8 Shockingly Common Mistakes Applicants Make When Applying to a Job

I was recently involved a senior-level hiring process for a company of which I’m on the board.  I offered to the CEO to spearhead the initial hiring efforts so he could remain focused on the business.

Every time I’m involved in a hiring process, I’m always so amazed by how many applicants do such an incredibly poor job of applying.

Here are some of the common issues I see:

Applying when you CLEARLY aren’t qualified.  I understand desire to apply for a job that looks interesting or perhaps is what you want to be doing at some point in the future.  However, if you don’t meet at least a significant portion of the key requirements, don’t waste your time applying.  It will do you no good. 

For example, one role I hired for recently was a senior level manufacturing leadership role, yet there were numerous people who applied without any manufacturing leadership experience, many of whom had spent their careers in sales or tech or other areas.  Particularly for a senior-level role, if you don’t have the required background, don’t waste your time applying. 

Also, I understand the frustration when employers don’t respond to applicants.  It’s one of my pet peeves.  However, if you’re completely unqualified for a job in which you apply, you might reconsider complaining when you don’t get a response.

Not following the instructions.  If the job description asks for a resume and cover letter, submit a resume and cover letter. Simple. It’s amazing how many people didn’t submit a cover letter when it was specifically requested. Some companies ask for additional info. Include what they ask for or don’t expect to get a response.

Resume is too long.  You don’t need a 4 page resume. You don’t need a 3-page resume.  Save the detail for an interview. Try to keep it to 2 pages or less.

Not tailoring your resume. Consider highlighting the most relevant aspects of your background specific to the role in which you’re applying.

Cover letter is too wordy and, as a result, never gets read.  Your cover letter is a chance to highlight 1-2 relevant areas of your background, explain why specifically you’re interested in the role/company, and attempt to convey your personality.  However, it needs to be brief or it won’t be read.  Keep it to 3 short paragraphs and make it easy to read visually.

Typos and errors.  It’s amazing how many people have typos, misspelled words, or noticeable errors in their materials.  If you aren’t a detail person, ask someone who is detail-oriented to review your resume and cover letter before you submit it.  Details matter.

Pictures, cheeky graphics, or personal logos in your resume.  You don’t need those to stand out and, frankly, they make you stand out in the wrong way.

Your LinkedIn profile isn’t up to date.  This is the first place I go to research an applicant.  Take as much care of your LinkedIn profile as you do your resume.


I know some of the above tips may seem basic.  However, it’s amazing the high percentage of applicants who can’t get this part right.  I genuinely feel so bad for those people and I want to help them.  I encourage everyone to take this part seriously because the first impression with a prospective employer may be your last… or it may be just the start!