Don’t Make These Job Application Mistakes, with Mandi Woodruff

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:

Hi, this is Mac from Mac’s List. Before we start the show, I want to let you know about my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. I’ve been helping job seekers find meaningful, well-paying work since 2001, and now I’ve put all my best advice into one easy-to-use guide.

My book shows you how to make your resume stand out in a stack of applications, where you can find the hidden jobs that never get posted, and what you need to do to ace your next job interview. Get the first chapter now for free. Visit MacsList.org/anywhere.

This is Find Your Dream Job; the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my co-hosts, Ben Forstag, Becky Thomas, and Jessica Black, from the Mac’s List team.

This week we’re talking about  job application mistakes.

Talk to a hiring manager about mistakes applicants make and the same errors keep coming up. Because of these gaffes, candidates who might otherwise get an interview or a job offer receive a rejection letter instead. It doesn’t have to be this way says this week’s guest expert, Mandi Woodruff. She co-hosts the career podcast, Brown Ambition. We talk later in the show about how to avoid the most common application mistakes.

If you want a job totally different from what you do now, Ben Forstag has the tool for you. It’s an online database that lets you find the occupation that’s the exact opposite of your current job. Ben tells us more in a moment.

You see a job posting that includes a salary range that meets your needs. But the application form asks you to describe your salary requirements. What do you say? That’s our question of the week. It comes from listener, Leah Pancheri in Portland, Oregon. Becky shares her advice in a moment.

As always, let’s start by checking in with the Mac’s List team.

Now, our topic this week is job application mistakes, and we’re talking, not just about the application materials themselves, but the process, including interviews, and follow up. So tell me, either it’s the biggest mistake you want to fess up to that you’ve made when applying for a job, or that you’ve seen others make? Becky?

Becky Thomas:

One of my mistakes that I’ve made in the past, which is just embarrassing, but not huge, is you send off the email with your application and then you forget to attach your resume. You’re like, “Here you go, I attached everything.” And it was before Google caught that kind of stuff.

Jessica Black:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Because Google catches it now, because I do that all the time.

Mac Prichard:

Oh Google does that?

Becky Thomas:

Yeah. Because if you say in the copy of your email, “attached is.. Blah, blah, blah” and then you don’t have an attachment, Google will be like, “Wait a second, you said ‘attached’, nothing is attached.” It gives you a little warning.

Mac Prichard:

I’m going to have to find that in Gmail, because I make that mistake professionally once or twice a month.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah. It happens a lot.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, I think it’s one of those things in the vein of minor tactical errors. But it’s also like a detail thing. Right?

Mac Prichard:

It is.

Jessica Black:

That’s what I was going to say, it’s like making a typo in your cover letter or something, where it’s, “I have really strong attention to detail,” and then you misspell something, and it just makes you seem like you’re not, even though everybody makes that mistake.

Becky Thomas:

It’s like when a hiring manager is looking at that, that could be enough for them to be like, “Oh, nope, put them in the “no” pile.”

Jessica Black:

Right, you know, when they’re getting hundreds of applications, yeah, for sure.

Mac Prichard:

Agreed. Ben, how about you?

Ben Forstag:

Well, Becky shared a minor snafu that everyone does. I’m going to go the complete opposite direction and share a big mistake that I know was a big mistake, pretty much as soon as I did it, which was, just trash talking my current employer in an interview. I was a little set up because the interviewer says, “Why are you looking for a new job?”, and I just kind of went into this rant about how I was unhappy at my current job.

Mac Prichard:

Uh oh.

Ben Forstag:

Halfway through it I realized the mistake I had made and was trying to step back out of it but I wasn’t able to. So.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Early in your career I hope.

Ben Forstag:

Early in my career.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. A job before this one.

Ben Forstag:

If it was the job before this one, I guess it wasn’t that big of a mistake. No, this was much earlier in my career.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, before you knew not to do that.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Jessica Black:

There are better ways to do it.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, well mine, I made when I was coming out to Oregon. I had applied for a job with a public agency here in the state, and I came out during Spring Break. It was a Monday, I had just arrived the night before, and the employer, somehow, this was pre-internet, tracked me down at the hotel I was staying at, and said, “Congratulations, we want to invite you to answer some essay questions, and you need to get them in by Friday.” And I said, “Well, I’m booked. I’ve got meetings for the next five days. I’ll get these to you on Monday.”

That was a big, big mistake. I actually wrote my answers on the plane back. I sent them in on Monday, by fax and then weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything. I called someone and they said, “You’re not a candidate.” I said, “Well what you do mean, ‘I’m not a candidate?’ What did you think of the essays?’” “We didn’t consider them.”

