Have You Focused on the Details of Your Job Search?

Published in CareersConnect, February 2010

By April Silverthorn Southward

All too often we get caught in the busyness of our everyday lives and forget about the smallest details, yet we still like to call ourselves "detail oriented," especially when it comes to applying for jobs. However, when recruiters really stop to take a look at the applications they receive, they typically find cover letters and résumés with multiple, minor errors-such as misspelled words, poor grammar, incorrect information, etc.-which can often preclude a perfectly qualified candidate from being hired. So, I pose the question, what happened to being detail oriented in the job search?

This problem comes about as the result of two main issues. The first is that we have grown used to the ways in which our work is reviewed on a day-to-day basis. If we routinely have someone come in behind us to ensure that our work is completed correctly, we tend to become used to having someone there to catch the errors we may have overlooked, often neglecting to do so ourselves. On the other end of the spectrum, we may not be used to having someone review our work in depth, and therefore continue to make the same mistakes over and over, unaware we are doing so.

The second issue is that we have all been repeatedly told to "not sweat the small stuff" and to instead "focus on the big picture." After having this drilled into our heads on so many occasions, many of us have lost our ability to focus on the small things in favor of what we think is really important. Here is where the trap lies, because even the smallest of details can be equally important, especially when it comes to the job search. When this type of mindset takes over and it comes time to focus on details, we have a very difficult time because we have not been refining these skills on a daily basis.

Take a look through the CM Jobs site and you will see it on many of the job postings: everyone is looking for someone who is detail oriented. But what does being "detail oriented" really mean? It doesn't mean that you are interested in the details or even that they are important to you. It means that you generally stop and take the time to focus on the small things to ensure that everything is correct.

While minor detail errors create a major setback for any job seeker, they are especially detrimental to those in the contract management profession. In a line of work where the smallest error can cost an organization millions of dollars or more, it is critical to your job hunt success to ensure that your documents are error-free each time you apply for a position. If they are not, you might as well not waste your time applying.

In my time working as a recruiter for a small marketing firm in the Nashville, Tennessee, area, I saw numerous application errors that could have been easily avoided. I wondered how so many experienced professionals were making these mistakes. Later, I realized it was something just about everyone struggles with. So, just how do you go about avoiding this trap? The key is to look everything over at least one more time than you usually would. Read your application backwards or out loud. Also, having someone else review your work can be extremely beneficial since after numerous times reviewing the same information, you will often overlook even the most obvious of errors. Don't be afraid to ask a mentor, a spouse, or a friend to review your résumé, as well as any other documents that you send off to a potential employer.

As far as other documents go, the submission of a cover letter is just as important as submitting your résumé. The real power of a cover letter is too often underestimated. A cover letter allows you to showcase your skills and abilities while expressing your interest in the particular position you are applying for. Why not take the opportunity to present a possible employer with information not included in your résumé? Every résumé should have a cover letter attached. Keep in mind that the content of the letter is extremely important-the letter showcases your ability to communicate in written form with customers and potential clients. Be sure to rewrite the letter every time you submit your résumé to a potential employer, and tailor it to the specific position you are applying for. Read it over several times before submitting it to ensure that there are no errors that could end up setting you back in the selection process.

Another trick that you may find helpful would be to wait a day. When you pick things back up the next day you may notice errors that your tired mind may have overlooked the day before. Waiting a day or two is not likely to have any effect on your consideration, as many times your application will sit and wait to be reviewed until the end of a job posting. Also, it's important to remember that many employers, even those who need someone immediately, will continue to review incoming applications after they have contacted other candidates to schedule interviews.

The interview follow-up thank you note is another necessity in today's job market, and is typically taught in school as a part of proper business etiquette. However, it has become increasingly rare, which makes it an easy tool to set you apart from your competitors. Unfortunately, as beneficial as follow-up thank you notes can be, they can also be detrimental if you don't pay attention to the details. Recently, when interviewing for an internal position, an interviewee sent thank you notes to the three staff members who participated in the interview process. However, the candidate did not proofread the notes before sending them out, and forgot to change each letter to reflect the names and positions for two of the interviewers. While the notes were addressed correctly to each of them, when the interviewers read the note, they quickly realized that the content of each thank you note had never been revised specifically for them. What initially came off as a very thoughtful and professional gesture quickly turned into a disqualification factor. In the end, the candidate would have been more likely to have been selected if he or she had not sent the thank you notes at all.

The bottom line is that it has become quite difficult to stand out from the crowd when there is an average of 6.4 unemployed applicants per open position. However, by taking a few simple steps, you can make the decision easier and stand out from your competition. Remembering the details is an essential part of making sure that the small gestures you put effort into when applying are taken into consideration, rather than setting you back in the selection process.

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