Are you looking for a job? Learn to send a decent application!

150sugarfiredI have been recruiting recently, and very few of the applicants have done it even a little bit right. I have an inbox full of messages from people I don't want to talk to, and nobody has made me think "wow, I really want to hire that guy!" It pains me that I have to write this article, but I think that a lot of people out there really need it.

I have interviews scheduled today with two people who did things reasonably well, so ask yourself a simple question. Next time someone is offering money for the right skills, do you want to be considered for the job? Or do you want to waste your time and mine by sending me the wrong message? 

When I lived in Taiwan, I used to advertise regularly to hire part-time teachers. Typically, I would receive about seventy applications each time, and about fifty of them would go straight in the bin. I don't have time to read seventy applications, so I would skim through them quickly and only keep the ones that were outstanding. In Europe, where unemployment is very high, you are in competition with millions of other people, and if you don't want to find yourself in the bin then you have to please the customer, the person offering money in exchange for your services.

Let's take a look at what we can learn from the people who have been invited to interview, and also from the people who weren't.


01The first thing to consider is the nature of your relationship with the person offering the job. You have to remember that the person with the money is shopping for a solution to a problem. They want to pay you to take care of something for them. They want to give you some money in exchange for making a problem go away. Your job is to make a problem go away. If hiring you is going to be a problem, then you are not making their life easier, you are charging them money to add to their problems.;

They are making an investment, spending their money, and they want to get the best possible deal they can. They want to look at all the available choices, and choose the best one, just like you do when you buy clothes, food, cars, houses, or a new phone. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to convince the customer that you have the best deal for them. If it's someone who knows you well, and by that I mean that they are familiar with your work and capabilities, then by all means drop them a line and say "Hi, I'm available." But in every other case, it's up to you to sell yourself to them. Don't expect them to work hard to hire you. Make it easy for them.

02Nobody wants to hire someone who is only there for the money. Your boss has deadlines, commitments, things that need to be done to keep customers happy. The only people that matter in any organisation are the ones who get and keep customers. Everyone else is just an expense, and employers want to keep their expenses down.


You can get and keep customers by having some direct relationship with them, or you can do it by producing great products that people want to use. You can build amazing software, make great designs, or ensure that the company's internal systems make things easy for customers. Whether you're the financial controller or the sales person, your job is to please customers. So when you apply for the job, make sure you talk about what the company does and how you can contribute to their mission. Demonstrate that you care about the work you will be doing. I cannot emphasise enough how important this is! Employers want to know that you are committed to their goals.

03Only after you have demonstrated an interest in the business, you can talk about yourself. Explain about your skills and experience that are relevant to this job. Talk about the things you have done in the past, or the things you have learned, and how you can use them to contribute to the company. Try to give specific examples of things that are applicable directly to the job - this demonstrates that you are thinking about the job, not about yourself. This is your opportunity to explain exactly what problems you are going to solve for your employer - how you are going to earn your money. After all, they're paying you to make things better for them, so talk about what you're going to do for them.

infographicCVYou should also include a CV, and if possible a link to some public record of the things you have done. An online portfolio, a Github profile, a blog, even your Facebook or LinkedIn pages will serve to let people know about what you have done in the past. And here's a tip: every file I receive that is called "Curriculum Vitae" or "Resume" goes into a folder with all the other documents with the same name. If your CV has your name on it, it goes into a folder with the people whose names I may remember next time I want to hire someone. Do you want me to remember you? Put your name in the filename. Also, pdf documents don't lose their formatting if I happen to use different software from you.

04Finally, include some information about what you hope to get from this job. Are you just looking for a steady income? Are you greedy go-getter? A reliable worker? A creative genius who wants the opportunity to shine? Seeking experience? Do you want someone to tell you exactly what to do? Do you want to take initiative? This is all important information to an employer, because different people are suitable for different roles. If you are only available part-time, or after/until a certain date, make sure you communicate this to them clearly. If your availability or your goals don't coincide with the job, then don't waste your time - and the employers time - by writing to them.

And don't forget that if you're going to get hired, you probably need to go to an interivew. Make sure you state clearly what your available times are! 

Here are some bad things you can do to ensure that nobody wants to hire you:

  •  Say "let's talk on skype" or start an uninvited chat on Facebook. (Send your application, and wait for them to contact you. Nobody has time to chat with 70 job applicants.)
  •  Assume that they know who you are, or try to be friendly. (Business relationships are professional, and I don't remember everyone who comes to every event. If I met you at Startup Weekend, why are you unique among 150 others? Introduce yourself!)
  •  Open your application by talking about what you want, or what concerns you. (You're a random stranger, and nobody cares. These can be discussed later. First, you need to establish a relationship where the employer feels that they are the boss.)
  •  Introduce yourself by telling me that you found mistakes on my website. (Who is the boss here? Who is going to do what they are asked to do?)
  •  Write in English, but leave your name in Chinese characters or Cyrillic alphabet. (Communicate with your customer in language they understand.)
  •  Write a short note to say you are available, but don't tell me anything about yourself. (Why should I go searching the internet to find out who you are? Somebody else sent me a great application, yours goes in the bin.)
  •  Apply for a job you can't take. (For instance, if the job is in Sofia, and you're going to the USA or living in Poland, you can't do the job.)
  •  Mis-represent yourself, especially by asking someone else to help you with the application. (If you mislead someone to get a job, they will eventually be disappointed in you. I was very disappointed with a candidate recently who had asked a friend to write her application letter because she didn't speak English - to work for an American client! This just wastes everybody's time.)
  •  Ask too many questions in your application. (Nobody is going to reply to you, but will assume you don't want the job without knowing the answers. So your application goes in the bin.)


Finally finally, here's something maybe you can use if you need help with your CV