Thursday, October 21, 2010

Checklist for Job Applications

Speed and anxiety are the enemies of accuracy in any job application. I hear from people all the time who have applied very quickly for a job, only to find a typo or incorrect grammatical phrase in their cover letter, transmittal e-mail and even their resumes. "What can I do?" they want to know.

Unfortunately, there is no good solution in these cases. A first impression is almost impossible to change, and recruiters get a negative first impression from any error in your initial application. I've suggested both leaving it alone if it's not a huge error, and sending a corrected version that says "I inadvertently sent an earlier draft." Neither has been effective, based on the fact that the person didn't get an interview - even when they knew someone at the place. (BTW, if anyone has other suggestions that have worked, please let me know!)

The goal is to send documents that are proof-read, corrected, and read well - the first time. I suggest three steps:

1) slow down
2) ask for help
3) follow a checklist

Slowing down is essential. People make mistakes when they are so focused on getting an application by a certain time. The goal becomes getting it delivered, instead of on delivering something terrific. Quality needs to come first! So take a few extra minutes to read through your letter. To proofread your letter or e-mail, read it backwards. You'll catch more typos that way.

Even better - ask someone else to look through your materials. Why someone else? Other eyes will usually catch more errors than you will. They are reading with fresh eyes. When we've worked with material for a long time, our eyes and brain can fool us into thinking something is spelled or written correctly because we meant to say it that way. An outsider reads it as it actually is written, instead of how we assume it is.

And finally, use a checklist. My checklist includes the following:


1) Ask people in my desired field to review my resume, to make sure it makes a good case for my ability to do the job I am seeking. Also check to make sure my resume includes some keywords from the job posting, so it will stand out in the pile.

2) Run spell check and grammar check over my resume.

3) Ask one or two people to read the resume ONLY for typos or grammatical errors.


1) Do a simple grid to make sure I build a case for why I can do the job, based on my past experience. Write down every responsibility in the job posting on the left side of the paper, and on the right side, describe how I've done each of those responsibilities. Have a couple of examples that could be the basis for stories I'll use in the interview.

2) Use the grid as the basis for crafting a cover letter tailored to the specific job and company. Give one or two examples in the cover letter, to make the connection for the reader, and to make myself more human.

3) Make sure you answer all the questions in the posting (e.g. for compensation range, salary history or references).

4) Personalize the letter to the extent possible. Use the contact person's name if you have it. Name the position and company at least once and preferably twice in the letter (in the beginning and at the end).

5) Include your telephone and e-mail contact information in the body of the letter near the end of the letter.

6) Ask a friend to review the cover letter to see if it makes a compelling case, and rewrite based on those comments.

7) Run spell check and grammar check on the cover letter.

8) Ask one or two people to review the cover letter ONLY for typos and grammatical errors.


1) Decide the purpose of the e-mail. Is it to transmit the resume? Is it a request for or thank you for an informational interview? Draft the e-mail to fulfill that purpose.

2) Personalize the e-mail - use the person's name. Mention the position or company or purpose for the e-mail.

3) Send it as a draft to a friend FIRST to check for typos, grammatical errors and whether it makes sense.

4) Check it once again when you think it's ready to go.

5) Make sure you have attached anything you intend to attach, such as your resume and cover letter.

6) Check the attachment to make sure it's the right attachment. If it's not, attach the right one and delete the bad attachment.

7) Hit send.