7 Job Application Rules from a Guy that Hired 300+ People in the Last Year

Over the last 12 months, I’ve hired over 300 people in an economy that has more job seekers than I’ve ever seen. But, over 95% of the applicants I hear from won’t even be considered for an open position because they fail to follow these simple rules:

1. Remember that they WANT you to be the perfect candidate

I actually dread posting ads for new positions because I know I’ll have to sort through all the applications. When I post an opening for a national position, I usually receive well over 1,000 applications. Local positions are usually over 100.

Each time I review an application or a resume, there’s a little glimmer of hope that begins to swell inside me that believes THIS applicant just might be the one, because if they are, the search is complete.

Believe me, hiring managers are on your side. They want you to be the right fit for their company, and you stand a great chance as long as you mind your manners and don’t screw up.

2. Follow instructions

I’ve learned to take some short cuts in the hiring process that help me eliminate unqualified people in one second or less. You see, if I spent just a minute with each application when I’ve received over 1,000, it’d take me over 2 days just to figure out who to consider.

I don’t have that much time.

I’ve developed a system that allows me to literally spend 1 second with each application and cut out over 70% of applicants.

Here’s how . . .

I place a simple instruction in the job listing and then see if applicants follow it.

The instruction is usually very simple . . . here are some examples:

  • Please include salary history
  • Please include cover letter
  • Please include at least three references
  • Please include your resume in .txt, .doc, or .pdf format

If the applicant follows the instruction, I’ll consider their resume. If they don’t, I delete them. Harsh, I know, but think about it . . . do I want to hire someone that doesn’t read and follow instructions? No. Do I want to hire people that do the job right? Yes.

If someone can’t or won’t follow instructions, they don’t belong at my company. Even with executives . . . I still want to see if they can follow simple instructions.

When an applicant follows instructions they’ve earned their way from a “glance” to a “skim.”

3. Make sure your resume indicates that you meet the requirements listed for the job

When someone has earned their way to a “skim” of their resume, they’ve gotten 15 more seconds of my time.

I now skim the contents of their resume to see if they match the requirements I placed in the job listing.

For example, I recently needed to hire several outbound call center agents for a telemarketing campaign.

The job listing, in addition to asking for an attached resume and salary history, included the following minimum requirements:

  • Previous call center experience (6 months minimum)
  • Previous sales experience

Once I finished trimming out the people that didn’t follow instructions, I skimmed the resumes – checking to see who met my minimum requirements.

Anyone who didn’t indicate they had at least 6 months of call center experience and that they’d previously sold something (no matter how insignificant) was immediately eliminated from consideration.

This simple step usually allows me to eliminate 50% or more of the people that passed the “follow instructions” test.

Now, of 1,000 applicants, I’ve gotten rid of 700 – 750 that couldn’t follow instructions and other 100 – 150 that didn’t demonstrate that they met the minimum requirements.

I’m now down to around 10 – 15% of the original applicants and I’ve used up about an hour and a half of time. I need a break.

4. Submit a well-formatted resume and a clear, intelligent, respectful cover letter

My favorite thing to eat during a break is a fudgesicle. Granted, I can’t have one every time I take a break, but they make me happy. In my family, we call them “happy bars.”

So, I come back from break . . . if I’ve had a happy bar, I’m in a good mood – which bodes well for the applicants I’ll be reviewing. If I haven’t, I come back and see that I’ve still got over 100 applications to consider.

That’s still way too many if I’m only going to hire one person. I’ve got to eliminate some more applicants.

Now I start looking more carefully at the information provided by the applicants – I check to see if the cover letter highlights the applicant’s strengths and addresses my company’s needs. Is it intelligently written? Does it seem generic, like it was sent to 100 other employers?

I look more carefully at the resume – is it well formatted? Has attention been paid to details? Does the language make the person seem successful? Are accomplishments highlighted?

My focus at this point isn’t on getting rid of people. Rather, I separate candidates into two groups – those that impress me in some way through their resume and cover letter, and those that don’t.

Usually, by this point, I’ve narrowed my search to around the top 1 – 5%. I never have more than 20 people in this group.

5. Respond quickly to contact from employers

The next thing I do in my hiring process is reach out through email to the applicants that impressed me.

I ask them a few additional questions that are specific to the position. I do this for a couple of reasons:

  • I want to engage in written communication with them so I can see how well they communicate. I usually hire communicators, so this is important to me.
  • I often need to ask additional questions to gather information that will help me consider them for the position.
  • I want to find out which applicants take communication with me and my company seriously.

Now, remember, I’ve already chopped out around 85% of applicants that didn’t follow instructions or meet my requirements. I’ve also set aside another group that didn’t impress me with their cover letter and resume.

At this point, I’m emailing 1 – 5% of the original applicants. So, if an applicant actually hears back from me, it means I think they’re a strong candidate for the position. If I email an applicant, I am seriously considering hiring them.

When I hire, I do so quickly. The timeline usually looks something like this:

  • Monday morning: Run ads and collect applications.
  • Thursday morning: Trim out people that didn’t follow directions, review resumes, and send out emails with additional questions.
  • Thursday afternoon and Friday: Review email responses as they come in. Each response that communicates effectively and provides acceptable answers to my questions is invited for a phone interview that will be held as soon as the same day and as late as the following Tuesday. Assuming that the phone interview goes well, I invite the person in for a face-to-face visit.

You would be amazed by the number of people who wait several days or even weeks before responding to my email.

People who wait more than a few days to send a reply end up completely missing the opportunity – even though I was seriously considering them for the position.

By the time I’ve gotten through the phone interviews a week after placing the ad, I’ve narrowed the candidates down to a handful of finalists.