Jessica Black:

Because they were late.

Becky Thomas:

There were rules, yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, right. With public agencies, they tend to be stricter about these things, but even if it wasn’t a government agency, you’ve got to follow directions.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve got to respect the deadlines of the people who are taking you through their process.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, I think that’s a really important note. That’s kind of similar to the things that I can think of, in terms of what’s hindered me in job applications in the past. Getting caught in those deadline things, not specifically somebody telling me there’s a deadline, but there’s always, “Get your application in by this date”, and then I like to take a lot of time to think about what I’m going to say and process it. Then life gets in the way and you start filling up your schedule and then pretty soon, you’re like, “Oh no, it’s tomorrow, and I still haven’t sent it in.” Then, it’s crunch time, and that’s just never good.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Well good conversation, and I know that Mandi’s going to have some additional thoughts on this. I’m looking forward to that, as well. But first, let’s turn to you, Ben, because you’re out there every week, exploring the internet on behalf of our listeners, looking for tools, resources, books, and websites they can use in a job search, or managing a career. So what have you uncovered for us this week?

Ben Forstag:

So this week I found a cool little tool online. It’s from The New York Times, and it’s called What Is Your Opposite Job?

So the labor department keeps these really detailed records on the skills and tasks required for jobs. The data includes basic backs like, required education, skill level, but it also includes really bizarre methods like, required trunk strength… I guess that’s like how many crunches you can do, and the ability to maintain balance. They use this for all kinds of things, I think it goes into disability evaluations and things like that. Well, The New York Times looked at the data here for every job, and then flipped it on it’s head and looked for the polar opposite. So if you’re really good at maintaining balance in your current job, they were like, “What’s the opposite of that? Someone who can barely walk down the street straight.”

So it tells you the exact opposite of what your current career is. So for example, the opposite job of a kindergarten teacher is a physicist. The opposite job of a writer/author is a mobile home installer. The opposite job of an architect is a slaughterer and meat packer.

Jessica Black:

Yikes.

Ben Forstag:

So you type in your job and the algorithm will tell you what the exact opposite of that job is. I typed in my job, the closest I could find was ‘business operations’. Anyone want to guess what the opposite job for me is?

Mac Prichard:

I’m stumped. What?

Ben Forstag:

Not even a guess? Let me give you a hint, look at this face.

Becky Thomas:

A runway model?

Ben Forstag:

Close, fashion model is the opposite.

Mac Prichard:

So in other words you’ve got the perfect face for a podcast.

Ben Forstag:

Exactly.

Becky Thomas:

Burn.

Mac Prichard:

Should I laugh?

Ben Forstag:

Your cue, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

Well terrific. Now tell me about why this is valuable for job seekers? Because it’s an interesting intellectual exercise but how can this help someone in their job search?

Ben Forstag:

This is something they actually address. They say, “Clearly this is an amusing exercise, but me finding out that the opposite of the job that I have is a fashion model doesn’t do a whole lot for me, except it shows…” you know, when you look up all this information, it’s like, for me, “Business operations, here’s the list of skills that people who have this job generally have.” It helps you kind of dissect some of those skills underneath your existing job and also the skills that come into the opposite job as well. So it’s like an interesting way to see what goes into the job that everyone has and really appreciate jobs that other folks have.

I know that a lot of the opposites were ‘a ballet teacher’ or ‘a ballet dancer’ and I think sometimes people kind of stick their noses up at those kinds of things, but there’s a lot of skill that goes into that. You need to have an amazing sense of balance and body control and things like that. So I just thought it was a really interesting exercise, both for your own career, but also to see what other people are doing with their lives.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I did take a moment to use this site as well and my opposite was ‘agricultural grader’.

Jessica Black:

What does that mean?

Becky Thomas:

Oh, I got that too. What is that?

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, because I’m guessing Becky, you put in the same category I did, which was ‘public relations and marketing’.

Becky Thomas:

I put in ‘marketing managers’.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and an agricultural grader is somebody who helps harvest and sort and categorize vegetables and fruit.

Jessica Black:

Has excellent trunk strength.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Oh.

Mac Prichard:

Good sense of balance.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Wow.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

We’ve got to work on our abs, Mac.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, so what does that mean about people in your field?

Becky Thomas:

We’ve got the weakest trunks of all the professionals.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, I guess.

