Job hunting best-case scenario? A friend or colleague introduces you to an employer who wants to hire you. The more likely scenario? You’re going to have to dive onto the Internet with the rest of the searchers and file many, many electronic applications. That’s okay. It’s child’s play, actually. Just like Musical Chairs, your task is to avoid elimination and make it to the next round.
Here are some simple reminders to help you keep your seat when applying electronically.
- Get there first. The moment the position is posted, there is a flurry of activity. Getting your resume in within the first 48 hours has a positive psychological impact on the recruiter. Of course it’s not fair, but what in this process is? People like to see interest and enthusiasm, and nothing points to it more concretely than applying quickly.
- Do as you’re told. While your wily ways may have helped you in all of your lawyer endeavors, this is a time to follow the rules. Employers, looking for any way to cull an abundance of candidates, will gladly eliminate those who don’t respond to the posting in just the way they have been instructed.
- Make it easy for the employer. While for your own filing purposes, you may want to name this “XYZ Law Firm Application,” your goal is to make it easy for the employer. So if the posting specifies no file title, call yours: Last name, First name resume, and Last name, First name cover letter. It will help the employer file your application in the right place. (And find it quickly!) The same thing goes for file type. If no particular file format is specified, then a Word document or a pdf are probably the easiest for the employer to read. For all of you Mac people out there, it’s still a PC world in most legal organizations, so send a pdf.
- Screen fonts. You’re applying online and Microsoft finally retired Times New Roman as their default font. This means something. So use a font that is easy to read on screen: Calibri (the replacement for Times), Verdana, Tahoma, Arial or something without a serif. There is a reason that they are the primary fonts on websites.
- Answer all of the questions. Sometimes the best thing you can do with a cover letter or resume is to respond up front to all of the required qualifications. A bullet point list that mirrors the job requirements can help you get past the initial screening. When an employer is sorting through dozens of resumes it helps to get to their “must-haves” right up front. If you find that you don’t match on the most important items, you are unlikely to get to the next step. Work your network to find another way in—find a friend who can introduce you, for example—or accept that this isn’t the best fit.
- That one thorny question. While you have just been encouraged to answer all of the questions, do your best to avoid giving a salary number for your current job and the job for which you are applying. For starters, you aren’t applying for your old job, so that salary is irrelevant. For this new job, a broad salary range might be acceptable depending on things like working conditions, opportunity for advancement and the widely variant benefit packages that now accompany jobs. But do say something so the screeners know that you are following directions. Write in “dependent upon responsibilities,” or “market rate,” or simply that you will be happy to discuss salary at the time of a job offer. Sometimes employers use the application process to determine the salary. If you are the right person for the job, it’s doubtful you will ruin your chance for snagging an interview just because you don’t give a salary figure.
- Proofread before you submit! Please ask someone else read through your application materials to make sure there are no typos. Please.
Now it is on to the next phase—nailing that screening interview.
Wendy Werner is a career coach and practice management consultant for lawyers and professional services firms and an award-winning photographer. She writes the Careers column for ABA Law Practice magazine, and is a frequent contributor to The St. Louis Lawyer and Law Practice Today. Wendy has a master’s degree in Personnel Administration and Counseling from Indiana University, and served as the Assistant Dean of Career Services at Saint Louis University School of Law. Find her at Werner Associates, LLC.
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