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Posted: August 18, 2009

The savvier job seeker

Move yourself ahead of the pack

Liz Ryan

I am focused on ('obsessed with' might be even more accurate) the changing workplace. My husband is not. He couldn't care less, for the most part. Every now and then, though, he makes an observation about the workplace that startles me; he made one last night.

"Did I see a job ad that you ran on Craigslist?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "A client of mine is looking for an office manager, so I ran the job ad for her. I'm going to screen the resumes, phone-interview the top contenders and help her interview the finalists."

"That's good," he said. "It's good that you put your email address in the ad."

"I had to," I said. "Craigslist isn't like Monster. The resumes come via email."

"But you could have made it blind," said my husband. "A lot of the Craigslist job ads are that way.”

"You're right," I said, "but I think that the quality of the responses is better when you say who you are. There are so many scams on Craigslist. I didn't want a candidate to pass my ad by thinking it's a scam. This is a great company to work for."

"What I meant was, your email address in the ad is a great screening tool," said my husband. I was surprised to hear him talk about screening tools. He's not a corporate guy in any way. He's not an HR person.

"What do you mean, exactly?" I asked.

"Well," said my husband, "your email address is in the ad. Your domain name is in your email address. By including your domain name in the ad, you've given the savvier job-seekers a hint. They can go to your website, read about you, and write something about what they've read as they write their cover letter. You'll be able to tell which job-seekers are paying attention."

He was right, of course. I had already received a dozen resumes when we had this conversation. I went to my PC and opened the cover letters that had arrived so far, one after the other. "Dear Liz," said the first one. "Dear Hiring Manager" said the second.

The first candidate had an edge on being wide awake, but not a big one - her cover letter mentioned nary a word about anything on the Ask Liz Ryan site or anything else specific to the job, except "It sounds like an interesting job."

In the end, none of the ninety-plus candidates who applied for that job mentioned anything about the content on my website. That's sad.

And none of them were hired for the job. It's so easy for a savvy job seeker to dig just a bit to learn what the employer is all about. In my case, I was only the go-between, consulting with a local entrepreneur on her new-hire process. Still, I wouldn't have dinged a candidate for assuming the job reported to me, and for writing a cover letter oriented that way.

"I read some of your career-advice articles and like your writing style," would have been great, but so would, "I see that you write for Colorado Biz Magazine, one of my favorite publications," or even, "Like you, I'm interested in social networking."

Any suggestion that the job seeker is paying attention to the world around him or her is a great thing. Any reference to the employer's business NOT gained from the job ad itself is a step in the right direction. Ninety-plus job seekers had the opportunity to move themselves ahead of the pack that day, and not one of them took it.

Before responding to a poster job ad, it's a great idea to find the employer's website and read it. You've got a huge opportunity to let an employer know that you're paying attention.

Any intelligent observation about the employer's business, from "Congratulations on the Green Building award you earned last month," to "I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the impending merger with Oracle is taxing your sales-commission specialists," would set you apart from the job-seeking pack.

Don’t just send another, "Please find my resume enclosed. As you can see I’ve had twenty years of progressively responsible experience in yada, yada, yada."

Stand out from the crowd. You've got the information, use it!

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Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR exec and an advisor to organizations and job-seekers. Reach her at or

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