Mac Prichard:

But I love your point, Ben, about the list of skills for your profession, because the ten skills that were listed for the occupation I chose, ‘public relations manager’, which is what I do in my other company, were just spot on. They were, and some of those things I’m better at than others, but if I were early or mid career, I would look at that list and it would give a good road map of things I need to concentrate on in order to be successful.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, absolutely.

So again, this is called, What Is Your Opposite Job, it’s from The New York Times and we will have the full link in the shownotes.

Mac Prichard:

Great, well thank you, Ben. If you’ve got a suggestion for Ben, write him. We’d love to  share your idea on the show. His address is ben@macslist.org.

Now, let’s turn to you, our listeners. Becky is here to answer one of your questions. Becky, what’s in the Mac’s List mailbag this week?

Becky Thomas:

So this one comes from listener, Leah Pancheri in Portland, Oregon. She says:

“Oftentimes jobs will have a salary posted, but then they will ask either on the application or in the interview about salary “requirements” or “expectations”… how do we best answer this question when we clearly know what they posted? What if we feel we are worth a little more, or that the job sounds like it’s worth paying a little more after the interview? I’d love some suggestions/insight on the most tactful and respectful way to answer the question.”

Leah, this is a good question. It really is a tricky situation. So the employer has posted the salary, which is basically them saying, “This is how much we want to pay for this position.” So when they’re asking you for your requirements or expectations, it feels like a trick question. If you give a number besides the number that they say they want to pay, are you out of the running for the job?

But if you do feel like you deserve more, it is worth bringing up. You can definitely be a little more tactful about how you approach that.

So the biggest thing here is just letting them know that you’re flexible and that you’re focused more on the position and making sure that you’re a fit with them. Like we’ve talked about before, punting the salary discussion, until they know that they want you because then you’ll have a lot more leverage.

So, something you could say in those early stages, whether it’s in your application or in the interview, just focus on letting them know, “I’m really excited about this opportunity. Salary isn’t my primary consideration. I’m more interested in finding out if I might be a good fit for your needs.” The numbers discussions can hopefully happen later, or during the offer stage, would be ideal.

If they do push you and you are actually looking for more than what they posted, I would recommend you share a range. That range might start at the number they gave, so you’re still within their range. But you let them know that you are looking for a little bit more. Show them why you deserve more. So talk about your fit, your expertise, all your experience, and the value that you would deliver.

So that’s my advice, you guys have any other thoughts?

Ben Forstag:

It does feel like a trick question.

Becky Thomas:

It really does.

Ben Forstag:

I mean it’s better than when the employer doesn’t put any salary down and then asks you how much you want. Which really frustrates people.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

I understand why.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, at least you have somewhere to start with them.

Ben Forstag:

I think the one thing to keep in mind here is most employers have some flexibility in what they’re willing to pay and they might be willing to stretch ten percent. Maybe more than that if they think they’ve found a really great candidate who’s worth it. The challenge here is they don’t know if you’re that great, perfect candidate they need until you get a chance to sit down with them. So you don’t want to do anything that might get you out of the running before you get the chance to show how awesome you are.

Jessica Black:

I think that’s the tricky part of them asking that question early.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Jessica Black:

Or having that conversation.

Becky Thomas:

We’ve talked about that in other places too, like if there’s a salary box that’s required on the application, if it’s a form.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

What do you put in there?

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

If they don’t tell you, or if they have one that’s lower than what you want. Do you just lie, or?

Mac Prichard:

No, Becky, actually it’s a great question because Jim Hopkinson, who was a guest on episode 74, and his topic was How To Answer The Desired Salary Question.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah. Okay, we’ll link that in the shownotes.

Mac Prichard:

He has some very tactical suggestions about what you should say if you have to fill out the box, if it does require a number. I would encourage her to check that out. There’s a transcript as well on the website.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, that’s great.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, but I do think I cut you off when you were in the middle of trying to say. Would you finish what you were wanted to say? Okay, he is shaking his head and also nodding, so…just for the podcast listeners.

Becky Thomas:

He’s shaking his fist at you now. Throat slashing.

Mac Prichard:

What would you like to add, Jessica?

Jessica Black:

I would just say, I don’t necessarily…I think all of the feedback and advice was great. I just, I came across an article recently. I think it was through LinkedIn. But it was about this conversation about when employers ask about salary history and having that be the basis of how they judge what you’re going to be paid now. What is such a terrible way of judging that, basing your salary off of that.

The article I was reading was all about how that is not important and it should be taken away. I’m not being very articulate at the moment, but…

Ben Forstag:

I’m ready to come back in.

