I used Work With Indies to hire our Social Media and Community Managers in February 2021. I received 118 applications, hired 2 talented individuals, and sent 116 rejection letters.
Sending unique feedback to each applicant at that volume would have taken weeks. Instead, I took notes on each application and sent a variation of the below email to everyone.
It was my hope that sharing this peek behind-the-scenes + a few best practices that worked for me would help improve results for future applications. I share it again, here with you, to do the same.
Hello! I want to thank you again for your application to Work With Indies. It means the world to me that you would think so highly of us that you would consider joining our team.
I can tell that many of you put a lot of effort into your applications. For that to result in a rejection letter has to be difficult.
I want you to know that I appreciate you. That you have and provide value. That finding the right job and fit is hard work. That getting hired is even harder. That applying to many, many jobs is common– even for the most talented people.
If we've talked much in Discord, you know that I'm big on transparency. Having been on both sides of the interview table, I understand how difficult it is to improve yourself and increase your job hunting success rate when you aren't getting feedback.
I'm hopeful this document can help. I'm going to use this space to provide a behind-the-scenes view of what I saw and what I was looking for while reviewing your applications. I will also pull out some of the common themes that I found among applicants that might be of use to you in your future applications.
One of my goals for Work With Indies is to help all of our community members become great candidates. Then great employees. Followed by great leaders. I hope this helps you become that great candidate.
The Work With Indies Social Media & Community Manager role
In total, I received 118 applications for the Social Media & Community Manager position (in just 10 days!). It's truly amazing and humbling to learn that there are so many wonderful and talented people that want to work with me and for this community. It also means that there are a lot of really great candidates that won't be hired for this job.
118 applications also means a lot of work processing those applications. I've spent over 10 hours reading applications so far. That works out to about 5 minutes per application.
If 5 minutes per application doesn't sound like much to you, consider the person performing the reviews. When faced with that many applications and that much work, hiring managers have to develop systems and shortcuts to make that process more efficient. We can like it or not like it, but those are the constraints. We then want to be aware of and adjust our applications to perform well under those constraints.
One of my shortcuts is to quickly eliminate low quality and irrelevant applications. Some of those can be done in under a minute. Those are most often the applications that look like they were completed in under a minute (i.e. the "spray and pray" applications I detail later). Saving time here then allows me to spend the 10-15 minutes necessary to review other strong applications in greater detail.
Specific to this role, the applicants that moved onto the next round were more likely to have submitted:
- resumes and cover letters that closely followed the recommendations provided in the job description
- resumes that detailed work, projects, skills, and results that were relevant to the role*
- cover letters that specifically addressed the role and how the applicant could add value
- cover letters that spoke to our company values/mission and how the applicant aligns with those values
*As stated in the job description, I'm looking for someone that could own Social and Community for Work With Indies. Not being an expert on either, I would not be valuable to a teammate that needed extensive training in these areas. Those that had demonstrated success managing and growing social and communities were more likely to move to the next round.
A few exceptional applications included:
- proposals for social media and community plans and improvements
- personal/fan projects and Stan accounts/communities that demonstrated strong growth and engagement
- links to portfolios, slides, or documents that included sample tweets, graphics, and other work that would be required in the role
I also took note of those that joined and became active in our Discord community. After all, community management is (at least) half of the job. At minimum, this displayed a genuine interest from the applicant in learning more about our community. And in some cases, it allowed me to observe how they interact, engage, and add value to the community as a preview of the work they might be asked to perform.
[.c-insight]💡 If you recall from the job description, cover letters were deemed optional. A good resume with a series of quality results in relevant work is all I need to know that I want to learn more about that candidate. That said, a cover letter can be useful to add context and fill in any gaps that might be on your resume– critical for junior employees without a lot of experience. Several applicants did this quite effectively.[.c-insight]
A good rule of thumb is to, even when optional, include a cover letter until your resume is able to stand on its own.
The Job Application
The below are a series of recommendations I hope will help you improve your applications while making the reviewer's life a bit easier by leaning into some of their common systems and processes.
