Error-Proofing The Job Application Process

Attention to detail must start with the cover letter

When it comes to applying for a job, the experts all agree: Keep it focused, simple, and straight to the point — no errors, no embellishments. A recent study, however, found that many job applicants make the biggest mistakes during the initial stages — the cover letter, the resumé, and the interview.

According to a survey developed by Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a specialized recruitment service in Menlo Park, California, 32% of CFOs polled found the actual interview rife with problems. About 21% said they found substantial errors with resumés and nearly 9% pointed to the cover letter as being a weak area.

“A resumé is a calling card,” says Cassandra Jennings-Outlaw, a veteran M.B.A. recruiter who works at a telecommunications company in New Jersey. She says if a resumé has an error, this indicates the applicant’s lack of attention to detail. Likewise, “If the duties are not written in complete thoughts, that tells me the applicant will probably work in that manner as well,” says Jennings-Outlaw, who often conducts workshops on resumé writing and interview skills at business schools.

“When first year M.B.A.s at Cornell show me their resumés, I have higher expectations because B-school students have a few years of experience under their belt,” explains Jennings-Outlaw. “I don’t expect someone applying for a VP position to have typos or margin inconsistencies,” she explains.

Score high marks on your next application. Avoid these common errors and build your skills with these tips:
On Cover Letters:
Do all you can to prevent errors, says DeLynn Senna, executive director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting. “Take the approach that no error is acceptable.”

Marlon Cousin, a managing partner of The Marquin Group, an Atlanta-based executive search firm, points out that the cover letter is the area that typically has the least amount of errors because most recruiters zoom-in on resumés. But Senna recommends that applicants still exercise due diligence at every phase of the process.
On Interviews:

“There’s one question you’ll always get,” says Cousins. And that’s, “Tell me about yourself.” He advises that applicants start practicing their response to that question. “It’s the perfect context in which you can articulately deliver three to five things about yourself that you want the company to know,” says Cousins. Speak about past experiences that relate to the position to which you are applying.

Approach the interview process with openness and integrity, says Cousins. He advises that applicants be prepared to discuss past work experiences. “The fact that a candidate is willing to be frank about his job experiences says a lot about that person,” notes Cousins.

“It’s often as simple as explaining breaks or loops in your employment history,” he adds.

Throughout the entire process, says Sharon Hall, managing director at Spencer Stuart Atlanta, an executive search firm, “Don’t put down a degree you don’t have or say you drove a project when you only supported it,” she expands. “We do deep referencing so inconsistencies and overstatements like those are bound to come out.”
On Resumés:
“Most people develop their resumé when they’re losing, hating, or have

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