We had nearly 100 job applications to look through for the Tofugu Internship. A total of four people read through all the applications (I was one of them), so it was pretty thorough. Most of the applications got rejected, and I thought it would be helpful to the applicants (or anyone applying for a job) to understand why.
First, you need to get inside the head of the person who's reading your applications. 1) They don't have a lot of time and there are a lot of applications. You aren't going to get the attention you want and deserve, unless you give them a really good reason. 2) They are looking for reasons to fail you. They want to move on to the next application. Right from the get go you are working your way out of a hole. And the person doing your applications? They're happy if you stay in that hole, and certainly don't have any intention to help you out of it.
Sometimes getting rejected isn't fair, but that's how things work out there, kid. Give them lots of (big) reasons to keep reading. Then you'll have a chance, maybe.
Here's my list of reasons why I failed people. Some are trivial, some are big, but in the end they're all equally important.
- You Sent Me A Word Document File. I asked you to send me a PDF. You didn't get an automatic fail for this (though it certainly didn't help), but when an application specifically asks for a particular file type, damnit, send that file type! I need to know that you can follow directions, do basic computer things, and have an attention to detail.
- You Didn't Stand Out. I'm looking through nearly 100 applications here. Think about the person reading these. If you don't do something really quickly that makes me want to pay close attention to your application you're probably not going to get my full attention. Sorry! This guy ← Human.
- Don't Compete. What I mean by this is "don't do the same things as everybody else." Put yourself on a level where there is no other competition. I'd rather have someone who is one of the best in the world on the kazoo than someone who is just "really good at violin." With violin, there is a lot of competition. With kazoo there is not. You can be the best at kazoo, and for some reason that means more to me. You can do this within your application as well, even if you're not the world's best kazoo player. Think: "What can I do that puts me on a completely different level to everyone else where I'm only competing with myself, and nobody else?" This sort of questioning makes you think of interesting things. I don't think there's a point in applying somewhere if you don't do this. Sure, it's 50x more work, but you're also 50x more likely to get an interview.
- You Didn't Know The Company. Especially in a small company, where everyone has a stake in its success, you have to show that you care just as much as they do. To do this, you have to show that you know the company really well. In everything you write, you should show that you know things that other applicants don't. I want you to care about my company like I care about my company. If you don't share it then I don't want you here. Just caring more than anyone else is a big deal that sets you apart.
- Speling Errers. This goes without saying. C'mon. And, if you spelled "Tofugu" as "Tofugo" anywhere on your application (go check your application), you probably did not get an interview.
- You Asked a Question That Was Answered Already. A lot of people asked questions that were already answered on the job application. I need to know that you can read and take care of yourself. I don't want to hire the type of person that won't figure things out for themselves when the answer is right there.
- You Didn't Put Effort Into The Project. I know, it's weird to ask people to do actual work in an application. But you know what? It's the best way to see if someone can do the actual work we'll be asking them to do on the job, should they be hired. It also separates those with grit and those without grit. I'd prefer to not fire you later, believe it or not. Anyone can say that they can do something, but not everyone can show it. So show it. And, show it better than anyone else. Make me feel confident that you'd be a good hire. If you can put at ease how nerve-wracking it is to hire someone, you've done a good job. This is your opportunity. For example: I don't know how many people wrote us a single (usually mediocre) article. So many. You're competing with everyone else (see #3)! You're not standing out (see #2)! Anyone can write one good article. But, can anyone write ten good articles? Probably not. If someone had done that they probably would have gotten an interview. The people who got interviews had clever ideas for their projects, executed it well, and showed some grit in the process. People who didn't put in the effort most likely didn't get an interview.
- You Just Weren't As Good As The Top 10%. This one is harsh. I know it. But, there were some really, really good applications, and they get stronger every year. Some people are just less lazy. Some people just work harder. And you know what? It shows. But you have a choice. Especially at the student level. The people who get shit done, create their own organizations, specialize, kick school's ass, etc., were the types of people who had the best luck making it to the next step. You're in college, you have a lot of time, whether you think you do or not. Go master something. Do amazing things. If you're not, then these people will step on your head and get the positions you want while you fight for the barfy scraps.
I hope this helps out some people. I know this isn't for everyone, and not everyone likes to compete, but them's the facts of life. You have to create your own opportunities, and it doesn't matter what the level is. If you want to get that internship, that job, that [whatever] you're going to need to follow some of the above advice. Good luck out there.
Header Photo by Kathryn Decker.