I did not realize how exhausting it must be for recruiters until now. They have the unpleasant job of sifting through many applications, emails and résumés just to get to the few good candidates.

Recently, I placed an ad looking for help for my law firm: “looking for an assistant with law firm experience for part-time work“. The ad was kept intentionally simple and made it clear this was for part-time work. Responses ranged from the professional (qualified candidate, clear résumé, concise cover letter) to the mediocre (unqualified candidate, poorly formatted résumé, sloppy cover letter). After reviewing over 80 résumés in 10 days, I observed the following:

  • Typos: Many of the cover letters and résumés contained typos and poor writing. I was surprised to see this many, especially for a position where writing is an integral part of the job. The Solution: Spellcheck (twice) and ask a friend to proofread for you. 
  • Formatting: Where do I begin? The lawyers seemed to have the best formatted résumés, with useful work history and clear cover letters. Some applicants, including recent graduates, submitted 3-4 page résumés. Sometimes including blank pages. The Solution: Print and review your résumé. Ask a friend to review it. When it’s ready, send it as a PDF so it presents better.
  • Irrelevant/Non-Existent Experience: Some people seemed confused, and rambled in their cover letters. They included a “mystery writer” and a “sports writer”, both of whom suggested their experience was relevant would help. Some spoke of their studies and future degrees. And yet others had completely irrelevant experience in show business, the arts, sales and other fields that did not appear to directly add value to a law firm. The Solution: If your experience does not match the job, explain how you can add value.
  • Email addresses: One would expect that an email from “John Smith” would contain a résumé that same person. Several applicants offered résumés for people with names vastly different than the sender’s email address. Was this a friend helping someone without email? Was it a nickname? John Smith sending a résumé for Mary Anderson is confusing and completely unnecessary. The Solution: Use an email address that somewhat matches your name.
  • Inappropriate & Random Responses: Someone demanded higher pay before she would consider the position. Ironically, she submitted a very poorly formatted résumé. Another applicant wrote negatively about his current employer. One wrote about her competing and winning in beauty pageants. One explained how a long illness kept her out of the workforce for many years and she was just able to start working again (was she in a coma?). The Solution: Keep it simple. Explain your interest in the position and how you would add value. That is it. Simple.
  • Economy/Job Market: The applicants included lawyers, paralegals, secretaries and law students. For a part-time job. A PART-TIME JOB. I was pleased to have such a great response, but saddened that so many people needed part-time work, some of whom were over qualified. The Solution: Unfortunately, this is not something I can fix.

There were some impressive applicants, and I asked several of them to come in for interviews. But eliminating the other candidates was easy; much easier than expected. For all the reasons above, it was easy to eliminate over 75% of the applicants.

There is an old saying about not having a second chance to make a first impression. Hopefully, some of these applicants become familiar with that saying before they apply for other jobs.

To all you recruiters out there, you have my respect. Although my experience was challenging, it could have been much worse. My ad was a blind posting; applicants could not determine who I was or where exactly my office is located. They could only  respond to an anonymous email address which was then sent to me. That likely saved me from receiving many calls and direct emails.