Jessica Black:

Oh okay, go, go, go!

Ben Forstag:

I’m coming back in.

Actually, that is increasingly against the law in some states. So Massachusetts, and Oregon both passed laws saying, “Employers can’t ask you how much you made in your last job.”

Jessica Black:

Oh yeah. Right.

Becky Thomas:

Right. Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

I think this is like more of the low hanging pieces of fruit out there, that most legislators are using or implementing now.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah. That’s great.

Jessica Black:

Yeah. That’s what I was trying to say.  Good job, Ben, thanks.

Ben Forstag:

I’m out.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well thank you, Becky, and thank you, Leah, for the question. If you’ve got a question for Becky, please write her. Her email address is, becky@macslist.org, and you can call our listener line. That’s area code, 716-JOB-TALK. Or tweet  us; our twitter handle is @macs_list.

If we use your question on the show, we’ll send you a copy of Land Your Dream Job Anywhere.

We’ll be back in just a moment. When we return, I’ll talk with this week’s guest expert, Mandi Woodruff, about job application mistakes.

Most people struggle with job hunting. The reason is simple; most of us learns the nuts and bolts of looking for work by trial and error. That’s why I produce this podcast, to help you master the skills you need to find a great job. It’s also why I wrote my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. For fifteen years at Mac’s List, I’ve helped people in Portland, Oregon find meaningful, well-paying, and rewarding jobs that they love. Now I’ve put all of my job hunting secrets in one book that can help you no matter where you live.

You’ll learn how to get clear about your career goals, find hidden jobs that never get posted, and ace your next job interview. For more information, and to download the first chapter for free, visit Mac’sList.org/anywhere.

Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Mandi Woodruff.

Mandi Woodruff is executive editor of Magnify Money, and she spent her career covering the ins and out of personal finance. Two years ago, she helped launched Brown Ambition, a top 20 career and money podcast.

Previously, Mandi served as a correspondent at Yahoo Finance and editor at Business Insider. She is a graduate of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at The University of Georgia.

Mandi, thanks for coming on the show.

Mandi Woodruff:

Thanks for having me.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, well it’s a pleasure to have you.

As you know, our topic this week is job application mistakes.

I know you not only write and speak about jobs and careers, you’re also a manager. You’re hiring a lot of people in your current role. So let’s talk about the application process, Mandi, and again, we’re not just talking about application materials, but the process itself.

But let’s start with the application. What are the most important do’s and don’ts that people need to remember when they’re getting ready to send in an application for a job?

Mandi Woodruff:

Yeah, I have to preface this by saying, I’ve been a manager for a little over a year now and this is first time I have had a direct hand in hiring and recruiting. It is so much work. I realized that, it’s so hard.

Mac Prichard:

It is, isn’t it?

Mandi Woodruff:

To find the right people, and it’s frustrating when you know they’re out there, and that they’re either not selling themselves in the best way possible, or that you just haven’t found the right ones. So in my role, we just actually went through a transition. Magnify Money was a startup, in the traditional sense, up until about six weeks ago. We were aquired by a large company called, Lending Tree. So I would say, I’ve seen it from both sides. I’ve been the hiring manager at a small startup where I am the front line person, posting job listings and getting direct responses from candidates. Now these days we’ve got the help of a recruitment team, and I’ve seen how they work, and I’ve seen how selective they are in the recruitment process. I think that it’s interesting from both angles. So I’m happy to chat from either perspective about how the process works and how we find candidates for jobs we have open.

Mac Prichard:

Well I appreciate that and I’m curious, what are some of the key lessons you’ve learned during the last year as a hiring manager, as you’ve seen these applications come in?

Mandi Woodruff:

It’s really shocking to me the number of people who don’t take the time…I mean, I guess it’s not so shocking. I absolutely was that person. I was laid off from my first job when I went to New York in 2010 and I was that person on all the job listing sites, just trying to apply for anything and everything. Using the copy/paste function a little too much, to save time and become more efficient. But it’s one thing to say, “To whom it may concern”, and not do the work of finding the name of the person hiring, but it’s a much worse offense to copy and paste something that you’ve submitted to another employer and not take the time to actually remove that employer’s name from your cover letter or from your email intro.

So I’ve seen that so much. I can’t even tell you how many applications I’ve gotten that say, “Mr. Buzzfeed” or “Mr. Reuters” or “Mr. Yahoo Finance” or whatever. It’s pretty tragic, and it’s just, I try and be empathetic, because that was me so long ago, but I can’t lie, it definitely puts a bad taste in my mouth. Especially if you’re applying for a position where I’m hiring an editor, a fact checker, and a copy editor. So these people need to have attention to detail. If you’re telling me from your lack of awareness that you’ve sent this email to the wrong person, or not taken the time to update it to address the person you’re emailing now, that doesn’t really signal to me that you take the most care with what you’ve got going on. So, that’s mistake number one.

