Author Jenni Maier for The Muse
There are three ways that a hiring manager responds to job applications: “He looks amazing,” “She’s an obvious no,” and “Eh, maybe?”
While you definitely know if you fall into the first category (hello, interview!), you’re almost always stuck in the dark about which of the latter two buckets you fall into. After all, the form rejection letter never says, “…but for what it’s worth, you were so close. If our first-choice candidate didn’t work out, and our second-choice got arrested, we would’ve totally given you a chance.”
For the sake of you continuing to read this article, let’s assume you’re that “Eh, maybe?” candidate. Perhaps even a strong maybe candidate. How can you push yourself over the edge?
Here are five ways, inspired by all the people I almost asked to come in and meet with me about a position.
1. Double Check That All Your Application Materials Open
Here’s a fun fact: Every single time I’ve opened up a position at any company I’ve worked at, at least one person’s submitted a resume that won’t open.
Here’s a fun guess: The person who submitted that resume (or cover letter or writing sample) intended for it to be opened—and read.
More often than not, I’ll put this person in my “maybe” pile, to track down on LinkedIn at a later date. But, spoiler alert, that later date doesn’t usually come. Between being busy and being inundated with resumes that will open, the application gets lost in the mix.
The best way to avoid this happening is to send your resume to five friends. Ask them all to open it on their computers and their phones. If anyone has issues, you need to figure out what the problem is and resolve it.
2. Address Your Cover Letter to a Person Who Works at the Company
Your resume’s perfect, your cover letter answers all my questions, and your additional materials are everything I wanted (and more!). But the cover letter’s addressed to “Whom it May Concern” and in this day and age of internet stalking, that’s unacceptable. Somewhere on the World Wide Web is the name of a person who works in the department you’re applying to—and if you truly can’t find it, that’s a red flag for the company. (Seriously, why is no one on LinkedIn?)
But if it’s easy to find, then it’s a red flag for me. My initial thought is always, “If you won’t take the time to find my name, what else would you be too lazy to do if I hired you?” Take the time to track down a name—between LinkedIn and company team pages, it’s out there somewhere.
3. Follow All the Directions
Although many aspects of the job search process feel like they were custom-designed by Satan, they weren’t. All those tedious small steps that feel endless were put in place for a reason. Somewhere out there, a hiring manager requested that those instructions be included.
For example, I often times will ask candidates to submit links to two writing samples on a particular topic. And in return, I’ll get a link to a person’s portfolio. Portfolios are great (and you should have one!), but I asked for two writing samples because I wanted to see what work you’re most proud to share. And honestly, because I wanted to make my own life easier. By sending me your portfolio link, I’m stuck clicking through several more links to find the kind of writing sample I wanted to see.
Sometimes I have time to do this, but more often than not, I don’t. So take the time to read the instructions. Then read them again. Following them not only makes the hiring manager’s life easier (points for you!), but it also shows that you’re detail-oriented and good at following through on projects from beginning to end.
4. Make Sure Your Online Presence Makes You Look Fun—But Not Too Fun
True story: The first thing I do when I find a candidate I like is check to see if we have any mutual friends on Facebook. (And boy oh boy, is it crazy how interconnected we all are in this world!) The second thing I do is check out Twitter and Instagram.
I’m not the worst person alive, so I understand that people like to have fun. In fact, I want to work with people who have lives outside the office. But I’m also hesitant to call you in for an interview when a brief look at your social media profiles reveals that all you do is drink, party, slap on an Instagram filter, and repeat. So even though you’ve cleaned up your profiles and removed any outwardly offensive photos, you still might be giving off the wrong impression. Remember: This is my first and only impression of you are as a person (and not just as a job candidate).
So, within a few clicks, I’ve often gone from wanting to hire you to worrying if you’re going to be the person who walks in on Tuesday morning wearing sunglasses, asking all your co-workers if they have Advil.
5. Be Googleable
While you want to remove any public social media content that makes you look less-than-desirable, you also want to make sure that you have some kind of presence online. Anything, really. Nothing worries me more than looking up a prospective candidate and getting crickets from Google.
Forget an online portfolio (although, again, you should have one)—when there’s not even a LinkedIn page, I start to get nervous that I’m being catfished. Am I going to call you in for an interview, only to be murdered? If so, what a horrible way to go—I can’t think of anything more tragic than my eulogy starting with, “She was just looking for someone with a digital journalism background, maybe with a little Photoshop experience…”
So, before you apply for any more jobs, Google yourself. Make sure your LinkedIn shows up. If you have a common name (or worse, share a celebrity’s name), that’s even more of a reason to brand yourself on social media so that those links pop up, too.
And there you go! Five ways to move yourself from “Eh, maybe” to “I gotta get this person in here right away.”