Applying for a Job on Craigslist

About 4 months ago I did a post on how to find a good employee using Craigslist. We’ve used the techniques discussed in that post a few times since then and hired several great, new employees. That said, we still get a lot of responses from people that make me scratch my head. So I decided to complement that first post with some advice for prospective employees.

1. Before You Start, Get Selective

Applying for a Job on Craigslist
Some advice on applying for a job on Craiglist.

Employers are not looking for just anyone. We want employees that are motivated to work for us. So don’t waste your time applying to every job under the sun. If you don’t really care about a particular job you’re applying for – other than the paycheck – that attitude will come through in your application. Consider these two responses to our last post for an iPhone, iPad, or iPod repair technician in Seattle (not real names):

Jamie: “I am a technology enthusiast and student of Computer Science. I have come to adore smartphones and other smart-devices over the last few year.”

Pat: “I am a motivated and hard working team player that is looking for a quality company to work for.”

Note that neither of these introductions is horrible, but Jamie has expressed that he’s into technology generally (“student of computer science”) and into mobile devices in particular (“adore smartphones”). In short, it’s obvious that Jamie knows exactly what we do and is interested in working for us.

Pat, on the other hand, could (and probably did) use that introduction for a dozen other job postings. It’s horribly generic and says nothing about why you want to work for us.

To quickly summarize: If you really want to find a job, first figure out exactly what you want to do. I’m not talking about that, “find your passion” BS. The fact is, if you’re out of work, you do need a job. You can’t wait until a sports casting job for Fox Sports opens up. But you also don’t have to settle for something that will make you miserable. Figure out what you enjoy doing and then look for jobs related to that. When you find one, let your excitement come through – just like Jamie did above.

2. Do Your Research

If you want a job, learn something about the company you’re applying to. In his intro above, Jamie obviously new we fixed mobile devices and he made his entire introductory email paragraph about that. Here’s the whole paragraph (very slightly edited):

Jamie: “I am a technology enthusiast and student of Computer Science. I have come to adore smartphones and other smart-devices over the last few years, and an opportunity to work repairing them sounds like a dream come true. I have previously worked in over-the-phone technical support for Blackberry and Android smartphones, but a chance to work up-close with them sounds much more interesting to me.”

Notice how he makes it very clear that he’s specifically interested in our job and not just any job. He knows what we do and he talks about it in his introductory email.

Here’s an example of someone else that went above and beyond in their reply:

“I noticed your … reviews on Yelp which makes me believe that your company is a great place to work.”

This person actually pulled up a third party website (our Chicago Yelp Page in this case) to see what people had to say about us. Very impressive to a potential employer.

3. Be Detailed, Professional, Excited, and Eloquent

Here is an actual email we got from a candidate (only edited to protect his name).

“My name is XXX XXX . I am a self starter, dependable, and a team player. I love the opportunity to learned new things that are challenging. Also I have more than 20 years experience working as a electronic technician and It technician.I graduated from University of XXX with Diploma in Electronics,Computer . My favorite restaurant in Seattle is Olive Garden Italian restaurant.”

With the exception of his signature, that’s the entire email. It contains very little information about him personally, shows no personality, no enthusiasm about our company or what we do, no enthusiasm for technology (let alone iPhones/iPads), and is full of punctuation and grammar mistakes. In short, I feel no motivation to look any further at this candidate. To be honest, I didn’t even bother looking at his resume. I had 30 other applications to get through and I knew I wasn’t going to hire this guy.

If you’re wondering why he mentions his favorite restaurant, it’s because we ask everyone to tell us about their favorite restaurant. It’s how we give our applicants a chance to let their personality shine through. If that’s the most enthusiasm you can muster for your  favorite restaurant, we’re not interested. You’re too dull to work for us.

4. Don’t Be Negative, Desperate, or Annoying

One of my biggest pet peeves is a candidate that rips a past employer or just complains in general. I just know that person is going to be trouble if they end up working for us. Here’s an example:

“I really enjoyed reading your ad for a technician. It was nice not to see the usual HR BS for a change. I swear they write all of these employment ads from the same boilerplate.”