Mac Prichard:

That’s a big one, and what happens, Mandi, to the letters that are addressed to “Mr. Buzzfeed” or “Miss Yahoo” at your shop?

Mandi Woodruff:

They get quickly skimmed and you’ve really got to blow me out of the water at that point. Like I said, I’m sure there’s some people who are like, “Nope, not going to happen.” Instant no. But I, working for a smaller company, it’s a little bit different. Also just my own experience, like I said, I try to have a little bit of empathy. I’ll give you maybe the benefit of the doubt, but then I’m going to read your cover letter extra, extra close, and I’m going to read your resume super close. There won’t be that much extra wiggle room in terms of any other mistakes from that point forward, I can definitely say.

Mac Prichard:

So, mistake number one is not getting the name right and the reference to the company in the application materials. Can somebody actually make it to the next stage if they’re just using a generic cover letter or generic application materials?

Mandi Woodruff:

Yeah. I mean, sometimes it is really difficult. I was actually just helping a friend apply for a job at Spotify the other day and it was impossible. I really couldn’t find the name of this person who was hiring for this role. So I still think it’s better, I think it’s possible maybe, to get through the next stage. It really depends on how competitive a certain job is. If there’s dozens and dozens, and dozens and dozens of applications, which there are, because there’s all these online sites now. It’s so easy to apply for jobs now. So I’ve been inundated by applications. Our recruitment team has been inundated. So I would say that to be on the safe side, any little thing you can do to make your application stand out, do it. Even though I couldn’t find the name of that rep from Spotify, I went on LinkedIn and I found someone who I thought maybe could be the person and we addressed it to that person. I still feel like that’s better than “To whom it may concern” or, the worst of all offenses, which is to address it to a different person from a different company altogether.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. What are your quick tips about how to find those names? Obviously, the one at Spotify seems to be hard, but for listeners who, they’ve found a company, they don’t want to say, “To whom it may concern”, what are two or three quick things they can do to find the name of the right person they should be writing to?

Mandi Woodruff:

Yeah. I think LinkedIn is a great place to start. You can go the route of trying to find the Talent Acquisition Specialist, look for someone with that job title of, Recruiter, Talent Acquisition, on LinkedIn. Or if you want to go a step further, you could, in journalism you know you’re going to be working for a specific person, an editor. Or, for the most part, so you can easily go and see what’s the name of the editor of the section you’re applying for and apply that way. Same goes if you’re applying to a marketing firm and you know you’re going to be applying for a job as a junior account manager; go find on LinkedIn, someone you know has the title, Senior Account Manager of that job or that company.

Twitter is another good one, if you can’t find it on LinkedIn. But LinkedIn is certainly the first place I’d go to.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. How about other mistakes you see people make in the application materials? What else comes to mind?

Mandi Woodruff:

This is a really simple one, and it comes from my experience, having shifted from me being the first person to seeing everyone’s applications, to now having the help of a recruitment team. Which is what often big companies… your hiring manager, direct manager isn’t going to see every application. There’s a recruitment team or HR team on the other side who’s screening applications.

So you have to be lucky to get past that HR person to even get in my inbox. I really like it. I just sat down with someone  this morning for coffee, and I had no idea she applied to the job. But she found my information on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or something, and got my email address. She sent me a direct email saying, “Just want to let you know, I sent in my application to Lending Tree.” Lending Tree is the parent company of Magnify Money.

She said, “I submitted my application, but I just wanted to send you a personal note to let you know, ‘Here’s my resume, I’m interested in this job, I’d love to chat more’”. And within a few days I set up a coffee date with her, and I emailed the recruitment team to say, “Hey, heads up, this young woman emailed me, and I’m going to go meet with her.” They hadn’t gotten to her application yet.

So if you’re not doing that, you’re not going out of your way to find them on LinkedIn…I’ve gotten LinkedIn messages from people, telling me that they’ve applied, which I like. Or emailing, or Tweeting, something, just to go the extra mile. Do whatever you can to get their attention. I think that’s really smart and if you’re not doing that, that could be a mistake.

Mac Prichard:

I know a lot of listeners would like to get conversations like the one this lady got to have with you. Was there anything she did or said in her note that made you say yes to having a coffee meeting with her?

