job in a growth-oriented company.” You lose, however, when you forget to change it, and I’m reading about how you want to be in business marketing, or advertising, or work in a spa.

2. Spell check, proofread, and get your grammar correct. Your cover letter and resume are the only indications I have as to your communication ability. Passive verbs and nonsense statements don’t cut it.

3. Really, really, REALLY think about how your resume looks. Paper resumes are nearly obsolete. When I get a word.doc and open it to see that you a) used an office 2003 template (how do I know? because it opened a macro on my screen, which is obnoxious and distracting) and b) have an unusual sense of data placement, I have to wonder whether you’ll be a good fit. If you don’t have any experience, then listing your school accomplishments and volunteer experience is perfectly acceptable — but don’t expected to be hired for a high-level or high-paying job. If I can’t tell *what* experience you’ve had, then your resume is a waste of OUR time.

(As a side note: I notice a lot of people are leaving their personal information off of their resumes — just leaving email addresses and phone numbers. I think this is interesting and I’m not sure whether I like it or not. I suppose in the world of email, applying for a job and getting rejected/invited for an interview/hired electronically is perfectly normal.)

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