Almost Half of Job Applicants Make This Same Foolish Mistake

By Paul Michael on 23 January 2017 0 comments

Hiring professionals in industries far and wide, when looking at applications ranging from entry-level to upper management, say almost 50% of the applicants are making the same mistake. Is it grammar? Poor choice of words? Not completing an online test, or answering questions incorrectly?

It's actually something much more basic. And it's a mistake that is completely inexcusable.

Almost Half of Job Applicants Are Not Following Directions

As bizarre as it may sound, job applicants are just not following basic instructions or directions given out by the employer or recruiting agency. Every application is different, but the basic problem is the same across the board the inability to follow the directions to the letter.

Most of the time, this means omitting information required by the employer, from a resume or cover letter, to background information, references, and even contact information. For example, many applicants include a name and address, but not a phone number or email. That instantly puts them out of the running, as the HR department is too busy to track down people that don't have an immediate form of contact. No one is going to write you via snail mail inviting you to come in for an interview. Plus, the fact that you left out such a basic piece of information simply doesn't look good.

HR professionals also indicated that a simple visual test is often done on applications. If anything is blank, messy, or missing, the application goes into the trash. With so many people competing for the same job these days, removing applicants who cannot follow instructions makes life a lot easier, instantly thinning the pack.

Employers May Actively Test Your Ability to Follow Directions

It's not just about noticing mistakes. Some employers may actually lay traps that you have to avoid. Perhaps one of the most famous instances of an employer testing the suitability of a candidate goes back to an Army recruitment campaign in England.

The Army ran ads asking people to order a special recruitment kit. The kit included a VHS cassette (yes, it was a while ago). When the prospective new recruit put the tape into the VCR and hit play, the video showed an explosion. It then went on to tell people who saw that explosion that they were not the right candidate for the Army, because they did not follow the instructions. As it turns out, there was a small message on the cassette that said "rewind me first." Clever. Very clever. Of course, there was no way to know if the candidate lied about seeing that explosion first, but what it did was plant the seed of doubt. If they missed that, what would they miss on a real mission? Maybe this is not the career for them.

Another example comes from entrance exams that ask candidates to complete "only three of the following four questions." If the candidate answers all four, even if they answer them perfectly, it is a huge red flag to the employer. The inability to follow this simple direction lets the employer know that you either don't pay attention to details, you're too eager to get started, or you just refuse to follow the rules. These are not good qualities in a candidate.

So…What Can You Do to Be a Better Job Applicant?

Perhaps the biggest piece of advice, and the simplest, is to slow down. You may well have several applications to fill out for different jobs, but you cannot afford to rush them. By slowing down, and reading everything, you are far less likely to make a mistake. Having said that, you can also follow these steps to make sure you do not end up in the reject pile, along with almost half of the other applicants.

1. Read Through Everything Twice Before You Start

It's a little bit like the old DIY adage, "Measure twice, cut once." You should go through the entire application, line by line, and be clear about what you are being asked to provide. If you need to prepare something, such as a cover letter or a portfolio of your work, make a note of it.

2. Complete a Trial Application First

Think of it as a practice run. Fill it all out, and then read it back to yourself. What is missing? What sounds good, and what sounds bad? What can you improve, or edit? Are there sections that are stronger than others? Have you included the relevant dates and places, or achievements that could make you stand out? Mark it up, and then complete the application again. If you're doing this online, print out the application and fill it out by hand first.

3. Run Everything Through a Spelling/Grammar Checker

Even if your document is beautifully formatted and has all the required information, spelling errors can really mess you up. Some companies may even use software to weed out applications with too many grammar problems. If you're submitting an application using pen and paper, this may not be possible (unless you have a text recognition app or device). In that case, move on to the next step…

4. Have Someone Else Look Over Your Application

A friend. A colleague. A family member. Someone you trust. Put the application in front of them and ask them to go over it line by line. Ask them to read the instructions, too. Having someone else with a fresh eye can really help you out. They will notice glaring errors that you have become blind to.

5. Look Back at Your Notes Before You Submit Anything

Remember those notes you took at the very beginning? Now, after you have completed everything, is the time to check the "to-do" boxes off that list. Do you have your cover letter? Is it attached to the application? Is it stapled, or put on there with a paper clip (some employers want it done a specific way)? If you're sending something over the Internet, have you made sure the documents are formatted correctly, and saved the way the employer likes them (some prefer PDFs to Word documents)? All of this should be looked over carefully before putting it in the mail or hitting send.

Remember, the ability to follow simple directions is the very least an employer should expect from a candidate. If you don't do everything by the letter, you could be missing out on a great job, and a lucrative career.

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