First, please read and follow the instructions
I'd very much recommend that you follow the instructions and apply for jobs as requested in the job descriptions.
Think of your job application as the first project you're turning in to your new manager. It's highly likely to be the first sample of your professional work they'll see. This is your chance to make a positive first impression and submit a "project" that is representative of the quality of work that your new manager could expect from you.
At a minimum, a hiring manager is going to want to hire someone that can read, interpret, and act upon written instructions to execute and deliver a quality result.
Your ability to follow the instructions and apply for jobs as requested in the job description shows your attention to detail. It also shows some respect for the requests of the person who wrote the description. It is an indicator of a desirable trait in an employee and employer relationship.
There are also important details in those descriptions that, if you missed, will lead to your application being incomplete. An incomplete application suggests a lack of effort (and ultimately, interest).
Now, think about how many people might be applying to these jobs and all the effort that they are putting into their applications. Think about how an application that didn't follow and respect the requests of the hiring manager compares against all of the applicants that did.
Spoiler alert: not well.
When the hiring manager is looking for shortcuts to help them process dozens or hundreds of applications, disregarding those instructions and submitting incomplete applications is a quick and easy way to end up on the wrong side of that initial assessment.
And while putting that extra effort into an application requires, well, effort... know that if you aren't putting in that kind of work, someone else is. And when choosing between you and them, they are more likely to get an interview.
Resumes and Cover Letters
Being able to communicate effectively in a clear and concise manner is important for just about any job. This is a particularly sensitive issue now that we are all in a remote environment where most of your communication will be done asynchronously, in writing.
If you can't be clear and concise in your resume or cover letter, it will look as if you won't be clear and concise on the job either. Or in other words, by using multiple pages to make a detailed case for yourself, you may actually be accomplishing the opposite.
Make every word earn its space on your resume and cover letter. Every single letter should add value. If it's not increasing your chances to get this job, eliminate it.
Also, use Hemingway.
General recommendations for your resumes
- Keep your resume to a single page. Up to 2 pages if you have 10+ years of relevant experience
- Use more bullet points and less long paragraphs to make it easier to read and scannable
- A resume doesn't need to (and often shouldn't) include your entire work history. It's not a job application form for your local coffee shop. Remove older roles that are irrelevant to the job you are applying for. That includes part-time jobs that you had in high school.
- Don't use skill bars. I'm not 100% in anything. There is so much more for all of us to learn, even (and especially) about our strengths. Also, they often mess up formatting in ATS.
- Remove photos, particularly for jobs based in the US. While photos are the norm in some countries, their inclusion opens you up to bias, both conscious and unconscious. You don't want to be passed on because someone had an unconscious negative reaction to your photo because you look similar to a prior problematic employee, coworker, or a bully from high school
- Eliminate/limit graphics as they can be rejected by or cause formatting issues in an ATS
- Move your education to the bottom of your resume. It's less influential than professional work and shipped projects.
- Save your references until they're requested. Use that space for something more valuable and appropriate for this stage of your application.
- Want an example? Here's mine.
General recommendations for your cover letters
- Seriously, just follow this format
- Please keep your cover letter to a single page
- Include your name and contact information on your cover letters. Sometimes these will get separated from a resume. It also makes for a more professional looking document.
- Submit your resume and cover letters in PDF (unless specified otherwise). Other documents can lose their formatting when opened up on different platforms (pc vs mac) and programs (word vs pages vs gdocs). Please, never use JPGs. JPGs are not a professional document.
- Don't include how many years you have played games or what games you are playing. This isn't a friend application. It's a job application.
- Surprise: Your resume and cover letter are not about you. It's about the value that you can provide to the hiring manager and company. Use this space to identify how you are a solution to their problems, how you will make their lives easier, and how you will be a great teammate. See Richard's quote from their recent post:
Tell me why we should want you, not only why you want us. There’s an implied and undesirable power dynamic created the instant you say “your company is so great and amazing and I’d be honoured to be able to work there” without saying “this is why your company will be better off than it was before with my presence on the team”.