Mandi Woodruff:

Yeah. Well one, she’s qualified for the job I’m hiring for. I could look at her resume and easily see that she’s super qualified. So that was probably the first thing I looked for. At the end of the day, it’s a lot for a hiring manager to take thirty to forty-five minutes to have a conversation. So I do look at the resume to make sure it’s worth the time. I don’t want to lead anybody on and I don’t want to waste my time talking to someone who may not be a good fit.

She was very brief in her email. She sent a few links to some of her work. Again, I’m hiring for a reporter so that was easy for her to do. I just had her resume and I’m very motivated right now. I’m very motivated to fill this role, so for me, I’m especially more responsive than maybe some managers are, who may be on a longer timeline. Or who may be kind of twiddling their thumbs.

So I think in a sense, she got lucky. Her timing was great. I want to make a decision in the next two weeks and I’m very motivated.

On the other hand, she was really smart. She kept her email straight, direct, to the point, and she applied for a job that she had the goods for.

One extra thing, and I don’t want to make it seem like you have to know somebody to get a job, but she did mention…she had at least done this much research on me to know that I came from Yahoo Finance, and she just so happened to run into a former editor of mine a couple weeks back. So she mentioned that in there and that was just an instant connection in my mind. Someone we have in common that I didn’t know about. I’m not saying it gives her a better shot at getting a job just based on the fact that she happened to reach out to a former editor of mine. But she at least knew enough about me and where I come from to know that she should throw that in there, and that to me, showed a little bit more work on her part.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned qualifications a moment ago. What percentage of qualifications should people have before they send in an application, Mandi? Should it be a hundred percent? We get this question a lot. When does it become a mistake? Because some people apply everywhere and they have ten, twenty, thirty, percent of the minimum qualifications. But other people will apply if they’ve got sixty, or seventy, or eighty percent. What’s your view on that?

Mandi Woodruff:

I think that definitely if you’re in the sixty percent plus range, you should try. There’s these depressing statistics out there that women are less likely to apply for a job if they don’t tick all the boxes, whereas men will apply, even if they don’t tick all of the boxes on a job listing. I think that’s important. I feel like it’s not an exact science. I’ve written our job listings and I’m sitting here thinking, “Well how many years of experience should this person have?” And I’m just guessing, you know? I’m not going to disqualify someone who applied for the job if I’ve asked for three years and they only have two. I have that flexibility and at the end of the day, if you’ve got a really quality experience in a role, I would take that. Someone with one or two years of really high quality experience, where they’re writing a ton, getting a ton of on the ground reporting experience, over someone with three years where they’re not doing as much writing, or their work isn’t as good, any day.

So I certainly don’t think you should be discouraged by those eligibility requirements. I do think that you should be realistic. If you are entry level, like if it’s your first job, you probably won’t get a job at management level, mid-level even. I think it’s important to look for those cues in a job application that tell you if it’s entry level, or mid level, or senior. That’s just going to save you time in the end, not having to apply for jobs that probably aren’t realistic.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned the things that people shouldn’t do in application materials and cover letters. What are the right things people should do? What are the things that you see in the cover letters that cross your desk now?

Mandi Woodruff:

Yeah, I came by a really great cover letter the other day. This is a good case where the cover letter sold me more than the resume. She had taken the time to check out our site. She mentioned some of the stories that she liked on our site and you could tell it was a custom cover letter. Even if you get the right hiring manager’s name to address a letter to, I can still tell if you’ve just been copying and pasting a generic cover letter that could fit any job. There’s nothing specific to the job that you’re applying for. I could tell that she read the job listing and she was going back to the job listing and pulling out specific skills and requirements that we had listed as part of the job. Explaining, “You want this, here’s why I can bring it.”

I thought that was really great. It was also less than a page and I think that’s really important. I don’t know anyone who’s going to sit there and read a thousand words on whatever your topic is for your cover letter. Excuse me, I certainly don’t have the time to do that. I like short. I mean a page, how long is a page? Like, five hundred words? I don’t know.

Mac Prichard:

Four to five hundred. I think there’s a lot to be said for conciseness here.

Mandi Woodruff:

Absolutely. Use bullets, break it up. Anything you can do to help the reader get right to the point. Don’t regurgitate your resume. Sorry, I got back on the negative side, we’re supposed to be on the positive side now.

Mac Prichard:

Well, we can get back to negatives, and positives. Let’s move on to the interview.

Now you’ve been doing interviews in the last year and obviously, like all of us, you’ve been a candidate too. What are the biggest mistakes you see people make in an interview, Mandi?

