The times they are a-changin’ for job applications

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I’m starting to feel old. It isn’t because I now need glasses to read not-so-small print. Nor is it because my hair seems to be turning gray at a faster rate. Nor the fact that I’m putting on weight for the first time in my life. Rather, it is because I find myself increasingly worrying about “the youth of today.” 

Mark Armbruster

My company recently posted for an open junior-level investment position. We posted the notice electronically, as is the custom. We received roughly 150 resumes. The majority of the applicants had no relevant experience, and many of the resumes had objectives that related to industries other than ours. None of the applications included a formal cover letter, and only a few, maybe five, attached electronic messages that took the place of a cover letter.

When I was a lad, we had to type our resumes and include cover letters specifically written for each potential job. We had to pay for a stamp and send our applications through the mail. We also needed to produce our documents on expensive, fine bond stationery. There was a lot of work that went into this process, and some expense. That expense compounded if we were sending resumes for a lot of potential jobs. This helped ensure that we were applying for jobs that we really wanted, and that we had put some thought into the process.

The marginal work and cost of applying for jobs today is essentially zero. That is probably why we are getting resumes for a position at an investment firm from people with backgrounds in landscaping, criminal justice, and even exotic dancing (I’m not making this up). 

Further adding to my age-related identity crisis is the fact that virtually every resume I have seen for the past 20 years contains some sort of mistake. Some of these are overt spelling or grammatical errors. Some are more subtle inconsistencies, such as using a hyphen in one job description and an em dash in the next. I realize I’m a stickler with border line OCD, but back in my day, a single resume error, no matter how small, was a disqualifying event for any prospective job.

We also had to tailor our resumes if we were applying for jobs in different industries. I understand that many younger folks do not know exactly what they want to be when they grow up, and that they need to try out different jobs. However, if you are applying for a technical job at an investment firm, don’t let your resume’s objective talk about how you are going to improve our sales and marketing. I remember having at least two resumes, one for the investment jobs I wanted and one for other types of jobs that I might have to accept if Plan A didn’t work out. 

We have conducted a dozen preliminary interviews for our current job opening. Some have gone well, but most applicants have been ill-prepared. Most striking, however, is that to date we have received zero thank-you notes after the interviews. I realize that handwritten, mailed notes are a thing of the past, but even a thank-you email would be nice. Woody Allen’s quip that 80 percent of success is just showing up is relevant here. If applicants would just do the basics that we took for granted when we were younger, they would immediately stand out from the crowd. 

Hiring is a risky proposition for any employer, but particularly for a small business. We often don’t have formal training programs, and we need to know that our new hires are serious and self-motivated. A hiring mistake, and we have made many, can be costly and time consuming. If we hire a trader and he/she doesn’t work out, we can lose six months or more of productivity, and tens of thousands of dollars in wasted salary, just to be right back to where we started. 

So, my advice to today’s youngsters seeking gainful employment is to focus on relevant, high-probability jobs for which you have experience and a genuine interest. Show hiring managers that you are serious and can make their lives easier. Stand out from the crowd by writing a short cover letter about why you want the job and will be a fit. And, follow up with a thank-you note after each interview.

In a period with relatively high unemployment, it is a buyer’s market. Job applicants need to put in a little extra effort. But what do I know? I’m just an old fuddy duddy. 

Mark Armbruster is president of Armbruster Capital Management Inc., a registered-investment adviser in Rochester, with more than $500 million in assets under management. 

3 thoughts on “The times they are a-changin’ for job applications

  1. You’re not a fuddy-duddy. Fully support your request for common courtesy.
    I blame their parents.
    Best wishes for finding the gems.

  2. Yep, grey. Funny. And not. In both ways. Funny that we judge on straightness of ties, whether resumes have or don’t have accent marks, and that when we confess our truths of weight gain etc. that is good natured and warm. And not funny in that a pole dancer couldn’t be a phenom’ managing money (if that was the position).
    I think it was Itzhak Pearlman who once described an early career interview something like this: lots of people can play the violin, but very few can play it from the heart. I can teach techniques, but you can’t teach that. Can you imagine the guts it takes to not wear a suit -I’m rooting for the dancer.

  3. Hi Mark – Great story. We’ve seen the exact same thing in the hiring we’ve done over the past couple years. Even when we force applicants to send an actual email to a specific email address instead of just hitting the ‘click here to apply’, we still get a ton of unqualified folks, who clearly don’t seem interested in our role anyway (based on their objectives). No cover emails or notes, and rarely a thank you after an interview. I second the point – anyone that does these simple things will automatically stand out in the top 10% of all applicants. Great advice!

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