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Tips for applying to a job on Craigslist

The following article made it to Best of Craigslist, and for a while was at the top of Digg, and Del.icio.us. Some would say it was good advice, others disagreed, but it was important enough that the Microsoft Recruiting blog site used it as the basis for an article, and advised their applicants to pay heed! – I’m most proud of some of the comments I’ve received about it.

Dear prospective job hunters.

Thank you for taking the time to look at our site, and thank you for being interested in working with us.

Most applications I receive go straight to the deleted-items folder because of a few simple mistakes. I’m beginning to feel bad, so if you are going to make the effort to apply for a job here, or anywhere else, I’d like to offer you some advice.

To successfully interest me in hiring you, you need understand what we as business owners face on the other side of the fence. Hiring is the most important task I face, but it is also 76th on my list of a hundred other things to do today. When we put a posting on Craigslist, we usually get around 100 responses within 48 hours. They flood into my inbox, and I have to push them aside until I have time to give them the attention they deserve. In the meantime, I have phones ringing, deadlines to meet, problems with our systems, employees with questions, and much more to compete for the limited capacity of my brain.

But, don’t let this put you off. It doesn’t take much to distinguish yourself. Here’s how :

1. Your Cover Letter Must Answer Our Needs.

When I do get round to your email, I do not have time to look at every detail. I make quick and rapid decisions about whether I will call you or not. I don’t even get to most resumes because the cover letter is so drab. If you want to stand a chance at getting a response, you ABSOLUTLY MUST spend some time on this.

So, how should you write a cover letter? – Simple, read our post, and tell me quickly how you can meet the needs we have listed. Use examples wherever possible. Take a look at these two letters I received….

An excellent cover letter (5% are like this)

James,

OK, I admit. I saw your posting just now for the Product Marketing Manager for Outdoor Adventures and Experiences just now on Craigs List, and I’m salivating. so I can’t imagine a better adventure for a career than to market excitement and fun. Let me tell you 3 reasons you should consider me for this position :

  1. Strong Design Skills You’re ad said you were looking for someone who can design brochures and other marketing materials. I have 2 years of design, and am proficient in Adobe Illustrator and Pagemaker. I have created brochures for XYZ company, and ABC company, and have attached a PDF of my work. I’d be happy to show you my portfolio in an interview.
  2. Good communication and writing skills – In my former job, I regularly led meetings that involved dozens of people. Several times a year, I would speak for my company at industry events… sometimes to audiences of several hundred people. I know how to craft a good press release and have successfully managed to get several articles into print.
  3. I love experiences – I completely relate to your philosophy that life is about experiences. I love to travel, and have recently returned from 2 months in Peru where I helped feed orphan children in a small town. I’ve never been skydiving, but it is on my top ten list of things to do next year. Perhaps this is my opportunity.

ExperienceTHIS is a place where I know I can make a difference, and with my experience at conceiving plans and putting projects into motion, I’m sure I could impact you very quickly without spending too much time in the starting gate. I would love to meet with you in person to talk about how I can help take the adventure to a whole new level.

The run of the mill cover letter (95% of applicants must be copying from the same book!)

Dear Sir/Madam

Please accept this letter and resume for the Product Marketing Manager position as referenced on craigslist.com.

As a recent MBA graduate, I believe that I offer the skills that are crucial to this position. My background in public relations, as well as my formal education in business and marketing from the University of San Francisco will serve as a complement to your firm.

After doing some extensive research about experienceTHIS.us, I am sure that my work history and educational background will greatly benefit the future endeavors of your organization. (Did you really do extensive research on us??? – no evidence here, that’s for sure) My work history coupled with my education in business administration has provided me with an invaluable sense of communication and negotiation, as well as quantitative analytical skills. Blah Blah Blah

From both my professional and personal experiences, I have developed an enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, and disciplined work ethic. I possess the ability to work under pressure and rapidly adapt to changing work conditions. I excel in both individual and team driven environments. With this in mind, I am confident that my employment background, eagerness to learn, and genuine character will prove to be an asset to your company. Blah Blah Blah

I look forward to discussing employment opportunities with you in the near future. I am available for an interview at your earliest convenience. Thank you in advance for your consideration. Blah Blah Blah

Which one would you call back? – The second doesn’t even come close to responding to what we’re looking for. If you just regurgitate a form cover letter from some book you read, or the email you sent to the last company, I’m going to yawn and hit the delete key before I ever get to your resume. I feel bad doing it, but I just don’t have time for blah blah blah.

