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In 2013 this post really shouldn’t have to be written. Sadly, it does. Not two, but three hiring managers recently confided that they’ve received resumes from job applicants with serious spelling errors. Not cover letters, but resumes. Yikes!
If you aren’t a strong speller, get to know spell check in your favorite word processing program. Even if you are a strong speller and winner of elementary spelling bees, use spell check. Then walk away for at least an hour and read it backwards from the last word to the first. Are any words wrong? Did spell check change a word to one you didn’t want? Have an English major or copy editor friend read your resume and make sure they don’t see anything wrong.
Do the same for your cover letter and any email correspondence that you send with your cover letter and resume as attachments. Nothing turns a hiring manager off quite like misspelling the company name, your alma mater, or your own name.
Full disclosure: As an eager, new graduate, I didn’t follow this advice. I hurried cover letters out the door and erred on the side of quantity over quality. When I received the email response below, I stopped that practice cold and never looked back.
“One caution: I’m a sticker for punctuation and language usage. Hey, I already told you I was a dinosaur, and maybe there aren’t many of us left. But I’d suggest you take a very careful look at your intro letter. And/or, have a really anal English major look it over. It couldn’t hurt. And it might just be the grain of sand that weighs the scale in favor of hiring you over someone else. One fact: If I wasn’t also a Mizzou grad, I wouldn’t have bothered to respond.”
After I got over the initial embarrassment, I took his advice and not only reread my letter, but had a copy editor review it. I kept in touch with this agency owner and while he never had an opening at the same time I was looking, his advice has always been spot on.
Before Pinterest, to create a bulletin board, you had to cut out magazine articles and photos. I used to stuff these clippings into folders and when recently cleaning out a closet came across a job search folder from 2007. In it was the above gem.
While the original article in the November issue of Self Magazine by Janene Mascarella translated five of the most common corporatese into plain language was directed at interviewing, you can use the same tips and suggestions in your cover letter. Keep the job description in hand when you write the letter and underline key phrases and repeat them (if applicable). Then if you do score an interview, get out the job description again and review it once more.
In case you can’t read the scan, the details are below. Italics are additions to the original reporting.
- Meticulously detail-oriented means “you always follow through and not just follow up,” says David Nour, a consultant in Atlanta. Think: putting ideas into action after a meeting. Prove you’re it by asking about the company’s challenges in the interview, explain how you’ll meet them.
This is still really good advice. By asking about the challenges and providing solutions or at least how you’ll work within those challenges means your interviewer will be picturing you in the company.
- A team player means you care less about personal glory than about seeing the company succeed. If someone is slacking, you’ll forgo blaming and offer to help. Prove you’re it by including a collaborative project in your portfolio and specify how you contributed to it.
You can also explain how you work with different personalities and contribute to the team environment in your current or past positions.
- Strong analytical ability means you can glean valuable insights from raw data and use them for the company’s gain by, say, seizing on a trend before the competition. Prove you’re it by describing a work situation in which you brilliantly solved a thorny problem or blazed a new trail.
It’s finally cool (at least in most circles) to be good at math and analytics (thanks social media!), don’t be afraid to show how you created a spreadsheet that displayed a trend or gave you the proper insights to make a decision. You don’t have to be working on a budget to use numbers.
- A dynamic go-getter means you’re high in stamina (but nit hyper), motivated and focused. You will channel your energy to the work hustling to get it done. Prove you’re it by underscoring your drive by describing how your responsibilities have grown with each position held.
Don’t be afraid to say you look at deadlines like a challenge and always strive to meet expectations. Explain how you find work arounds for the inevitable road blocks that come up in projects. You can also give examples of how you work well independently or with minimal supervision.
- Superior interpersonal skills means you’re ubertrustworthy and intuitive. Understanding a client’s needs and collaborating to meet them come naturally to you. Prove you’re it by showing stellar people smarts on the interview by asking at least two sincere questions.
You can start with the challenges question from the first tip. You can also reiterate how you’ve worked on sensitive (without divulging too much information) projects or with a large team. This is rally code for minimal drama. The company wants to hire someone who won’t make interpersonal waves and will strive to get along with every one.
What do you think? Are these tips still relevant?
A recent Facebook post by a Mizzou colleague, Joy Mayer, discussed the perfect interview question.
She wrote: “On a reference call for a former colleague, the hiring editor just asked me, ‘What will I need to do to keep her happy and fulfilled in her work?’ Man, that’s an excellent question. One all hiring editors who like retaining staff should be asking.
In addition to hiring managers, this is a question all job applicants should be able to answer for themselves. What makes you happy to get up and go to your job every day? Your answer should not include things like free lunches, unlimited soda and generous vacation time, but instead focus on the day-to-day interactions and things that make working worth it.
Once you’ve answered the question for yourself, make sure your references know your answer. This can be a great opportunity for a conversation with a former boss or colleague to see if what you think you want matches up with what the reference thinks makes you happiest.
Additionally, this gives you a chance to underscore what will keep you at the company or organization for an extended period of time. Plus, if your reference can find a way to work the same information into a conversation with your potential employer every one involved has clear, realistic expectations.
Not all potential employers are going to ask this question directly, so it’s often up to you to find a way to appropriately convey this information.
As the editor reportedly replied to Joy, “it’s hard to keep good people, but he does his best to try.” Which is an important quality in a boss.