I am currently in the process of trying to backfill a position in my office that is open due to a promotion. I dutifully posted the opportunity on the University career site, had the opportunity picked up by some agencies and mega job engines like Indeed.com, and received a healthy number of applicants. In the span of ten days, I received 60+ applicants for the role.
While sixty applications is not an overwhelming level of interest (same role in 2010 generated 125 applications), I have put into place two items to improve the applicant pool; the first weeds out those who are not serious about the role and the second filters those who have applied.
The first tool I implemented is requiring the applicant to respond to three open-ended questions. Since implementing the open ended question portion of the application, the applicant pool for this role (posted in Summer 2012 and now in Winter 2012) has been smaller but of a much better quality. Asking individuals to write three responses to open-ended questions discourages those candidates who want to expend no effort while submitting their resume to every job posting on the web.
The second item, which acts as a candidate filter, is the quality of responses I receive on the open ended questions and in the cover letter – in short, a candidate’s writing skills (or lack thereof) acts as a filtering mechanism. For example, consider the following responses I have received to an open ended question:
“Please detail an experience that best demonstrates your customer service skills.:
- While working at (name withheld) University, I provided front line customer service to all the departments as I answered questions any one had.
- I have worked in customer service positions 1992 to present.
- Go above and beyond finding the root of customers problems.
It is easy for me to read these responses (yes, these were the entirety of three answers submitted) and pass on interviewing these candidates. If the individual is not going to put forth any real effort in detailing an experience, I am only left to assume he/she will put forth the same effort in the work place.
Lastly, I like to read the cover letter as it usually helps me trim the candidate pool even further. For an administrative role at the Career Center at Notre Dame, I received letters that included:
- I respectfully submit my application for the Academic Advisor role with the University of Indianapolis.
- You will not find a better qualified person than me for the Events Coordinator position…
- I know I can be an asset to your organization. I look forward to making a contribution to your company. My skills are a perfect match for the opportunity *
*Last example was three sentences that were pulled from a cover letter that never mentioned the position name, Notre Dame, or Career Center. It was so generic, the letter could have been meant for any job.
You may have heard that writing is a lost art, for many job seekers it is a lost art. I do not claim to be an expert on Strunk and White, but tailoring a letter to address a specific job and fully answering a question is not too much to ask. One should not be too disappointed to receive the “No Thank You” letter when putting forth the type of effort demonstrated above.
So before you decide to apply to a role, be sure you have communicated why you would be a strong fit for the exact position with the specific company. Having solid writing skills does help one get noticed, as does poor writing skills.