I know it’s difficult to express this—many people worry about coming across as over-confident—but it needs to clear in an employer’s mind that it’s a win-win when we hire someone, not an act of charity to “let someone work for us”. And let’s be honest, no company is perfect enough to deserve that kind of worship anyway.
– Richard, Clever Endeavour
Customize your resume and cover letter to each job application.
The term "spray and pray" is used by recruiters and hiring managers to describe applications received that aren't relevant to or customized towards the job they're hiring for. They're assumed to be from candidates that are looking for any job and likely applying to dozens (or hundreds), with no particular interest or excitement (not to mention qualifications) for this specific job.
These resumes and cover letters are often generic, do not follow the instructions or reference any of the detail included in the job description, may not mention the company or role specifically, and in the worst cases, include copy and paste references to other jobs or companies these same materials had been used for.
I realize that writing a custom application takes a lot of time and effort. And if you aren't getting many callbacks, it may seem like that effort is wasted. But I don't anticipate you'll get much better results from the "spray and pray" method either. In fact, I think this is a far more inefficient approach.
Case in point, the cover letters and resumes submitted for this role that were obviously generic and/or irrelevant to the role were immediately dismissed and not taken into consideration.
If you read my job description, you might observe that I had put a lot of time and effort into it. When someone puts that level of effort into a task, it's nice to see that effort returned.
Again, think about how many of the 118 applicants did put the extra effort into their job applications and how a generic application looks in comparison. Who do you think is more likely to get a callback?
Customizing your resumes
- Acquire lots of bullet points, then customize with those that are most relevant to each job*
- If you're going to list skills and software programs on your resume, make sure they include those mentioned in the job listing (if you indeed have proficiency)
- Remove or minimize older jobs and projects that are not directly relevant to this role
- Mimic the language used in the job description (and elsewhere on the company website, etc.) in your resume. For example, if they use "coding" instead of "programming", then do the same.
- The one exception in favor of including references might be when including a reference that you know will have a positive influence on the hiring manager (i.e. a mutual friend/contact that you know they hold in high regard)
*I have a parent resume that is 5 pages long and full of all of my roles and accomplishments. On average, about 80% of the bullet points on my resume stay the same for each job application. The remaining 20% are pulled from the parent resume to address specific requirements and qualifications detailed in the job description.
For example, if the job description asks me to "increase engagement", I will then find the bullet point(s) that allow me to say that I "did X to increase engagement by Y".
Customizing your cover letters
- Address your cover letter to a person's name if you have it. Otherwise, address the company (if small) or team (if part of a large company). For example, "Hello Work With Indies".
- A cover letter that includes the phrase "your company" instead of the company name is easily identified as one that is non-specific. If you don't use the company name in the To: line, use it in the first sentence.
- Reference the job requirements, responsibilities, values, and/or what excites you about this specific role
- Use the following format for your file names: FirstnameLastname_Companyname (i.e. NathanBosia_WorkWithIndies or Nathan_Bosia_for_WorkWithIndies). It'll be easier for your hiring team to browse, find, and sort (instead of staring at a list of 100 documents that all start with CompanyName).
Quality over quantity
I would refrain from attaching additional materials, certificates, reference letters, etc. to your resume and cover letter (i.e. in the same PDF). Those would be more appropriate to include as links or in your linked portfolio or personal website. They may cause your application to get rejected by ATS. And they will make it harder for the recruiter or hiring manager to forward along to teammates and other interviewers if they find those materials to be irrelevant (or unfavorable).
On a similar note, for everything you submit, make sure it's representative of the quality of work that can be expected of you. A slide deck is an opportunity to show your graphic design sense and ability + concise communication. A cover letter and resume is an exercise in professional writing. A well-designed resume can be a plus, a bad designed resume a big minus. If you aren't going to do it well, then don't do it. Simplify instead.