Also, don’t try to get a job out of pity. I’m not going to hire you just because you need a job. Most everyone needs a job. My hope is to keep growing so I can offer more people jobs. But to do that, we need great employees – not just people who need jobs. So please don’t ever write to a possible employer the following (this is a bit of paraphrasing because I’ve lost the original email but this was the gist of it):

“My son recently died and during the tragedy I lost my job. I still have another child and a wife so I really need another job.”

I feel really horrible for this guy but I am not going to bring that attitude into our store and present it to my other employees and our customers. If you want a job, you need to convince your employer that you’re not only going to be good at it, but that you’re going to be fun to work with. This does not convey that message.

And, honestly, some people just can’t help but be annoying. Here are a couple of quick examples (but I could go on for pages with this stuff):

“This is the 3rd time I’ve replied to this job ad, and I cannot stress enough how badly I want this job!”

“Assisting the awesome challenged is a charitable task we should all participate in from time to time…  I myself have been contributing to such a charitable cause full-time for years now and it is time to focus on a more selfish egocentric path of bettering myself with other awesome individuals.”

That last one could be somewhat funny except it was an entire paragraph of the guy going on about how awesome he was. Annoying.

5. Be Truthful

I get it – everyone embellishes slightly. You want to make yourself sound good to a potential employer. But make sure you’re embellishments don’t rise to the level of lying because eventually you’re going to have to answer for that. We once had a woman contact us that sounded incredible – computer science major, programming experience, and loved technology. Then she came in for an interview and couldn’t even answer the most basic questions about computers and/or programming. It turned out she’d basically had a class on using Windows.

More insidious is plagiarizing. I had no idea this happened (I know, I can be naive at times) until recently when an employer in Jacksonville, FL (a restaurant called Currents Riverview Bistro) emailed to say he liked my article on posting a job on Craigslist. He said he’d actually started using the techniques himself. Then he told me a story of a woman that sent him a cover letter that was almost entirely plagiarized off the internet. Apparently this has become a common problem. His solution is to take a random line from the cover letter he likes and punch it into Google. Should the search results reveal the person isn’t being authentic, their email goes straight to the trash.

I can’t speak for other employers on this but I can tell you our basic philosophy. If you’re truly interested and excited about what we do, are intelligent, and have a great personality, you have an excellent shot at working for us even if you don’t have prior iPhone repair experience. We can teach the repair techniques. What we can’t teach is enthusiasm, smarts, and personality. So don’t lie. Just be excited about working for us and let your personality come through.

6. Be Fast to Respond

When we’re looking to fill a position, we usually start reading resumes and calling people within 48-72 hours. We usually get about 20-30 responses the first day and by day 3 we’re sitting around 40-50. This means if you don’t get us an email and resume within that time frame, there’s a good chance we’ll have found someone else by the time we hear from you.

So if you’re looking for a job, you should be checking the boards regularly – at least once or twice a day.

You should also be ready to respond quickly. If you’ve followed step one above and you’re being selective for the kind of job you want, you should already have a resume and cover letter ready to go. Then when you see a job you’re interested in, research the company a bit, modify the resume and cover letter to be specific for that job, and send it off.

7. Don’t Blow It Now

If you’ve managed to navigate the first 6 steps successfully you may still not get an interview. There are a lot of great candidates out there right now. However, if you are lucky enough to be chosen, be ready.

