Adventures in Recruiting: Three Ways Failing to Pay Attention Can Cost You an Interview

As I near the end of another recruiting period (which means we’ll hopefully be moving on to more frequent writing- and work-from-home posts soon, yay!), I’ve been whittling my way through a stack of last-minute resumes. Today, we’ll be focusing on a few common mistakes that can cost you an interview. All three share the same characteristic: The applicant has failed to pay attention to information that is front and center.

Incorrect company name 

In journalism school, misspelling or misstating the name of a source or location can earn you a failing grade on the assignment. I’ll cop to the possibility of a slight bias on this point, to the extent that I tend to overcompensate by cutting applicants a little slack when I see this mistake. Nevertheless, getting the business name wrong when you’re applying to work here leaves an instantly negative impression. It doesn’t mark you as a person who pays attention to detail, or one who cares much about getting the job. You’d better be extremely qualified if you want me to overlook it. We both know you’re looking directly at the posting while putting your application together, and if you aren’t, you certainly should be.

An applicant who made this error earlier in the week still got the interview call, based on general qualifications and a courtesy referral. However, this person will be in a weakened position coming in and will have to work hard on countering the poor first impression in order to earn a shot at an offer.

Generic greeting 

I’m not particularly worried about applicants who use politely vague phrasing such as “to whom it may concern” or “dear hiring manager” in a cover letter, if they haven’t yet learned to whom their materials should be addressed. Yesterday, however, I replied to an applicant who had submitted an unusually styled resume (the first page was spent entirely on courses of study and certification, the second gave previous employers but no work history details). I asked for responses to about half a dozen job-specific questions, and, naturally, I signed off with my name and title. About 20 minutes later, I received a clearly copied-and-pasted form response, mismatched fonts and all, greeting me as, yup, “to whom it may concern.”

Now, it’s OK if you’ve made a reasonable effort to check but don’t happen to know the human resources staffer’s or the hiring manager’s names on first contact. It is, however, completely ridiculous for you to skip using the correct individual’s name and title when that information has been offered and, considering the entire conversation has been occurring within the same e-mail thread, is obviously sitting right in front of you.

Evasive responses 

Attempting to BS your way into a job you aren’t qualified for is a gigantic waste of everybody’s time. If you don’t know what you’re doing and need to be trained, but think you have the ability to learn the job at hand, say so. We’re going to find out sooner or later, and things tend to end better when you haven’t been caught lying to the recruiter. A lot of applicants don’t actually lie; they’ll just ignore the questions they don’t like and blurt out something irrelevant that they think we’ll want to hear. Stop it. If I’ve given you a direct question, I expect a direct answer that makes sense. Don’t give me a bunch of hogwash about how you’re always as prepared as a Boy Scout when I’ve asked whether you’re capable of turning on a chainsaw, and I won’t annoy you with inane interrogations about what kind of tree you might wish to be. Deal? Deal.

In job hunting situations, details matter. Use the correct names for the company and any staff members who respond to your application. Make sure your application packet is complete and that you’ve been responding to all of the company’s questions promptly and accurately. Don’t leave any openings for the hiring team to debate whether your sloppiness during the application process might translate into more sloppiness on the job.

Have you made one of these job-hunting mistakes? How did things turn out?