17 January 2010

LinkedIn & Other Failures

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

Let me be bold: we are hiring. How’s that for an opening declaration amidst a sometimes gloomy, recession-bound America?

Yet we plan only to hire the best, most qualified people. This statement, ordinarily unnecessary, is apparently demanded by the present circumstances, particularly the weak comprehension of the job application process amongst those currently seeking employment. Here is a brief catalog of some recent failures by applicants:
  • A consistent mis-attribution of my gender. “Dear Ms. Freudenheim” is not offensive, merely wrong. Among applicants who bothered to use such a formal salutation, 95% missed this one. Oops. To be clear: the issue is not my taking offense, but rather that it indicates you have not spent much time with the firm’s website or my bio.

  • In our casual day and age, many people skipped a formal salutation altogether, going with a simple “Dear Hiring Manager.” Well, fine … but not really.

  • Many applicants noted talents with social networking systems like Facebook and Twitter: it was rather faddishly mentioned in many cover letters, in addition to being listed as a “skill” on resumes. This is like saying you know how to use a fax machine. Time to point out the obvious: these systems are tools, means to conveying a message but not capable of developing the message itself. From a communications perspective, if there is a skill here, it will be in knowing what to say and when. (Back in 2003, I noted some other fake “skills” people listed.)

  • If you want to address your “core skills”—whatever they are—it is better if you emphasize those that are most relevant to a particular job. Recent applicants have highlighted skills as a LAN administrator, an ad buyer, an “M&A” specialist, and a certified mortician (yes, really). Of those four, only one is even close to relevant.

  • Words like “proven” or phrases “demonstrated success” are instant red flags. We want people who know what it means to be successful, but the applicants who toss these words around usually aren’t. One applicant—with not a single full-time job experience to her credit—noted that she is “comfortable in a leadership role.” Listen up: if you're just a few years out of college, have accomplished a few internships and your first full-time job, then writing of a “proven track record” (or some such nonsense) is a signal ... and not a good one.

In all of this, however, I want to vent some particular frustration at LinkedIn.com. If you’re not familiar with it, LinkedIn describes itself as “an interconnected network of experienced professionals from around the world, representing 170 industries and 200 countries. You can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.” For more information about the site and its goals, you can also read this recent feature piece from The Wall Street Journal.

In an effort to broaden the pool of candidates from which we typically draw, we posted our job listing to LinkedIn, along with our other, regular sources. The job listing at LinkedIn makes clear that we are looking for people whose background and skills combines both communications (public relations) and the arts. This is not a whimsical combination drawn up for the amusement of job seekersit is essential to our business, which is communications in the arts.

Yet a paltry 5% of applicants managed to mention both sets of qualifications in their cover letters; an even smaller 2% have resumes that actually reflect this combination of work experiences. Why are the other 98% wasting their time and mine? A friend suggested that I should be happy: this self-winnowing pool of candidates makes it easier to focus on the relevant folks. That’s truebut it would be nice to have a broader pool of relevant folks on whom to lavish some attention and possibly to hire!

For any job listings site, including LinkedIn’s own, the software is only as good as the humans who develop it. So here’s an idea: let employers put in a list of keywordskept hidden from job-seekerswithout some combination of which applications will not be forwarded. This process could be weighted, so that two words in a cover note might count as one word listed in someone’s resume, reflecting a ranking of interest versus experience. This would screen out the people who use the ease of push-button application processes to dump resumes on employers who will never hire them (like the paralegals or accountants who have no skills or interests that match our needs), and prioritize the “account executive’ who mentions the arts over the one who does not. Applicants might learn something too: if not every application is even accepted for review, they might have to start paying closer attention to the jobs in which they are interested.

Sadly, most of what I have written here is not new: see previous postings from 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2002. It isn’t as if I have made a secret of the failures of past applicants, in order to aid future ones. To little effect, it seems.


15 February 2009

Covering Cover Letters

Today's New York Times' Business Section has a good "Career Couch" column the value of cover letters.

Regular readers (do I have such a thing?) know that I have a real hang-up about the many absurd faux-pas that job seekers make, including mistakes in handling cover letters. I highly recommend this Times' column to anyone searching for a job.

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