2. Don’t Blah Blah Blah.

Be super clear and concise. Use the same language to describe your your achievements to me, as you would to your grandmother.

For example…

“My work history coupled with my education in business administration has provided me with an invaluable sense of communication and negotiation, as well as quantitative analytical skills”

*yawn* – This means nothing to me. Compare it to this…

“I have only really had one job. It was at Larry’s Video Store near my college. We were losing customers to Netflix so I helped convince my boss to offer a subscription service to our customers. I made up a business model of our projected sales, and showed how this would improve our bottom line. My boss agreed, and tasked me with spreading the word. I designed flyers and put up posters around campus to promote our new service. Our subscription model was a success, and I’m sure my boss Larry would sing my praises for my business and marketing initiative.

Be clear, concise, and factual. Don’t use fluffy words. Describe yourself, who you are, and how exactly you can help. – If you can’t make a selling proposition for yourself, how on earth will you do it for me?

3. Don’t make the mistake of attaching your cover letter as a word document.

You’re writing me an email…. imagine me sitting at my desk with my inbox dinging every minute. Do you think I really want to fire up Word to see a formatted cover letter. No… just write your cover letter as you would any other email. That’s what email is for.

4. Respond with the title of the job advertisement in the subject heading.

Yes, it’s good to use some initiative in the subject line to grab my attention, but I sort my email based on subject, and if you’re not in the right subject, you’re going to get lost.

  • Bad : I love skydiving and work really hard
  • Good : Product Manager job
  • Best : Product Manager job (I love skydiving and work really hard)

5. Win me over by being open and honest.

I respect failure, and I look for potential. Yet, it seems to be common practice to BS on resumes nowadays. It’s ok to be proud of your accomplishments, but a little modesty makes you look human. I’d much rather meet with someone who admits they’ve failed, than someone who pretends they’ve always been successful.

“I successfully led a ten person team to generate sales of $200,000″

Yeah, ok… but I’d respect that person even more if they had the balls to write this :

In my last job, I had ten people working for me. It was stressful, and I didn’t have a clue about how to manage at the time. Two of my team resigned in the first month, and I found it difficult to motivate the other eight who were all older than me. We still met our quota, but I was let go. To be fair, I was in over my head at the time. I have since been to two leadership training seminars, and I can see now where I went wrong.

Which one would you rather talk to?

Must get back to work now, but I hope this has helped you out.

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23 Responses to Tips for applying to a job on Craigslist

  1. Franny says:

    Just like lots of people, I saw your advice on .best of Craigslist.. It was perfect, exactly what I.ve always wanted to say (NULL, I.m stealing and using some of your language in any future ads I place. It makes me NUTS to search through all those carefully bland resumes, looking for a spark of humanity.

    Thank you again, and happy adventuring.

    Franny —-
    Director of Training and Development
    Victory Packaging

  2. Nick says:

    Oh man, I really enjoyed your post on craigslist about what not to do when applying for a job. I couldn’t agree more, having just gone through the same thing trying to hire a software programmer.

    I just hope that none of the “95% people” actually takes your advice, because right now it’s so easy to weed them out.

    Nick

  3. Kenneth says:

    Mr. Dilworth,

    Thank you for your advice on Responding to Job Ads. When I read your two examples, I came to realize how much like the ‘bad exmple’ I am. I have not actually sent in any resumes or responded to any ads, because I am still active duty Navy, and have been since I was 18. I retire in January of 2006 and have been ‘practicing’ my resume writing and interviewing skills. I should say, trying to develop those skills.

    I flagged your posting for “Best of”, and was inspired to send a suggestion to the Craigslist staff for a “Mentors’ Corner” under the Jobs section. Your mentorship is like gold to me at this point, and I thank you. I clicked on over to see just what sort of company ExperienceTHIS, inc. is and was ‘wowed’. Coolness wrapped in a giftbox, that’s how I would describe it.

    When I depart the service this January, I will take your advice and
    (NULL, and find my next Team. I don’t want a job. I want to be part of something BIG. My second career will be a place where I will be able to witness what I call, “Amazing Behavior” on a daily basis. What else could possibly follow 20 years of adventure and service to ones’ country?

    I will not apologise for this lengthy email, a short note could not contain the message I wanted to send.
    However, I understand you have a full inbox, so… sorry for that part.

    Cheers!

    Kenneth

  4. Deana says:

    I actually have gotten my last three jobs from Craiglist here in Portland, OR. It was my cover letter that got me the interview and the job every time, though I’ll admit none of the three was as good as the one you posted. Thanks for helping job seekers out there!