6. Be on time for your interview

No exceptions. No excuses. Your punctuality tells me more than anything you could possibly say in the interview.

7. Send a thank-you note

It may sound old-fashioned, but sending a thank-you email after a job interview is an effective way to stand out from the crowd of people being considered for the job.

I’m not saying this is required to get a job. I hire plenty of people who don’t send me a thank-you note; however, it will earn you good will with any employer.

Remember that human resources professionals and hiring managers are people. Candidates that reach out and thank these stressed-out, overworked people, set themselves apart from the crowd.

When I receive a thank-you note from a candidate I’ve interviewed, it automatically raises my opinion of them by a notch or two. If their interview was only a B-plus or an A-minus, the note raises them to an A in my mind. The gesture tells me they’re pleasant and thoughtful – I like hiring pleasant, thoughtful people.

If the interview went terribly, a thank-you note probably won’t make a difference, but since you don’t really know how the interview was perceived by the employer, a simple note will never hurt.

And, let me emphasize that last part. A simple thank you note will never hurt. A long, drawn-out letter that makes the interviewer feel like you’re trying to butter them up so they give you a job might make you take a step backward; but, a simple note works wonders.

Something like this is sufficient:

Name of the interviewer,

Thank you for taking the time to visit with me today and for considering me for this position.

Our conversation strengthened my interest in working for your company.

Please let me know if I can provide any additional information to help in your hiring process.

Respectfully,

J. Candidate

If possible, you should send the thank-you note within an hour of finishing the interview. You don’t want it to arrive too soon, though. A note that arrives 2 minutes after the interview ends makes you seem over-eager. In my experience, a thank-you note that arrives 30 – 45 minutes later is most effective. You want the timing to say you’ve been thinking about the conversation and that you really are grateful for the interview.

Final words

It’s incredibly easy to stand out in today’s job-hungry economy. These simple rules will allow you to rise to the top of the resume pile. Follow them and you will almost certainly have more interviews. More interviews equals more opportunities and that’s you’re looking for.

Put your best foot forward, and don’t forget . . . they WANT you to be the perfect candidate.

{ 14 comments }

George

I stopped reading when you said you “required experience” for call center employees.

Now we know why you work in some shit business that uses telemarketing.

Steve

I have an issue with your “following instructions” piece. You ask for a salary history to see if people follow instructions? You aren’t getting one from me. Not up front and not on an application. I don’t ever give my salary history because it’s none of your business what I have been paid for other jobs. The only issue at hand is what are you willing to pay me for this job.

Jeremiah

@ Steve – When I ask for salary history, I do so because I want to know what their salary history is. It helps me see what level their career is at and whether or not I can afford to hire them. If, however, they don’t include their salary history, I pass them over.

blah

Save EVERYONE some time and tell people upfront the range of possible compensation for the job so you don’t get 90% of all those resumes you screen.

I hate job ads that don’t say compensation. SAVE EVERYONE THE TIME.

And salary history does NOT tell you what “level their career is at.” Most good employees don’t value salary that much. All sorts of studies prove it. The ones that do value it so highly would basically be the ones who would immediately jump ship when given a better salary.

You want more GOOD responses?:
Ask what range of salary they are looking for orand clearly state the range of compensation that you can give inthe job. You still can negotiate within that range.

Jeremiah

I agree that salary range should be listed in the job description and I always include it in my ads. There’s nothing worse than applying for a job where the employer tries to hold all the cards.

Bruno

It’s all about what they can get you for and not what you want to be paid. If you have a history of salaries in the 60-80K range, and you apply for a job that they may normally pay 110-120k, then expect to be lowballed.

Unless they ask for W-2′s from previous employers (which has never happened to me personally, but people in the sales world are sometimes expected to provide them to prove their sales record) there is really no way for them to prove it.

If someone asks, give “total compensation”, I.E. your salary plus 401(k) contribution, bonuses, value of benefits paid by the company, any educational reimbursements, etc… and let that be the starting point. If they insist on only knowing your base salary, then I would consider moving on and letting them know why you’re no longer interested.

Jeremiah

@ Bruno – That’s a good point, and some employers may approach it this way. I don’t disagree with your advice – it can certainly be effective, but I will say that it may price someone out of the allocated budget for an available position.

Mike

Personally, I would have discarded your job listing the moment I read, “please include salary history.”

Levey

Hello,
Great article. I read your sentiment as “Ability to display effective communications skills and courtesy” and “Ability to think quickly and roll with the circumstances”. Both skill sets are vital in a career which communicates to and with the client base and public.
Thank you for sharing,
Levey

Michelle

Good luck finding any self-respecting person to work for your company when you demand a “salary history” up-front; I wouldn’t touch any organisation which asked for this with a ten foot pole. This article helps to confirm my belief that HR “professionals” are one of the most worthless “resources” in any organisation.

David

Can you correct my assumption please? I always see job postings that have qualifications and requirements that seem far above and beyond what 95% of people applying will meet or exceed. How flexible is this? I was under the impression that this is their “perfect candidate” in every sense of the word, but employers will hire an applicant if they don’t meet all requirements.

Monique

i agree the way you sort and systematize processes in hiring people fitting for that position. This is a good article for those who want to consider jobs in an outbound call center.

Jeremiah

@ David – In my experience (which certainly may be different from yours), there is often a list of “minimum requirements” and “desired requirements.” In other cases, the hiring manager will use terms like “required” or “preferred.” In my case, I never use the word “required” unless it’s 100% required. There can certainly be cases where it makes sense to still submit even where you fall a little short, for example, if they require “5 years experience” and you have 4 years, it might be worth trying it, just don’t be crushed if you never hear back from them . . .

Jeremiah

@ Levey – Thanks for your kind words. You’ve echoed my sentiment appropriately.

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