Over the past few years, we’ve looked to Craigslist to find potential employees. We’ve also leaned heavily on eLance, but each channel caters more effectively to different jobs. Our latest ad was looking to add a few sharp sales people to do B2B outreach. We posted ads across several major markets in an attempt to draw out the best of the best to fill out our sales staff. The results turned out to be more of a lesson in how not to get a job than an over abundance of quality candidates. I thought I’d take a moment to highlight some of the more egregious problems job applicants are committing, and how you can stop your resume from getting chunked in the recycle bin after a 30 second read. This article is targeted at Craigslist applicants, but these same lessons apply to Monster, Indeed and every other job site operating on the web.

Don’t Mindlessly Send Out Resumes to Every Job Posting
I don’t know if these candidates are truly desperate for ANY job, but this is certainly how they come off when employing this highly questionable strategy. From the moment you open their resume, it becomes painfully clear they haven’t looked at what they are applying for or if they are even remotely qualified. Their work experience reads like a ransom letter of positions that aren’t relevant in any way.

I once hung out with a guy who would hit on every girl at the bar. His resilience in handling rejection always baffled me, but when I asked about his strategy he simply replied, “Its a numbers game. Eventually, one is going to say yes.” I suppose the same goes for spraying resumes across the Internet, but wouldn’t it be more effective to apply for jobs that fit your skill set and take the extra effort to sell yourself so the reviewer is compelled to setup an interview simply to find out more about you?

Never Send Out a Resume Without a Cover Letter (or a Cover Letter with No Resume)
“I’d be great for this position. I have 10 years sales experience. Call me.”

Why would I? If you approach your sales process in the same haphazard way that you approach finding a job, I’ll be showing you the curb by the end of the first week. Firing off a blurb like this without a resume doesn’t tell me what services you have experience in selling, how long you were at each previous position, how you handled sales quotas and if your sales experience is focused on inside sales or outside. Needless to say, your resume is essential in allowing a hiring manager to evaluate your strengthens and to define how they align with the open position.

Your cover letter is no different. If you don’t take the time to craft a cover letter, I have no way of knowing why you feel you are a great fit for the job. The cover letter is your chance to sell yourself. I’m sitting here mindlessly sifting through 120 resumes. Less than 10% will get a phone interview. The cover letter is your chance to stand out from the crowd and allow your voice to be heard. Ask yourself, “What makes me different? How can I match my past job experience to the companies’ needs to further solidify my resume? Am I portraying confidence and professionalism?”

Misspellings, Grammatical Problems, Formatting Issues
Word has a spell check. Use it. I should never see the word happu on a resume. Also, have someone else read over your resume for grammatical mistakes. Sending out a poorly proofed resume is a virtual death sentence. It tells me that you don’t pay attention to detail. Please tell me one job where you can get away with glossing over the details? This resume is your ambassador to hiring managers. When you send out a sloppy resume, it reflects badly on you and severely cuts at your professionalism. Also Word can often do funny things to your custom formatting when its fed through email readers. Send out the attached resume to Yahoo, Gmail and other readers to see how it comes out on the other side. You’d be surprised how often these web readers chew up your carefully constructed formatting. If I can’t read it, I’m moving on.

Doesn’t Follow Directions
This sounds like something that a third-grade teacher would put on a student’s report card, but for some the lesson was never learned. If the job ad asks you for specific things in your cover letter or resume, take heed. There is a reason those things were highlighted by the hiring manager and by ignoring their request you are standing out from the crowd in all the wrong ways.

Your Resume Looks Like You Want Another Job
When it comes to a resume, one size definitely does not fit all. When you are applying for a job, make sure your resume says you are a good fit for that job. If I’m looking for a sales rep, and the objective posted at the top of your resume says you are trying to land a position in customer service, it tells me our visions are not in alignment. Your resume should be crafted to sell yourself as the best fit for the advertised position. If you are applying for three or four different jobs, create three or four separate resumes that highlight your strengths as they apply to the job in question. Someone reviewing your resume should never have to hunt through it to find your qualifications.

Your Resume Contains Filler
I’m all for full disclosure, but you really don’t have to chronicle your work history back to your first job flipping burgers at McDonalds. I assure you I’ve stopped reading somewhere after the first page. When you are detailing your work history, focus on those jobs that are relevant to the job you are applying for. Highlight the experience you gained with these companies that will propel you ahead in your next career move.

You’re Over Qualified
There is a great line in the film Indecent Proposal where Woody Harrelson is trying to find a job as an architect when the economy is in the can and there are no jobs to be found. He interviews for a professor gig at a college (USC I think) and the interviewee says he’s overqualified. “So exploit me,” he replies with a grin.

That’s nice in the movies, but in real life being over qualified is definitely a thing. When I was on the other side of the table, I always thought this excuse was such a cop out, but now I see its a real concern. If I’m hiring a part-time, intermediate-level sales person, it looks odd when your resume shows that you have run sales departments, were a chief marketing officer and regularly brought in million dollar accounts for your past employers. You’re not a good candidate for this position because it won’t challenge you and the compensation is pennies compared to your past job. I know and you know that as soon as a better offer comes along that you will be leaving me in a lurch.

Maybe your life is in the midst of a transitional moment like you are going back to college or you are taking time off to care for a sick relative. In these circumstances, it makes complete sense that you’d be looking for a part-time opportunity or something that doesn’t require the high pressure, high time commitments like you were used to. Tell the hiring manager why you are looking for a job of this nature. We don’t like glaring question marks in candidates even when their credentials should bowl us over.

So what candidates got interviews?
Every hiring manager values different things. When it came to our sales positions, it was a variety of things. In addition to the things I noted above, I wanted to know that the sales person could do the job. The candidates that naturally rose to the top had seven or more years of telesales experience, had a background in selling IT-related services and usually had some management experience. Their cover letters showed they understood our needs and detailed why their background fit those needs. Many also researched our company and found ways to show their personality aligned with our culture. Essentially, they did their homework, and it paid off.

In this hyper competitive hiring environment, you need every edge you can get. The economy is slowly improving by the day and more jobs are out there, but they are still finite enough that you have to want them and you have to work to get them. If you take the approach outlined here, you automatically give yourself a step above your competition.