The Marketing of the Entry-Level Job Candidate

A few weeks ago, we decided we needed some entry-level help here at Underscore to assist with the grunt work (running reports, pulling syndicated research reports, etc.) so Eric posted a job description on something called NACELink that reaches out to students at a number of different schools. We just caught the seniors as graduation approached, and we received so many electronic job applications that at one point, I thought a spammer had gotten a hold of the e-mail address that we use for job inquiries. In the end, well over 200 applications were received.

We went through these job applications with a fine-toothed comb, scoring them according to criteria we developed, including the appearance of the applicant's resume and cover letter, GPA, internship credentials, etc. In the end, we had maybe 20 candidates we wanted to interview.

There are some interesting things about how recent college grads are using these new electronic systems to get interviews:

  • There must be some way to submit resumes and cover letters semi-automatically to a number of different organizations in the same or similar field. We found a lot of applicants from fields related to media and advertising, like folks that had done internships exclusively in PR or event marketing. This can backfire, though. Based on language used in cover letters, there were a few applicants who appeared to want desperately to get into media buying after having internships in PR, event marketing, account management or account planning. As it turns out, a few of them had simply hyped up their interest. One of them asked me during the interview "What is media planning?"
  • The electronic systems don't prevent applicants from making classic mistakes (grammar errors, rambling on aimlessly in cover letters). In fact, the electronic systems introduce a new range of job application faux-pas... For instance, I disqualified a few applicants who had exactly the same language in their cover letters - after doing a Google search, it was obvious they had plagiarized from some common sample cover letters that were posted online. Additionally, I'd occasionally disqualify someone for forgetting to change the name of the company when it was obvious they did a mass e-mailing through the system and left the name of another company they'd applied to in their cover letter. I also frowned upon applicants that named their PDFs "[Applicant's name] - Marketing.pdf" That was a red flag that they were applying to companies all over the marketing field and probably in other disciplines as well. (I like my people focused - they should know what they want.)
  • Some people didn't include cover letters at all. Just a resume attached to a blank e-mail. Y'know, we can automate this process only so much...
  • "What do you know about Underscore?" was a question we asked to many candidates right at the start of first round interviews. Most candidates started their answer by saying they had read through our website and had googled us. I guess Google really is a cultural phenomenon.
  • So many candidates look really great on paper. They show terrific enthusiasm in cover letters and their resumes show top-notch academic performance and internship/summer job experiences. Yet, many of them clammed up once we got them in the office for an interview. Lots of one- and two-word answers to questions, lack of engagement on questions designed to stimulate conversation, and stuff like that. Some of them seemed disinterested or inattentive as opposed to nervous.

I guess one of the lessons learned here is that while technology might make it easier for students and recent grads to apply for a large number of jobs, it's the usual stuff that gets them invited in for a follow-up interview or a job offer - good face-to-face communication skills, an expressed interest in learning about the position and the company, an eagerness to learn - stuff like that.