Mandi Woodruff:

Yeah, I have got an ego. I think a lot of people have egos, especially hiring managers. It kind of peeves me when I’m talking to someone who’s done zero research on my background or the background of the company. I had a really annoying phone call with someone a couple of weeks back. Someone who looked amazing on paper. I was really excited to talk to this guy, and I get on the phone with him and it’s so apparent he’s done zero work figuring out what the deal is with our site, what Magnify Money is, what my background is. Mostly spent the interview talking about how he’d like to work somewhere where he could move up and get promoted, what he would want from the job. I was sitting there like, “Dude, I’m taking half my lunch hour to listen to you tell me about how you deserve a promotion.” I don’t even remember if he knew my name or not. Hadn’t done the work and that was frustrating.

You should at least go to the company website or have a good idea of what the company does before you get on the phone. It can take ten, fifteen minutes to a bit of research. Of course I’m speaking from a journalism world where it’s even easier, because it takes nothing to go to a journalism media site and get a sense of the last four or five stories they wrote and then mention those in an interview.

I think that’s important and you should know, you should find out who you’re interviewing with and go to their LinkedIn page and see what their history is. Get a sense of who they are. It should matter to you if you’re going to be working under someone. Do they have experience that you think you could learn from? Is there something in their background you could call out in an interview to catch their attention or something.

Mac Prichard:

Now let’s assume there’s an offer on the table, Mandi. What are the do’s and don’ts of this stage? What are the good things you see people do and the bad ones?

Mandi Woodruff:

Yeah, I haven’t had too many terrible ones. I think when an offers on the table, at that point, the negotiations are usually over. I would say don’t want until you get an offer letter, if you’ve waited until you’ve got an offer letter then you’ve probably waited too long. To negotiate, in my experience, I think the negotiations happen from the second interview on. I’ll tell you how we were doing it before we were acquired. When it was just me, I would have those awkward salary conversations with people, usually on the second or third call. If they brought it up on the first call it would be a turnoff, because I feel like it’s very much getting to know you. It’s not really talking about money yet; second or third call, then we can get serious.

Since we’ve been acquired, now we have a recruitment team, they get to do all the awkward money talks and I get to just pick the people I want. Or hire, which is awesome for me.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Mandi Woodruff:

But I know, if it’s a recruiter, they’re more direct. I’ve experienced this too. They’re more likely to maybe bring it up on the first or second call, probably the first one, because like I said, they’re screening, so they’re going to make sure, “Are you in our price range? Are you too expensive? If so, I probably won’t even pass you along unless I think there’s something there and we could work with you on your salary.”

So keep that in mind, it really depends on who you’re talking to in the interview process.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Well it’s been a great conversation, Mandi. Now tell us, what’s coming up next for you?

Mandi Woodruff:

Yeah, I’m coming up on the second anniversary of Brown Ambition, which is my podcast, it airs every Tuesday. It is a fun, engaging, I like to say hilarious, podcast. We talk about career, money, finance, the same kind of conversations I’ve had my entire career with my girlfriends. My co host is Tiffany, “the budgetnista”, Aliche, and we just have a really irreverent conversation about what’s happening in our lives, in our careers. How we’re making money, how we’re getting more money, how you can make more money. We take questions from listeners and we have guests every once in awhile. So definitely go check us out, it’s brownambitionpodcast.com.

Mac Prichard:

It’s a great show. I’ve listened to about a dozen episodes of it. I really enjoy the content and just the chemistry between you and Tiffany; it’s very fun but very, very informative.

Mandi Woodruff:

Thanks, Mac. Leave us a review. We have a key demo and I love that we’re expanding it to the Mac’s of the world. If there’s any guy listening, I’m like, “Yes!”

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. I know. I’m a little outside your demographic but I am a podcast nerd, Mandi. But I do admire the work that you and Tiffany are doing.

Mandi Woodruff:

Thanks, Mac. I really appreciate the support; it’s nice that we’re all supportive of each other. It’s great. It’s a very small little community in podcasters so congratulations on all your success too.

Mac Prichard:

Well thanks. I have a great team of colleagues here. Now, folks can listen to your show, and I encourage them to do so. They can download it on iTunes, or visit, brownambition.com. They can also connect with you on Twitter, can’t they, Mandi?

Mandi Woodruff:

Yeah. I’m @mandiwoodruff and it’s brownambitionpodcast.com and our Twitter is, @BApodcast.

