August 27, 2014

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Mark R. Howard | 2/1/2012

Mark Howard
Mark Howard,
Executive Editor

I received the following e-mail from a prospective writer for Florida Trend last year. I quote it verbatim:

"Greetings and Salutations Mark,

"A native to the sunshine state, I'm a Florida girl thin blood and all. I have a love affair with the beach, an appreciation of the great out doors and a passion for writing.

"That passion for words combined with my studies at the University of North Florida has resulted in a Bachelor of Science degree in communications with a concentration in journalism and a minor in photography."

The young woman went on to say that she had worked as a member of a "tight nit" team and had a "plethora of freelance and intern experience." And she asked me to consider her for a job should one become available.

There is so much wrong with the letter it's hard to know where to begin — get past the hackneyed salutation, and the first paragraph alone contains uncapitalized proper nouns, weak syntax, a run-on phrase and a spelling mistake. In the second paragraph, I was fascinated that she didn't say she'd earned a degree, but rather that it had "resulted" from her studies and her passion. Third paragraph: A "nit" is a young louse or parasite; she meant "tight-knit." Meanwhile, "plethora" means "excess," not "a lot of" as she intended.

However passionate about writing the young woman is, writing didn't return her affections. It's troubling that a communications degree could "result" for someone whose skills are so incongruous with the discipline she studied; the school's communications department apparently sets its bar pretty low.

But my main worry isn't with either poor writing or poor educating. What concerns me about the letter and other job applications I received when we had a job open here recently is that so many applicants, both experienced and novices, don't seem to have much of a clue about how to apply for work. The real problem with the young woman's letter, you see, isn't grammar and syntax. It's the much broader issue of understanding how to present yourself effectively to a prospective employer.

It used to bother me when someone sent an e-mail to apply for a job because I (still) consider an e-mail less formal and less serious than a printed, signed letter. I'm no longer troubled by the e-mails, however. They have the virtue of speed initially and are a good vehicle for delivering things like letters of recommendation, work samples and other documents if needed later.

What bothers me is the passivity and laziness that so many applicants show by relying exclusively on e-mail. Anybody who's technologically sophisticated enough to use e-mail presumably knows about spam filters, in-boxes that reject e-mails when they fill up, etc. The point gets back to the seriousness of the effort — if you want a job, you e-mail and then you follow up with a signed letter. And then you call. And maybe you even have someone else call on your behalf. And then you write and call again. And if you get an interview, you send a (written) thank-you note.

This isn't just a matter of old-fashioned etiquette. Aside from the impact of a repeated message, the use of different media indicates the applicant is willing to take the trouble of finding a street address and a telephone number — and is persistent in going after something she wants. This is a prized workplace skill. The young woman with such a passion for words, for example, never found enough of them to write me a letter or, in fact, to follow up in any way. Maybe she found a group of tight nits to be part of.

In addition to passivity, I find that many applicants reflect a startling degree of narcissism. The young woman, for example, eagerly told me about her love of the beach and words but said nothing to indicate she had actually read Florida Trend. Good job applicants don't just flash some personality and tap dance, they do homework about the places where they want to work.

The self-involvement isn't confined to the young. A seasoned, qualified writer who applied for a job here recently — he also never sent anything other than e-mails — spent the better part of each communication repeating how much he wanted to move back to Florida. I got a very clear sense of what I could do for him by hiring him, but no sense what he could do for the magazine if he got the job. The person who got the job, by contrast, was a Trend subscriber and came to the job interview with a list of story ideas.

In addition to passivity and narcissism, the third failure I see in many applicants is an inability to take a long-term view. Seldom does someone who says he's interested in future possibilities, even if nothing is available now, actually follow through with an e-mail or call a few months later. Serendipity is part of any effort; the more contacts you make, the more opportunities you create for some happy coincidence that lands you where you want to be.

Most of us experience failure and frustration on our way to finding jobs. Not getting a job because you're unqualified or inexperienced is one thing. It's something else altogether to disqualify yourself simply because of the way you go about looking.

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