  1. Answer your phone. I know it’s the 21st century and no one answers their phone unless they recognize the number. When you’re job hunting, that stops. It might be a potential employer and you don’t want to miss the call. We had one gentlemen who didn’t answer his phone, I left a voicemail, and by the time he called me back (the next day), we had already completed 5 phone interviews and had 4 in-person interviews scheduled. His phone interview was good, but no better (or worse) than the 4 people we already had lined up. We told him we’d call if one of those 4 didn’t work out. It turned out we were so impressed with 2 of them that we ended up hiring two instead of 1. The guy that didn’t answer the phone lost before he even got started.
  2. Show up on time. Remember, I don’t know you and you’re making a first impression at this first interview. If you’re 15 minutes late to a job interview, my confidence in your ability to show up to work on time is seriously compromised.
  3. Be well dressed and well groomed. You don’t have to wear a suit (at least for us – other jobs you might), but you should be clean, hair combed, clothes free of stains, odors, and tears. True story: We once had a guy interview and he reeked of cigarettes. We’re in a small store and our shop stank like cigarettes for the better part of the afternoon after he left. I don’t care how competent you are, I’m not going to hire you if your smell is offensive to me, your co-workers, and our customers. Not sure how to dress for the interview? Just ask. Your prospective employer will be happy to tell you what the office attire looks like – then dress slightly better than that.
  4. Show up prepared to your interview. You would not believe how many people come to an interview and then ask you what your company does. Incredible. You should spend at least an hour researching and taking notes on the company before your interview. You should also prepare a set of questions you want to ask. Now when you get to the interview, you’ll impress the hell out of your potential employer by being able to talk intelligently about the business and what your role in it would be. We recently hired a guy that came to his first interview with an old camera and then told us all about how he used to fix this brand of camera (including showing us how to do it). Now that was an impressive interview!
  5. Be confident. If you get the first 4 steps right, this should be easy. I’ll tell you that the job of fixing iPhones or iPads can be stressful – two iPhones waiting to be fixed, a customer standing at the counter wanting service, and then the phone rings. It can be a lot of pressure at times. So if we’re interviewing someone who’s as nervous as a squirrel, we most likely are not going to hire them. They’re not going to handle the stress of the job very well. If you’re interviewing for a job, make sure you’re looking your interviewer in the eye. Don’t mumble. Don’t fidget. If you’re not used to interviewing, get friends or family to do some mock interviews with you. Being confident is one of the most important things you can do in an interview.
  6. Never, ever, ever bad mouth a past employer. I don’t care who you worked for or what happened, when asked about a past employer, speak well of them or at the very least, don’t complain about them. You don’t have to lie, but there are multiple ways to say, “They sucked.” Try this: “It wasn’t a place I really felt at home. I needed a different kind of challenge.” Whenever I hear someone going off about a past employer, I assume they’ll be bad mouthing us outside the office. That’s just the way some people are. Don’t be one of those people.

The bottom line is not to waste your time or the time of a potential employer by applying for jobs you don’t really care about. Start any job search by figuring out what you want to do and then looking for jobs related to that. When you find one, be quick to respond, be professional, polite, articulate, and informed about the company you’re contacting. Make sure they know that you’re not only capable of working for them, but excited to work for them. Because in the end, that’s really what us employers want: A quality employee who looks forward to coming to work every day.

4 thoughts on “Applying for a Job on Craigslist

  1. Tuan says:

    Do you have any recommendations on how to stand above the crowd when it comes to getting the employers attention? Is there anything on a cover letter or resume, that you have read that made you want to interview the individual right away?

    • Tuan: I talked a lot about this in the post but #1 is to show you are genuinely interested in the job your replying to. Be specific about why you want THAT job and talk a little bit about the company. I’m always impressed when someone talks about our Yelp reviews or mentions something about how we started the company (which is in the about us section on our site).

      First, don’t overwhelm the recruiter with a huge cover letter and resume. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put a lot of time into it.

      Beyond that, be interesting. Having looked at hundreds of resumes, I can tell you that a lot of people say the same stuff. For example, I’ve probably read this following sentence or some version of it 30-40 times:

      “In my house/work, I’m the go to guy for fixing stuff.”

      There’s nothing wrong with that sentence but I’ve read it so many times that it’s lost its luster. Here’s a recommended way to start your introduction:

      “Like a lot of the candidates you’re looking at, I think I’m hard working, a good learner, and fun to work with. But what I believe sets me apart and would make me a great candidate for this position is [something you think sets you apart].”

      Follow that up with an INTERESTING example. For example…

      “…a great candidate for this position is my ability to remain calm and friendly even when situations get stressful. For example, last year, when I was traveling through Madrid I was pick pocketed on a train. Not only did they get my money and credit cards but they also got my passport and drivers license… [now talk about how you dealt with it in 2-3 sentences]”

      Remember, don’t make it too long. But if it’s interesting to read and really tells who you are, the recruiter won’t mind. It’ll be a nice break from the usually dull and safe resumes & cover letters they read.

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