    Deana

  5. Petra Wehle says:

    I enjoyed reading your advice to job applicants from the employer.s point of view, which came to me via the Stammtisch listserv.

    Just a thought: As a sometime technical writing instructor I advise students to assess the .rhetorical situation.. That is, if the company is .groovy,. I admit freely that I get colorful in my response to ads, but if I.m applying to an engineering company, I keep my shirt buttoned. You already noted this as a sort of footnote, but I did want to second that the requirement for a certain style, even stilted, is in the eye of the beholder.and potential employees get just as bored with boilerplate ads..

    Thanks,

    Petra Wehle

  6. David says:

    I just wanted to thank you for that, it was a great piece on how to seperate yourself from other applicants. I’m a 29 yr. old now ex-stockbroker/trader who got burnt out on a typical job, and I’m learning how to sell myself to different industries…and this was a great help. Finance applications are always cut & dry, blah blah blah, so it was refreshing to see that other areas do welcome a bit of creativity & areas outside of work. I’ve been to accustomed to “Where did you go to school?” “GPA?” “Client base?” etc. etc, just the normal white collar dribble.

    That’s it, and thanks again for providing that insight, it was extremely helpful.

    David

  7. Rebecca says:

    As a small business owner with about six million ppl looking for jobs and tons of junk mail, I LOVED your advice!!! i just delete resumes consistently unless they grab my attention…. You get a gold star for the day! Have a good one…

  8. Jennifer says:

    James,
    As if you need more junk in you inbox, here I am sending a Craig’s List response. How refreshing it is to hear from the “other side” of the employment game. I always knew my cover letter sounded stuffy and not at all like me and it is nice to know that there are employers out there who are truly interested in hiring a person rather than a drone. Since I have completely had it with the fools I work with (NULL,
    I’ve been looking for something new. My only responses have been from employers like the one I have now.

    Then, YOU come along with a “best-of” on my favorite ranting website to let me know that I don’t have to be a drone. I’m so excited, I’m going to rewrite my cover letter tonight!

    Thank you,
    Jennifer

  9. Theodore says:

    Very interesting…
    But if you are so busy how and why did you write this????

  10. Anon says:

    Hmmm … If hiring is 76th on your list of 100 things to do … you must be a busy guy — as you said.

    Where did you possibly find the time to compose a long ad critiquing everyone’s resumes and cover letters?

    Maybe you aren’t as busy as you let on after all. That’s corporate america for ya. Everyone spends 25% of their time acting busy and then they spend 25% of their time complaining about how busy they are. No wonder they are so busy — given that half their day is spent either acting busy or complaining about being busy.

    Good luck with the search.

  11. Jack says:

    Jaymz,

    Thanks for taking your time to wrote the cover letter notes.

    Yes, I am in the 95% group, I’m changing.

    In a recent letter to a manager, I am looking to change career fields, I asked for a bartender job, unbeknowest to me, I used your technique, and got an interview, it works, I just told the truth, said what I wanted, he e-mailed me he wanted to see me.

    Thanks again for your time.

    Jack G

  12. Sarah says:

    James,

    I think your suggestions for writing a resume/cover letter leaves a bit to be desired. I agree grab the attention, but certainly don’t come off uneducated w/your simplistic writing skills.

    Poor appearance in my opinion, and I have hired plenty and would not go for some of the things you have suggested. I would feel as if they were a simpleton.

    Sincerely,

    Sarah

  13. Karen says:

    I loved your post! I have fallen into the trap of creating letters and resumes just like the ones you hate! And guess what – nobody ever calls me! No wonder – it is such crap! And here I thought I was so smooth. I am going to adopt your excellent suggestions, as I have nothing to lose.

    Thanks for taking the time to post.

    Sincerely,
    Karen

  14. John C says:

    Amen! You should be applauded for your CL job tips posting. I only hope CL jobseekers read it and take it to heart. Your effort is greatly appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Frustrated business owner

  15. Darcy says:

    Dear Employer… I am also an employer and just finished sifting through dozens of email job responses. I saw your email in “best of Craig’s List”
    and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I also just responded to a few emails where there was no resume, no ability to open a resume or rude emails asking “more about the job duties and wages”, as if I would really interview via email!

    good job! I’m printing this out and posting it for my staff to review for future job attempts. Most of my employees are inside the 18 – 26 year age and it’s amazing how many know so little about work etiquette, before AND after they get a job!

    Have a great day!