Skills, Programs, and Certifications
If you're going to list skills and software programs on your resume, make sure they include the ones mentioned in the job listing (and don't put them at the very bottom of that list). If you don't have those skills, included equivalents and address the gaps in a cover letter. Or, and this may be hard to hear, you might need to hold off on applying to that and similar positions until you have acquired and can demonstrate at least a few of those skills.
[.c-insight]💡 In a competitive job market, you're likely up against multiple candidates that can demonstrate at least some of the required skills. If you can't demonstrate those or equivalent skills, or examples of ramping up quickly in the past, you're unlikely to be offered the interview / job.[.c-insight]
My rule of thumb is to apply when I can demonstrate 60-70% of the requirements and qualifications. This gives me enough strengths and experience to lean on while gaining enjoyment and satisfaction from learning and growing to meet new challenges.
Certifications are less influential than results. Telling me that you can do something or that you have been trained to do something isn't as compelling as telling me you did something. That is why context and metrics are so important. They tell me you did something and how well you did it. And if you did something well, then I can safely assume you have the skills and knowledge to have accomplished the task. Then, detailing the certification would no longer be longer necessary.
Social Media Accounts, Communities, and Metrics
For a social media and community manager role, it's really important to include things like the number of followers and the size of your communities. They help the reader to understand the level at which you're operating at a glance, even if they are not familiar with your specific accounts/brands.
I tried to find everyone's accounts when they were mentioned and discover these numbers myself, but I was not always successful (and don't expect most hiring managers to take these extra steps). And I can't spare the time to follow up to request more info when I have 100+ other applications, many of which already provided that information.
My recommendation here is to 1. mention your accounts by name, 2. use metrics to tell me why I should be impressed by your work / association, 3. provide links where possible.
[.c-insight]💡 Full URLs are ugly on a resume (especially if you have multiple). Embedded hyperlinks can cause issues with ATS.[.c-insight]
If you're submitting via email or a simple form (Google Form, Typeform) and outside of an ATS, you can embed hyperlinks on your resume. Otherwise, a nice catch-all is a single URL to your personal website (which can be as simple as a Notion doc with a domain redirect) that points to all of your relevant spaces online.
If you're hiding metrics because they are small and not very impressive, then you're being dishonest with yourself and the hiring manager. That's not a great way to begin a professional relationship. And, when found eventually, the numbers will still be small and not very impressive.
[.c-insight]💡 If you don't include metrics on your resume, I assume that either 1. they are small, 2. you're not aware of their importance and/or may not be results-oriented, or at best 3. you're not great at writing resumes. Don't let me jump to those conclusions.[.c-insight]
A note on stylized resumes
There is no consensus on this topic as some hiring managers prefer a simple black and white document while others appreciate those that are well-designed and colorful.
I prefer a simple black and white format for the following reasons:
- It creates space for my content and allows my results to do the talking
- It's the most common format, meaning that the hiring manager knows where / how to find what they are looking for without having to re-train themselves to your unique design
- It doesn't cause any problems with ATS, meaning I can maintain a single resume vs multiple
- I'm not a designer and if I attempted a stylized resume, it would likely look awful
- If you're not getting interviews, I have a hard time believing it is because your resume didn't have more colors
That said, a well-designed and beautiful resume can also be impressive and help you stand out from a crowd. And, it may be more influential in roles where you are responsible for design. But, if you are going to go the stylized route, it better look really good. If you try to design a stylized resume and it doesn't look good, that just tells the hiring manager you're a bad designer. And worse, that you aren't self-aware. And that might negate all of the good content on your resume.
Thank you for reading. I hope you found this helpful. And I apologize if it at times it is quite harsh or isn't all that eloquent. I thought it most important to get something into your hands than to make it perfect.
I'm sure someone could find fault or a counter-argument to everything that I have said above. Obviously, this is reflective of my experience alone and has worked for me both as an applicant and a hiring manager throughout my 20+ year career– most of it at large corporations.
Please take what you like and leave the rest.