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11 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for Jobs
By Tasha Hacker | On 24 Jun, 2014
As the busy summer season approaches, I am bracing myself for the heavy influx of English language students of all ages to IH New York and IH Boston while also sifting through hundreds of resumes from prospective ESL teachers and administrative staff.
Yet despite the high hopes eagerly flooding my inbox, about 90% of the applicants who contact my office for a job will never receive a response. In fact, as shocking as it may sound, I delete about 80% of all applications before I even read them. Want to know why? Keep reading, and you’ll have a full catalog of grave job application errors to avoid in your future job searches.
Sadly, but truthfully, I am sitting here with my head in my hands as I delete emails from email@example.com, the guy who attached a song to his 10-page resume, the application to be a “Sumer Camp Teacher” (if you haven’t spotted the mistake, get someone to edit your emails) or the girl with the resume that features a mug shot of herself in a crowded bar.
Recruiting quality employees for my schools makes me realize that the unemployed population of the world may be unemployed for good reason. There are a lot of job applicants out there who don’t have a clue as to how to get their foot in the door of a company, let alone get their resume file opened rather than dragged to the trash.
Don’t be one of those clueless applicants! Read and pay attention: Here are some very simple tips on how to get your application considered rather than deleted.
1. NEVER attach your resume and send the email out without a message.
You could be Richard Branson and I’d still hit delete. With no regrets.
2. Do not use a weird email handle.
Anything that can be left open to the interpretation that you might be weird, crazy or just not smart enough to know what is and isn’t professional is going to work against you. So, do me a favor and open an email account with a handle that is simply your name. Unless you’re Lindsay Lohan, your name is usually a safe bet.
3. Your “cover letter” should be free of typos and written in an email with your resume as an attachment.
Attachments with no email show you can’t be bothered to explain why you’re contacting us. Typos show you’re lazy, you don’t care about your work, or both. I don’t care about the reasons, I just hit delete.
4. Do your research.
As in, research the job you’re applying for — the company, the dates of contract and the qualifications required. Address each of these in your email cover letter and resume.
If the job advertised is for a “Summer Camp Teacher,” don’t email and say you’re available in September. If the job advertised is for an “ESL School Manager” and your resume objective reads “Looking for a teaching job,” then don’t expect to be considered. (Both of these are real examples).
5. Use a resume template and keep it short – one double-sided page, tops.
Don’t reinvent the wheel – you don’t need to be a graphic designer to create an attractive resume these days. Microsoft Office has lots of professional-looking templates, so just pick one.
And don’t include absolutely every job you’ve ever had since you started babysitting when you were 14 — your recruiter doesn’t have time to read 10 pages of your life’s story; they have people to hire and a school to run! Pick the most relevant experiences to the job you’re applying for and highlight those.
6. Use bullet points, not prose on your resume.
Skimming through endless paragraphs of text to figure out how your work experience applies to the job you’re applying for is not only frustrating, but it shows you don’t understand the purpose of a resume. And that, unfortunately, can be interpreted as a lack of intelligence. And you know what I’m going to say about that – DELETE.
Provide your job timeline in chronological order with your latest job at the top and write brief points about your responsibilities at each job. The purpose of a resume is to give the recruiter an overview of who you are professionally and cut down on the time it takes to decide whether or not they want to interview you.
I’ll be the judge of whether or not you have what it takes – your job is to tell me what you’ve done. So, the paragraph about how you’re hard-working, easy-going and people love you – delete it and replace it with a summary of responsibilities you’ve held which illustrate your ability to excel in the position you’ve applied for.
8. Think of your “cover letter” email as the “best of” your resume.
Your email should be clear, concise, and no longer than 3 or 4 short paragraphs. If I have to scroll past the bottom of my screen to read your email, it’s too long. I, like many directors, have a multi-faceted job where people are pulling me away from my desk all the time – don’t run the risk of writing an email so long that I get pulled into another task before I finish reading it. Because the truth is I may never finish reading it.
Also, start your email by stating what the job is you’re applying for and how you heard about it so I know right away that this application is aimed at me and it’s not a generic email that you sent in response to 1,000 different job ads.
In the next paragraph or two, highlight the things that illustrate that you’re a good fit for the job – if you don’t have much teaching experience, then tell me first about your CELTA and where you did your certification. If you have relevant teaching or school administration experience, then tell me about your last job.
No matter what the position is I am recruiting for, I am always looking for positive people who are looking to develop their professional skills and help my school improve – find a way to illustrate you are that person.
9. Common question: What if I’m newly qualified with no relevant experience? Should I write everything I’ve ever done on my resume?
The answer is “no.” You should tailor your experiences to the job you’re applying for.
I don’t want to read an entire page listing your impressive accolades in accounting, unless you’re applying for a job in accounting. So if you don’t have ESL teaching experience and you’re applying to be an English teacher, make sure to put the “Education/Training” section at the top of your resume. If you have your CELTA, then even better! Put that right at the top of your resume – that will be the thing that stands out most.
As for your past work, try to hone in on any experiences you’ve had in teaching/tutoring/training, which can help bolster your TEFL resume until you get that first teaching job.
10. Know the resume etiquette of the country you’re applying for a job in.
If you’re applying for an English teaching job in the Middle East, they will expect to see a photograph of you on the resume, as well as your nationality and date of birth.
However, if you supply this information on your resume for a job in the United States, your application will not be considered – by supplying a photograph and your age, you are opening the employer up to opportunities for discrimination or being sued for discrimination. They will not touch your resume with a 10-foot barge pole and you will never hear back from them.
So make sure you find out what a country’s norm is before firing off the wrong kind of resume.
11. Remember, the person receiving your application has an inbox full of emails vying for their attention.
No recruiter is going to read every word of your application until they’re convinced it’s worth reading. So, make sure your first sentence grabs them with your professionalism, attention to detail and understanding of the job – that’s how you get them to read the rest.
And if you’re still wondering what your resume should look like, here is a link to my own current and updated resume. It’s nothing special, but it has a clear layout and uses bullet points to briefly explain my job responsibilities.
Now, obviously, I have had quite a lot of years in TEFL at this stage, so it is easy to fill a double-sided page with my qualifications and experience. But, like everyone, I started out teaching ESL when I had very little relevant experience – my prior jobs were ski instructor, lifeguard, waitress and copywriter. But as I gained more experience, I deleted some of the jobs that weren’t as relevant – for example, you won’t find my experience as a ski instructor on this resume. But you will find all of my TEFL qualifications at the top of the page.
Yes, you need a qualification like the Cambridge CELTA to get your foot in the door of a quality language school, but the CELTA alone will not land you the job you want. How you sell yourself and your qualifications will.
So, what are you waiting for? Update your resume and go get that job you want! And don’t forget, we post about 50 quality TEFL jobs a day on our TEFL Jobs Database, so start looking and applying today!
Got any questions about job applications or resumes? Post them in the comments section below – I am always happy to help!
Tasha is a CELTA Trainer with 15 years’ experience teaching ESL in Russia, England, Qatar, Spain and the U.S. After co-founding Teaching House, Tasha is now retired and blogs about her travels at TurfToSurf.com.
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