Friday Short: The Fine Art of Following Instructions

I love this time of year at Webber International University. The smell of orange blossoms permeates the air. Students spend their relaxing hours enjoying the lakeshore: playing beach volleyball, hanging out by the pool (that's what we do in Florida in March, you see), kayaking across the lake. And, there are the job interviews. The campus is abuzz with young men and women in their interview clothes... getting a résumé checked here, getting inside information about an industry there. Which brings us to this week's Friday Short: The Fine Art of Following Instructions.

I get at least 100 applications for each job I post... on rare occasions, it's more than a thousand. And, I have to assume that since getting a job is the single most important thing to many people, there is no assignment I can ever give you which will be more important to you. My thought is your résumé is the very best work you can do. And I am super busy. So, the first screen is pretty tough. A lot of candidates -- possibly good candidates -- get tossed into the "no thanks" pile (from which there is no appeal) by simply not following instructions. Here are some tips for avoiding their most common mistakes.

1) Send the file in the format the person doing the hiring wants it. Many companies use automated screening tools. Sure, plain text is boring, but if the software can't read your résumé, the chances aren't good that you're going to get the interview. I specifically ask for résumés in .PDF format only, because Adobe Reader, to the best of my knowledge, cannot run an embedded virus or macro. The folks who choose to send me Word documents instead of what I asked for never, ever have them read because, since I don't know them and am not familiar with their data security processes, I'm not opening a Word document from them.

2) If the ad says "no phone calls", don't call. It is not a "courtesy" to me to interrupt my work with a "courtesy call" about your résumé. It shows, at a time when one is trying really hard to make a great impression, a willingness to disregard instructions. And, it says to me that the applicant thinks his or her time is more valuable than mine. He or she is entitled to his or her opinion, but that's simply not the sort of person I want to spend most of my waking life with.

3) If the ad asks for salary expectations or history, send it. For every job I have, I also have a budget. It's not in my best interest to pay people poorly... not only does it lead to bad morale which leads to bad customer service, but it's not like I get to keep whatever I don't spend. But what I've got to pay for a particular job is all I've got, and I couldn't come up with anymore if my life depended upon it. My time is valuable. Applicants' time is valuable. Why waste time talking if we're not even in the same ballpark and therefore just cannot possibly make it work? And since I've got at least 100 applications to get through before I can go home for the day, I'm just not spending a lot of time dealing with folks who won't follow instructions.

4) If they ask for extras, send them. As just one example, we've got a lot of jobs that don't require an electrician's license; but for the ones which do, it's a non-negotiable. And, we've had enough folks trying to negotiate it that if you don't send your license with your resume, we're not calling you.

5) Bonus Tip: Robots are even more demanding than humans! Here's a really cool graphic that shows just how prevalent robotic screening is. Simple fact: If the algorithm is looking for particular words and you have not parroted them back from the ad, you're joining the 75 percent who don't make the cut!

It's still a tough job market out there. And, many of those who do have jobs are doing more work than ever. Many of the folks doing the initial screening of résumés are very nice people, with lots of other stuff they have to do. So making it easy on them -- by following instructions -- seems like an easy way to improve one's odds!