Cassidy Williams

Software Engineer in Chicago

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Actually try on your job applications

I know several companies (particularly startups) who are hiring right now, and because of the state of the market, they get tons of job applications coming in. Their small teams simply can’t handle the massive influx sometimes, so they have to filter on things that may seem trivial to applicants.

If you’re going to apply to a company, big or small, I always tell people to actually write a cover letter, actually double-check your grammar, actually try to seem interested. I often get met with resistance, where folks say something like, “oh, but nobody actually reads a cover letter,” and, “how can I put in that much effort for every single application, I’ve already filled out 50!” To that I say: you’d be surprised how many humans actually read your applications, and build a workflow that works for you so you can apply to several companies without taking too much time per application.

Recently, I helped a startup filter applications. They have a very small team and needed some extra hands to work through and review the large amount of them. There’s some clear indicators (sentence structure, phrasing, etc, check out this study for some specifics) when someone is mass-applying with AI, or just throwing a resume in the pile. When I was reading through some of the answers people submitted to questions, I saw so many applications where someone thought that nobody would actually be reading them, or where they just threw in keywords but no actual responses, or they just didn’t seem to care.

There was a rubric that this startup came up with to disqualify candidates to better focus on the high quality applicants. The guidelines seemed harsh at first, but ultimately necessary. If the application fell under one of these bullets, they were no longer reviewed:

  • Left any questions blank or N/A
  • Didn’t include their full name
  • Didn’t capitalize their name
  • Didn’t respond to the location or time zone questions
  • Portfolio/LinkedIn/etc links in application don’t work

Now, once again, these might seem harsh or trivial, but when you think about the humans trying to hire for their small team, sifting through hundreds or thousands of applicants, this checklist is an easy way to flip through candidates quickly to see who actually put effort into the application for the role.

Some folks might say, “wow, if you reject me based on me capitalizing my name, I don’t WANT to work there,” and that’s fair, sure. But you could also just… hit shift and capitalize your name. It takes less than a second. You could give it a quick once-over to make sure your application looks good. If you put in the effort to make your job application look professional, you’ll almost always get further than someone who didn’t, especially in startups.

And because I always get messages around advice like this: I’m not saying this “appearance” of professionalism is how it should be, but it just is, a lot of the time. Play the game, get the job!

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