Monday, March 4, 2024



Please (please, please) don’t do this when applying for nonprofit jobs

The job search. January 28, 2019 Category: ColumnFeaturedLongMethod
In a world where a single click is all it takes to apply for a job, it seems there are a lot of click-happy job searchers out there.

I recently hired two people to join my team at Pathways to Housing PA. And while I eventually found two awesome candidates, it took a lot of searching, a lot of bad résumés and a lot of uninspiring interviews.

My biggest takeaway is that many, many of the job seekers in Philadelphia need help with job searching. So, this is the first of two columns with tips on making yourself an appealing candidate for any job.

The first step to any job search is applying, so I’m going to focus this column on applications. These tips are 100 percent based on real-life situations that either myself or a close friend has experienced.

Always, always submit a cover letter.

Maybe one in five of our applicants submitted a cover letter for our most recent job posting. Those who didn’t were most likely to submit a résumé that left me with more questions than answers — questions that could have been answered easily in a cover letter.

If an organization asks you for a cover letter, and you don’t submit one, then you’re basically saying that you can’t follow instructions or that you don’t care enough about this job to take the time to write one. Either way, you’re not starting off on the right foot.

Even if an organization doesn’t require a cover letter, do it anyway. There were so many things I saw in résumés that I had questions about that SHOULD have been addressed in a cover letter. Several people who live out of state applied for positions that were in no way advertised as remote positions. Without a cover letter, I have no way of knowing if the applicant is relocating to Philadelphia already, if they think they can do the role virtually or if they actually did not notice that the position was in Philadelphia.

Don’t just write one cover letter and copy and paste — personalize it.

Applying for a role that doesn’t directly relate to your experience? Without a cover letter you are leaving it to me to connect the dots myself — and ain’t nobody got time for that. I reviewed almost 100 résumé for one position; allotting two minutes per résumé means that it would take more than three hours to review them all. Two minutes is a very, very generous estimate.

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Let me know you took the time to read the job description and understand how your skills apply to it. Don’t send a generic “to whom it may concern” that outlines your skills in video editing when I’m asking for someone who can design and implement a comprehensive marketing plan. Clearly you didn’t write that cover letter for me and that confirms, at least to me, that you don’t actually care about our organization.

It’s January. I received at least 10 résumés from students who are not graduating until June. Some had relevant experience in an internship, some didn’t. But not a single one wrote a cover letter to explain why they applied for a position that I’m hiring for right now even though they haven’t graduated yet and don’t have the requested experience.

Final pet peeve with cover letters: Don’t copy and paste your bio, written in the third person, into the cover letter section. Seriously? You took the extra 30 seconds so that the section wasn’t blank but all you did was tell me that you do not care at all about this position.

To the women reading this: Apply to everything, because men sure do.

My not-at-all-scientific estimate is that 50 percent of the applicants to our marketing position were men, and of those men only 5 percent met the minimum qualifications for an interview. If men are going to continue to throw their hats into the ring for any job they feel like regardless of their qualifications to do the job, then so should us ladies.

(That said, though, use the cover letter to explain how your experience is relevant to the position regardless of how well you meet the requested qualifications.)

Explain any weird job timelines.

I understand that sometimes the only way to move up is to move on. I’ve been there. But, starting a job in December 2018 and applying for a job on Jan. 2, 2019? That screams to me that all you care about is the next title, the next salary bump, the next big thing. While there were many (way too many!) applicants who had three or more positions with less than two years each, one applicant had three different positions in the last six months.

With a work history like that, you will obviously not will stay longer than one year if I hire you. And who wants to go through the hiring process just to do it again in six months? If there are legitimate reasons for having several positions in a shorter time frame, use the cover letter to explain your situation. Unsurprisingly, not a single person with several short stays in positions submitted a cover letter to explain themselves.

Know what hiring managers are looking for.

I can’t state enough how crucial a cover letter is. I spent an average of 60 seconds reviewing each applicant when deciding who would be offered an interview. In that time, I scanned for:

  • Who the cover letter is addressed to (if it’s addressed at all)
  • Key words or phrases in the cover letter regarding the position that tells me whether you wrote this cover letter specifically for our position or not
  • Interesting or intriguing details in the cover letter
  • Title, start and end date for all positions
  • Key words in the experience section of each position that would translate to what we’re looking for

If you’ll notice, I spent more time on the cover letter than the résumé. All those applicants without a cover letter? They got even less of the already minimal time I spent on each application.

Consider rewriting your résumé for different positions.

Résumés are important, too: Grab key words and phrases from the job description you’re applying for and include them — where applicable to your experience, of course.

You don’t have to rewrite it every time you apply, but you could be applying for three similar types of positions that have slightly different needs. It would help if you have a version for each type of position that was more specific to each role and the requested qualifications and desired skills.

Also, I rarely read the second page of a résumé during an initial screen. The key facts about you and why you’re qualified for the job should be right up front.

Lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of folks are putting their LinkedIn URL on the résumé. That makes it super easy for reviewers to click and helpful especially if you have a popular name (like Valerie Johnson). Many are also dropping their addresses from their résumé; I’m fine with that unless you have a phone number or work history that is out of the immediate area. It would be helpful to clarify that you’re currently located in Philadelphia if you have a Boston area code and several jobs listed in San Francisco, even if you don’t include your full address.


Hopefully your updated résumé and cover letter will get you the interview. I’ll be back with tips for you in my next column.

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