Mac Prichard:

Well good, I’m glad you caught that. We’ll be sure to include links to the podcast, your Twitter account, and your website in the shownotes.

Well, Mandi, thanks for being on the show.

Mandi Woodruff:

Thanks, Mac. Super fun talking to you.

Mac Prichard:

Take care.

Alright, we’re back in the Mac’s List studio. What were key points you took away from my conversation with Mandi? Becky, you look like you’re ready to jump in.

Becky Thomas:

Hey.

Yeah, I thought it was great. I really liked a lot of points that she made.

Jessica Black:

It was all really good, yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, I really like the perspective she gave as a hiring manager and what she’s looking for. I was cringing that the people didn’t even remove the customization from their last application.

Jessica Black:

Yes.

Becky Thomas:

Guys, come on.

Jessica Black:

The copy paste, that’s like my worst fear. I’m so diligent about all of that, because that is my worst fear. That it’s going to go to Mr. Buzzfeed, or whatever. Seriously, the worst.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah. I also liked from her hiring manager perspective, she said how cool it was when someone did go the extra mile, and how she had these circumstances where she’s looking to hire someone and so she is going to go get coffee with this lady who reached out and made the effort. So that shows that it is worth it to do those things.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Ben, you look like you have an idea.

Ben Forstag:

No one ever accused me of that before, Mac.

I liked the point she made about not making the mistake of thinking you need to meet all of the requirements to a t.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

Which is a mistake, but you can fix it and good things will happen there. Because I know when you’re looking at these job descriptions, sometimes they seem formidable and they’re looking for an absolutely perfect candidate with a hundred years of experience, but paying only entry level salaries. I mean, again, we’ve talked about it, it’s because hiring managers, myself included, sometimes we’re just putting down a laundry list of what our dream candidate would look like.

Mac Prichard:

A wish list.

Ben Forstag:

We’re happy if we get seventy to eighty percent of that.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, well I think she said sixty percent, you should apply.

Ben Forstag:

I have higher standards.

Mac Prichard:

Oh okay.

I love the fact that she brought up the point, that we’ve talked about as a group before, that there’s gender issues too.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, I was going to say that too. It’s true, it happens all the time, but I liked that she brought it up.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. To me, I think if you have sixty or seventy percent, you should give it a shot.

Jessica Black:

Women, listen.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, ladies.

Mac Prichard:

You need to make a case in your cover letter about why you’re qualified. But you can do that, and men do it all the time, research shows, so you can be successful when you do it.

Jessica Black:

Right. I think that’s a really interesting point, because it’s not that women can’t make that point, it’s that they have, what Ben was saying, higher standards of…they think the job descriptions are a “You have to meet all of these things.” Men maybe better understand, or care less about, meeting all of those, and just go for it. I think women can take that cue of just believing that you are going to be qualified even if you don’t meet every single check mark, or whatever.

Becky Thomas:

Totally.

Ben Forstag:

For what it’s worth, I think the best practices for employers when they’re writing job descriptions is to identify the things as, ‘must haves’ like, “You really must have this if you want the job.” And then distinguish the other things that ‘would be nice if’.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

The takeaway for me, just reflecting on the conversation, how grateful I was that Mandi laid out that process from the perspective of the hiring manager.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, it’s great.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. If you were looking at a job in her organization…I mean, it’s valuable information anyway, but particularly valuable. If you do know you want to work at a particular company or nonprofit one day, you can have conversations like we just had with Mandi, with hiring managers there to get a sense of how their system works.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

The more you understand how the system works, the more successful you’ll be in navigating it.

Jessica Black:

What would you call that, Mac? An informational interview?

Mac Prichard:

An informational interview. Sorry.

Well great. Well.

Jessica Black:

But, I mean, I tease you, but I think that’s a really good tip.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Well, thank you.

Well thank you Jessica, and Mandi, for joining us this week, and our listeners for downloading today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

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Join us next Wednesday when our special guest will be Lee Caraher. She’ll talk about manners that matter in the workplace.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job!

What makes a hiring manager say no to a job application? On this episode, guest expert Mandi Woodruff highlights the common job application mistakes she sees during a hiring process, illuminating innovative ways that job seekers can impress hiring managers and secure an interview from the first interaction.

This Week’s Guest

Mandi WoodruffMandi Woodruff is the cohost of Brown Ambition, a top 20 career and money podcast. She is also executive editor of Magnify Money, and has spent her career covering the ins and out of personal finance. Previously, Mandi served as a correspondent at Yahoo Finance and editor at Business Insider. She is a graduate of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at The University of Georgia.

Resources from this Episode