Want a job? Learn to spell (And ditch the Star Trek uniform)

The BBC report a recent survey by Hertfordshire University. It reveals that poor spelling on an application is the most likely thing to put employers off hiring someone. It alienated 77 per cent of the businesses they interviewed. Having read through thousands of CVs when I ran my computer software busines, I agree but there are some other things you can do to maximise your chances:

  1. Dress conservatively. One candidate sent a 10×8 picture of herself in a Star Trek uniform. I’m a fan but it just looks weird in a job application. Another candidate for a graphic designer’s job turned up in a cape, beret and cane (actually, I think we hired him).
  2. Use humour sparingly, if at all. “This job is up my street. Hell no! It’s right next door.” Hmmm.
  3. Get a hobby. Under hobbies, one candidate wrote “none.” Make something up, for goodness sake. And make it interesting. I remember interviewing a candidate receptionist. It was a slow interview and I asked her what her hobbies were. After a pause, she replied “I smoke a lot.” Another candidate wrote “statistics.”
  4. Don’t make absurd claims. In one case, I read: “I am interested in the triumph of justice.” I’ve seen a couple of candidates who claimed to have worked for MI5 or MI6. In general, try not to scare your prospective employers.
  5. Get someone else to sanity-check your application . I’m sure that the chap who wrote “I have a close, loving relationship with my two sisters,” meant it innocently enough but would have benefitted from putting it differently.
  6. Don’t make stuff up that we can check. I’ve seen extraordinary claims of Olympic victory, Rubik’s Cube championships, hit games written in a weekend, implausible job titles at friends’ companies. In the immortal words of Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes, Minister, “never conceal something that the press can discover for themselves.”
  7. Check your application before you send it. I saw many applications with the names of competitors in the covering letter. Mailmerge failure is a sign that you lack attention to detail.
  8. If you want a reference, don’t punch your boss. Luckily this didn’t happen to me. In general, however, threats of litigation, sabotage and violence by departing employees is likely to result in a less than favourable reference.
  9. Don’t bring your mother to the interview. This only happened once to me but it doesn’t create a favourable impression.
  10. Get my name right. My surname is unusual and it’s a good test of who is paying attention and checking things properly. A good way to impress is to send a short note after the interview summarising your strengths and picking up on any points that you missed in the interview. This is the perfect opportunity to show you got people’s names right.

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6 Responses to Want a job? Learn to spell (And ditch the Star Trek uniform)

  1. Owen Lystrup August 7, 2006 at 7:47 pm #

    Great advice, Matthew as always.

    My girlfriend just landed a management position at her job and is now in charge of hiring and building her own team. So I get all the horror stories of things people do in interviews.

    I think one of the worst was someone submitted a handwritten resume. I mean come on.

  2. Steve Lim August 8, 2006 at 12:07 am #

    “I smoke a lot.”

    That part kept me laughing like 30 seconds in my Tuesday cloudy morning.

    Thanks ;)

  3. Theresa Smith August 8, 2006 at 6:35 am #

    Slick interviewees are often the sign of lots of experience in being interviewed. They are not necessarily great employees. A really good interviewer will get the best out of an interviewee, often despite the interviewee’s efforts. And those naive responses – hilarious! To be enjoyed and passed on, minus names of course.

  4. Matthew Stibbe August 8, 2006 at 6:42 am #

    You are so right. Really slick interviews are almost as worrying as hopelessly bad ones. Like a blog without any spelling mistakes usually means that its been written by a PR company! I remember another interview where the candidate gossiped about the five companies that had employed him over the preceding few years and he slagged off everyone he met so badly. It was very entertaining and we got a lot of useful market intelligence but we didn’t hire the guy because we knew he’d leave us in six months and go to the next company with all our gossip.

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