The Little Mistakes That Aren’t So Little – Advice For Jobseeking Graduates

I’ll start by saying I’ve been on both sides of this fence. I’ve worn the shoe on both feet, if you will. In 2010, I was a fresh graduate, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, throwing myself into job applications, just waiting for my first chance. I wrote about it, and everything: evidence.

Almost a year after graduating, I was given that first chance, albeit after several crushing months doing temporary and contract work. I started working as a Junior Content Writer at an international online healthcare company in London. Fast forward three years and a bit and I am now Content Manager for the company. In the interim years I’ve done my fair share of recruiting. Being that we’re a relatively small company, I take care of the entire process from start to finish. This means I write the ad, I read all the applications, I select and then interview the candidates and I, ultimately, make the final decision.

I’m sympathetic to fresh graduates, because I remember what it was like. How frustrating it can be when you don’t have the experience the employer thinks they want, but know you have the potential, the skills and the enthusiasm to be just who they need. How exactly to put that across, how to strike the right balance between hopeful and desperate, enthusiastic and frightening, is damn hard. I know that.

So I like to think I read incoming CVs from such grads with good faith and a fair amount of generosity. I forgive the occasional ill-judged exclamation mark or oh-so-quirky turn of phrase. I get it. You’re trying to make yourself stand out. I even forgive teh occasional typo (see what I did there? LOLZ, etc), because hey, everyone makes mistakes.

But the harsh fact of the matter is I am just one person. A human person, with 200+ applications for a role I need to fill (yes, really. 200+). Sometimes I’ll be in a bad mood. Sometimes I’ll be in a GREAT mood. But whatever mood I’m in, the fact is I’m trying to get through your application as fast as possible.

Here is the truth: I read your covering letter and CV looking for the thing that will make me say NO. And then discard your application. (Or, in my case, move the email into what is essentially my rejects folder. Sorry.)

Harsh? Yes. But honest. It’s a total myth that employers look through CVs waiting for the EURKEA! moment. We’re not. I usually make it to three typos (in the entire application) before I reach my NO! point, for example. Alternatively, a brilliant cover letter which details the candidate’s suitability for an entirely different role will also get a resounding NO. Fact is, superstar, no one cares if you’re brilliant. Not really. They only care that you’ll be brilliant TO THEM. IN THEIR COMPANY. DOING THEIR JOB.

If I get through your application without a NO!, you’ll go into the Pile of Potentials, which I then revisit after a couple of days to choose my interviewees.

Job-hunting can be a stressful, thankless task. There’s nothing quite as crushing as applying for 75 jobs and hearing nothing back. It’s all too easy to become a little sloppy. To stop caring about tailoring your CVs and reading the job description thoroughly before crafting your cover letter. Mistakes crop in and go unnoticed. Just little mistakes, right? Well, not always.

Here are some examples of the kind of things that get a NO!

1)  I’m a brilliant editor. Just brilliant. I am proving it to you with this poorly edited covering letter that I clearly have not read over more than once. Please hire me. 

Yeah. Sorry, chaps. It’s one thing to not be great at editing – this is entirely forgivable, even in writing/creative roles. It’s a skill like any other, and one I’m more than willing to work on with new hires. But in this case, the mistake you’ve made is telling me you think you’re good at it while simultaneously proving that you’re not. A little self-awareness goes a long way. A lack of it is costly.

2) I’m quirky. Oh, so quirky. I’ll come and quirk up your office with my quirky ways. Maybe I’ll even play my mandolin for you in the sun. Please hire me, sensei.  

Quirky candidates are like nice guys. If you need to say you are one, you’re not. Trust that your personality will come through in your writing – that is what covering letters are for. Do not, for the love of God, put things like your favourite song on your CV. You’ll think, this will make me stand out because no one else will do it! And you’re right. But there is a REASON no one else does it.

3) I really want to work for your company. I’ve heard such great things about your company. Please read these 5 detailed paragraphs about why I’ll be such an asset to your company. Please hire me, hiring person.

Look. It doesn’t matter how long you spent perfecting the perfect cover letter if you are too lazy to even copy-paste the ACTUAL NAME of the company you are applying to into the letter. Always – ALWAYS – put the name of the company you’re applying to somewhere in the letter. The best thing is to say SPECIFICALLY WHY you want to work for that company. You will be AMAZED how many people don’t do this. THIS is the kind of thing that will make you stand out in a good way.

4) My experiance:

NO. Some mistakes are forgivable. Some are not.

5) I write mellifluous prose.

NO. (Really, no. Also, cool it with the adverbs. No one in the world is voraciously hungry for a career in marketing.)

I’m almost at 1,000 words so I’ll leave it at 5 for now. I’ll do a follow-up if anyone wants more. (Because, unfortunately, I have many more.)

If you’re a jobseeking grad and anything in this post made you nervous, feel free to hit me up for advice/tips/reassurance. And finally? GOOD LUCK. This will be your year.


7 thoughts on “The Little Mistakes That Aren’t So Little – Advice For Jobseeking Graduates

  1. I’m graduating this year and I just wrote a cover letter to an application for a publishing company. I’m hoping I did not make these mistakes, but now I’m nervous!!! Thanks for the advice!

    • One that is written from scratch for the specific job! (You can *always* tell!) It shows a level of interest in the position that makes a lot of difference. Stock cover letters are fine to a point, but remember that the employer will likely receive hundreds of them! Even a simple statement like “I was excited to see an opening at [company] because…” can make a big difference. Good luck!

  2. Are cover letters something recruiters still want to look at? Maybe, for a job in writing. But I feel like many want to see other things, such as projects related to the job in addition to the resume. So when they say cover letter as optional. Is it really optional in your opinion?

    • I can’t really think of a situation where adding a covering letter would hurt your application, but it’s true that they are less useful in some industries than others. If they say the cover letter is optional, I would keep it brief and polite; just say why you’re applying and why you think you’d be a good fit. Two short paragraphs will do – nothing that looks off-putting on the page. Any application will need a covering letter of sorts, even if it’s just a line saying “Please see attached my CV.” So it can only be a good thing to make it a good line, right? 🙂

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