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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

3 Application Instructions You Think Are OK to Skip Over (But Totally Aren't)

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The last time I needed to find a job, I applied for a lot of positions. And for the better part of a month, I had a hard time getting any interviews. It didn’t make sense to me. I found a handful of gigs that seemed perfect for me, and yet the radio silence I got from employers spoke loud and clear. Nobody wanted anything to do with me! And I couldn’t figure out why.

Fast forward to the day I decided I wanted to apply for this position at The Muse. The description asked for an original article. Because I was so excited about the opportunity, I sat down to write it.

Fast forward to me getting the offer and I had an epiphany—up until that point, I’d skipped a lot of the instructions I’d come across in job listings. In full disclosure, I considered them to be optional and assumed my experience spoke for itself.

I know I’m not the only person who felt this way, so I rounded up the job application instructions that candidates tend to skip—and why you 100% shouldn’t.

1. “Please Attach Your Cover Letter as a Separate Document”

When I was a recruiter, we accepted submissions via email. And even though it was very clear that we wanted cover letters attached as separate documentents, I lost count of how many candidates copied theirs into the body of the email. Not only that, they were often as short as a few sentences that said nothing more than, “Please hire me, I need a job.”

If the job listing asks you to put the cover letter directly into the email, then by all means go ahead. But in most cases, you’ll be asked to attach it, so don’t take the email shortcut because it saves you time.

When you skip this step, you’re saying that you either didn’t read the instructions closely or just don’t care all that much. It’s a very “whatever” move—one that says I don’t care enough about this role to put in any extra effort.

2. “Please Don’t Call Us After Applying”

Following up on an application sounds like a good way to show the employer that you’re serious about the job, right? And in many cases, it’s an excellent idea, especially when you have an existing relationship with the hiring manager. But companies that ask candidates not to call are serious about the request—and ignoring it can be a huge blow to your chances.

I can’t tell you how many times I’d get out of a long meeting and find that I had a dozen voicemails waiting for me, only to hear from multiple applicants who had stalked me on LinkedIn and wanted to make sure I‘d received their materials. In all cases, two things were true. Yes, I had received their application. But no, this phone call did not impress me.

When you don’t listen, you’re saying that your time is way more valuable than the hiring manager’s time. And even though most employers understand that the stakes are high for you, this sends the message that you think your needs are more important than other people’s.

3. “In Addition to Your Cover Letter, Please Tell Us More About Why You Want to Work Here?”

This might seem redundant, especially when you’ve done the work to tailor your cover letter specifically to a job. But some companies are adding a field on their listings for people to tell them more about why they’re excited about the job. And as annoyed as you might be about having to do twice the work, you shouldn’t ignore this.

If you’re applying for the right roles (a.k.a., roles you’re truly excited about), you probably can name quite a few reasons why you’re pumped about the opportunity. So make things easier on yourself and share one that you didn’t include in your cover letter.

It doesn’t have to be a novel, but it should be a little different from what you’ve already written. That’s because this field exists for the employer to weed out candidates who either aren’t excited enough about the job to come up with a specifc reason, or are mass applying to several roles and not putting the effort into researching each one.

I have some good news and some bad news: Applying for any job is a lot of work. The good news is that a lot of people won’t put the necessary detail and effort into their application—meaning that you’ll stand out if you do. And there’s nothing better than standing out when you’re competing against a lot of people for an awesome opening.