    Darcy

  16. James S. says:

    While I liked your tips on writing cover letters, I feel that your are making an assumption that job searchers know the life story of both the person to respond to, as well as the company. I have made a posting giving tips for employers to assist them in attracting qualified people.

    http://orangecounty.craigslist.org/bus/104189488.html

    I know that I’m not the only one who feels that most of the postings on craigslist are junk and a waste of time.
    I’ve decided to give 8 simple rules to employers so that THEY will get noticed.

    1. 5+ years experience. I understand wanting to hire people in the know, but 5+ years? If you talk to a police officer he/she will usually say they have their job down in about a year. Keep in mind this is a position where there is something new everyday and you have to expect the unexpected. How then, can you rationalize 5+ years experience for such mundane jobs as bookkeeping and restaurant management? Keep in mind, this requirement shuts out people of certain ages, and therefore can border on discrimination.

    2. Any experience for part-time jobs. The purpose of a part-time job is for an entry level person to gain some experience and move into a full-time job. Either that, or for a student to get some cash and a work history. People with experience are seeking full-time jobs, don’t set the bar too high. It won’t kill you to train somebody.

    3. Useless descriptions. We know you aren’t looking for someone undependable, unmotivated, unreliable, and unenergetic. It’s a given. It’s also common knowledge that a master’s degree is a plus.

    4. Secretive ads. What’s the first thing you ask in an interview? Tell me a little about yourself. Take some of your own advice. Explain the position and the field it’s in. Giving the name of your company doesn’t hurt either.

    5. Unclear pay. State what you pay. Do not use phrases like “up to” and “our top sellers make”. We can spot puffery a mile away.

    6. Not enough pay. Please take a serious look at the position and your requirements listed. Then ask yourself if you would work for the money you’re offering. If you won’t, why would anyone else?

    7. Don’t leave us hanging. A simple acknowledgement is cordial. If my resume doesn’t meet your needs, a simple email, phone call, or postcard goes a long way. This holds even more true if I was called in for an interview and rejected.

    8. Interviews. Don’t forget the interview also involves you selling your company to us. The interviewer speaks for the company. If the interviewer thinks he’s conducting an interrogation, or if she’s cocky or extremely disorganized, I will consider turning down any job offer you make. I would take less pay if it means working for a better company.

    We know you’re doing us a favor by hiring us, but don’t forget we’re doing you a favor as well. It’s our labor that keeps you in business. If you enjoyed this, please nominate it for the best of list.

  17. Heather L says:

    Your posting has helped, as a matter of fact, your a flipping genius! I was just getting ready to look for another job, and will use your advice.

    Thank You,

    Heather

  18. Michelle says:

    Mr. Dilworth:

    Thanks for the info on http://www.craigslist.com regarding employment tips. After searching for two years I followed your advice and received 5 offers to interview immediately. A major international corporation hired me two days ago.

    My hats off to you. Thanks!

  19. Ceci says:

    Dear Mr. Dilworth:

    Thank you for providing us the valuable advice on the cover letter writing as an employer. Before, I was walking in the dark and getting nowhere, but after reading your advice, I now know how should I write my cover letter. Thank you for giving us a light. I will re-do my cover letter following your guideline. I’m much clear now about how an effective cover letter should be like.

    Thanks again very much for your help, Mr. Dilworth.

  20. Vientyattatry says:

    I’m new here, just wanted to say hello and introduce myself.

  21. Jorge says:

    James,

    I saw your Tips for applying to a job from Craigslist. I took the tips into consideration and it worked for me! Out of the 20 emails I sent out, about 9 replied and from those 9, I got 4 interviews in one week! To me, that was a good result consider the nature of my job.

    Once again, just wanted to let you know that your TIPS/advice was more effective than everything else I read.

    Best wishes,

    Jorge

  22. Ogbe A says:

    Hi James Dilworth,

    I would like to say a big thank you for your post titled “Tips for applying to a job on Craigslist”
    http://www.reallifegifts.com/gifts/jobs/how_to_reply.shtml

    I am looking for a job with an Investment Bank, and currently writing a cover letter. All the sample cover letters
    I have seen so far are the “blah blah blah” ones. The thing is: I did not realize they were all blah blah until reading your post.

    Thanks James

    Ogbe A

  23. John Ryan says:

    Dear Mr. Dilworth,

    I’m writing you to let you know that I read your message and immediately rewrote my cover letter to your guidelines. In a couple of weeks, I start as a writer with a major tech company. I’m sure that the cover letter helped me stand out from other candidates.

    So, thank you. Your gems of wisdom and practical advice helped this job seeker.

    Take care,
    John Ryan

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