I have over 30 years’ experience as a hiring manager and recruiter and am continually amazed at how many times a fully qualified candidate has missed out on a job opportunity for reasons other than their skills and qualifications. While our email course has recruiting tips in many of these areas, I wanted to quickly take you through nine fatal mistakes job searchers make in the application process…and why they matter.

1.  Follow the directions on how to apply.

I posted a position last fall which clearly stated that the application process was to send a resume and cover letter to my email address. For the 10% who called me instead of following the application instructions of sending your information through email…I apologize for not getting back to you on your candidacy. Application processes exist to make it easy for the hiring managers to filter through the submittals and to effectively route candidates through the hiring system. When you follow the directions on how to apply for a job, you show your potential employer that you are someone who is not only cooperative but also someone who can and will follow directions. Most importantly, however, following the application directions shows that you don’t need to play games or by-pass the application system because you can stand on your own merit and qualifications. There are those who would tell you to skip the application process and apply directly to the hiring manager or CEO of the company. Do not do this! Not only will this direct approach show a lack of respect for the process but will also leave the hiring manager wondering if you will follow policies and instructions in your day to day activities. Please note there are effective ways to use your network in order to obtain a position, and we will discuss those recruiting tips later in the email course.

2. Be sure to run grammar and spell checks on your resume.

Typos show carelessness, lack of attention to details, and that you are “okay” with submitting poor quality products to your employer. Poor grammar indicates your education is in question, it makes you appear sloppy, and it will leave the hiring manager wondering if you are able to effectively interact with the client. To further elaborate on this recruiting tip, grammar and spell checks shouldn’t stop with your resume, but should carry through on all your email correspondence, cover letters, and any other writing samples your potential employer requests. This includes slang! Submitting a resume or application is not the time to be informal. In many cases I will ask questions through email in order to obtain a writing sample and I can’t tell you how many times I rejected an otherwise qualified candidate because he or she used some type of slang, smiley face, or other informality in their email response (y’all is a big one I see in the South).

3. If it is requested to include your salary requirements, please do.

Don’t be one of those candidates who believe that your credentials are so great that the hiring manager will offer you whatever you are asking after they have gotten to know you throughout the interview process. Perhaps you do have amazing qualifications, but the reality is that the company has a budget, and you shouldn’t waste their time (or yours) if your salary requirements are too expensive for their financial plan. If you are truly flexible on your salary requirements because other things are more important to you (experience, career growth opportunity, better work environment, better location, travel, etc.), then be sure to state that in your submission. You might be flexible in your salary requirements, but if providing your salary requirements is part of the application process, you should follow the application directions and provide what your expectations are. We will cover more in-depth recruiting tips on how to benchmark and negotiate your expected compensation range later in this email series.

4. Customize your resume and cover letter for the position you are applying for.

A written objective in a resume can be the death of a candidate. One of my applicant’s resume objective stated “To obtain an entry level position as a financial analyst in a company where I will be able to grow and meet new challenges”. Not a bad objective, right? The problem is he was applying for a position with me as a recruiter. Hmmmm….. I cannot even begin to tell you how often I receive a resume and application for one job type when the resume’s objective indicates the candidate is clearly looking for a different job type!   This is an immediate turn off and will get your application rejected every time. The true recruiting tip I am trying to relay is you never want the hiring manager to think you are submitting to hundreds of positions…even if you are. Always tailor your resume to draw the hiring manager’s attention to how you meet their job requirements – point by point. Additionally, don’t underestimate the value of a well written and tailored cover letter. Your cover letter is your calling card and should give the hiring manager the impression you have hand-picked this position. In addition, it is incredibly important to articulate how you believe working for this particular company in this particular position will enable you to obtain certain skills and experiences and will assist you in meeting your overall career objectives.

5. Never leave unexplained gaps in your employment in your resume.

Every hiring manager will want to know why gaps in employment history exist. Every time. No exception. Don’t leave the reasons for the employment gaps up for the hiring manager’s imagination! We will be covering more recruiting tips on how to write an effective resume later in this email course so be sure to stay tuned!

6. Don’t apply for positions where you are seriously under-qualified.

I rejected a candidate once who clearly met none (zero…zilch) of the minimum requirements and her response to me was “well, it didn’t hurt to try!” Yes it does. Applying for positions where there is a huge gap between your qualifications and the job requirements shows poor judgment.  It will not only get you rejected from that position but will keep you from being considered for other, future opportunities within the same company…even those future opportunities you may be qualified for. And let’s face it – do you really want to be given a job you are unable to do? I would like to note, however, it is okay to dream and shoot high.  Many hiring managers are willing to consider candidates who are only slightly under-qualified. If you are missing one key requirement or somewhat come short on the years of experience then by all means, apply for the position. However (and this part of the recruiting tip is very important), you need to own the limitation by clearly calling that weakness out in your cover letter. In addition, make sure you describe how other skills will compensate for that weakness and how you will still be effective and successful in the position.

7. Don’t apply for positions where you are way over-qualified.

The question I always have for candidates who fall in this category is why you are applying for a position you are clearly well over-qualified. Please note that I am not talking about slightly over-qualified…but well over-qualified. The message typically reeks of desperation and the hiring manager will be concerned about many things including:

  • You will become bored in the position and become frustrated or start feeling “stuck”
  • You will abandon the position as soon as something at your level becomes available
  • You are going to be dissatisfied with the compensation
  • You will be embarrassed to “take a step back”

And the hiring manager will wonder if you will be able to take work direction from younger, lesser qualified people. If you have decided to apply for a position you are over-qualified to do, you should openly state why you want the job (needing to cut back on hours for family reasons, have decided on a career path change, or even because you have been out of work for a while and need some income, etc.), then be sure to address those reasons in your well-tailored cover letter. Additionally, it is critically important for you to call out that you know you are over-qualified and be sure to address the potential objections a hiring manager will have up front in your cover letter. By dealing with potential objections and concerns up front you are more likely to obtain that coveted interview.

8. Don’t use gimmicks to draw attention to your resume.

No one wants to see your picture on your resume unless you are applying to be a super model. Don’t add zippy graphics or get creative with the font or format unless, of course, you are applying to be a graphic designer. In addition, no one cares that your hobby is rock climbing, water skiing, or taking long walks on the beach. Make sure your resume looks clean and professional and all the content is relevant to the position you are seeking. One last note: don’t include “extras” when they aren’t requested such as copies of your training certificates and bios of your life story if those “extras” do not have any relevance to the position you are applying for.

9. In all cases, think about how you come across!

Please realize that you are selling yourself in every interaction. For example, think about the email address you are using. I once immediately rejected a candidate because her email address was “divaprincess”. Did I really want to take a chance on assimilating someone who believes she is a diva (or a princess) into my well-oiled machine? Absolutely not! Additionally, make sure your voicemail message is professional and if music is played while the caller is waiting please select an appropriate song. If you need to leave a voicemail for a hiring manager, think it out, write it down, and rehearse it. If the hiring manager has scheduled a call with you, (more interviewing recruiting tips later), please be sure you are in a quiet location where you can focus 100% of your attention to the phone call.

Finally, do not include silly things like confetti in your submission packet or put your resume on brightly colored paper. You should appear professional in every interaction.

Be sure to opt into our email course for advice and guidance.

Investing in a Lifetime of Success,

Angela Roberts


Are you considering a career change? If so, sign up for our Job Seeker email course which provides valuable insight into how to become more competitive in the marketplace. Check out our Blog for additional interview tips.