We’ve all made mistakes, done things we’ve regretted, sent in job applications we didn’t proofread. I’m not here to judge. I want you to get that job!
But here’s the cold, hard truth: The content in your cover letter, resume, and online profiles make your first impression. A relatively minor mistake could knock you out of the running.
Clean resumes are just table stakes. Want to take your job application game to the next level? Use these tips to make a stellar first impression and land that in-person interview.
(I wrote these tips for my writing, editing, and communications friends, but plenty of them still apply if that doesn’t describe you.)
11 Content Job Application Pitfalls
- Perform some quality control. It’s easy to overlook mistakes when you’ve spent a long time looking at your own work. Have someone read your application before you hit send. If you can’t do this, read it out loud to yourself.
- Dashes, hyphens, and more! Use em dashes, en dashes, and hyphens appropriately. Double-check dates and make sure Microsoft Word hasn’t gotten creative with your punctuation. This is the No. 1 offender on job applications I’ve seen.
- In style? Or out of touch? Make a date with your AP Stylebook. Pay attention to serial commas, pluralizing (1980s, not 1980’s) and numerals (one vs. 1) for consistency. Bonus points for matching any style mentioned in the job posting.
- Keep it consistent. However you treat one text element, make sure you repeat it throughout. Are there periods after each bullet? Keep them that way. The same goes for bolding, italics, font sizes, etc.
- Think symmetrically. Okay, this one is more for extra credit, but keep the structure of your job descriptions the same throughout. The grammar-nerd term for this is parallelism. This applies to verb tense, sentence structure, use of fragments versus full sentences, etc.
- Check for dirty laundry. Google your name with your location and previous titles, and make sure you’re comfortable with the results. Scour your writing samples to make sure there’s nothing in them that could upset an employer. Millennial tip: The Internet is forever, so be mindful when taking assignments or starting blogs.
- Put social in the spotlight. Are your online profiles up-to-date, fully fleshed out, and ready for prime time? Not having them is not an option, and neither is filling them with photos of you and your bros playing beer pong. (This includes Facebook.)
- Do a digital QC. While you’re cleaning up your social media profiles, give them the same scrutiny regarding grammar and punctuation that you give your resume. Errors on a profile may not be deal breakers, but a lack of them can work in your favor.
- Make it look pretty. Find a design-savvy friend who will put your resume in a neatly designed format. Just don’t expect it for free — offer to pay, or, at the very least, trade a favor.
- Prep your clips. If you don’t have a writing portfolio easily accessible on the web, it’s time you got one. If you tell me that you can’t email me writing samples because you only have hard copies, I worry you’re trying to hide something.
- Just follow directions. Don’t cut corners. If the job posting says to include a cover letter, resume, and writing samples, then do exactly that.
It’s a tough world out there, so consider this a dose of tough love. What may not seem like a big deal to you may keep you from getting the job of your dreams. Make sure it doesn’t!
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