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Lessons from the Job Hunt

Lessons from the Job Hunt
by Fern Reiss, CEO,

I had fifty applicants and only one job to offer. Who would win it—and why?

This month I hired a part-time assistant. To find the perfect candidate, I posted the following note on a local entrepreneurial list I frequent:

“Does anyone have a suggestion for an administrative / secretarial / virtual assistant? I'm looking for someone who:

  • Will work from his/her own home
  • Is interested in working for the next few years (i.e., not students or other 'temporary' people--once I've trained someone I'd like to keep them for a while)
  • Is meticulous about details and double-checking things

The businesses are and, and we do everything from books and workshops (on publishing, book promotion, and getting media attention) to consulting, audio kits and gift baskets for writers, with new products and projects appearing on a near-daily basis. Pays $35/hour.”

Because of the current job climate, the flexible hours, and the high salary, I was overwhelmed with applicants. Here’s how I decided whom to hire:

  • Several of the candidates didn't write to me directly. (I received resumes and recommendations from colleagues, former employers, and husbands.) The people who wrote to me directly and also were recommended by others got extra points; those who never wrote to me themselves I eliminated. (The job requires enough proactivity that I felt anyone who wasn't enthusiastic enough to pop me a brief email probably wouldn't do well with the job.)
  • Several candidates sent me a two-line email expressing interest in the job, but without conveying any sense of who they were. (They suggested I call or email them for more information.) Had I received fewer responses this might have been ok, but in an applicant pool of over 50, this just meant I eliminated them because they hadn't supplied enough info and I had enough other people from whom to choose.
  • Several candidates sent me their multi-paged life stories. While these were fascinating to read (and I did follow up with at least two of these, because they were so interesting) it's probably not a good strategy in job hunting. Also, mentioning your paranoid schizophrenia, your bipolar disorder, your chronic anxiety, your extensive time from work for disabilities, and your chronic disorganization might not be such a good idea in a first inquiry.
  • Many candidates who wrote to me made spelling and grammatical mistakes in their correspondence. Since this was billed as a writing job with meticulous attention to detail as a chief requirement, I eliminated those.
  • There were three candidates who might have gotten as far as an interview but their cover letters contained something along the lines of: “I'm the best possible candidate for this job and you'd have to be a jerk not to hire me.” You may be the best possible candidate for a job—but the employer needs to figure that out on his own.
  • There were several people who sounded ok, but they clearly had not bothered to look at my websites and figure out what it is that I do.
  • There were a few who clearly stated that they were taking a break and needed something to do in the interim. (I was looking for someone who would be around for a while—and I said so in the job description.)
  • There were a few people (and this I feel very badly about) who were seriously, incredibly overqualified. This was a scut-work, assistant position, and some of the applicants were MBAs, CEOs of large companies or non-profits, etc. I hated to turn people away because they were too qualified, but ultimately, someone who's used to running his own 200-person company is not going to be happy doing fact-checking for me.

That still left many more strong candidates than I needed. But it was an easy way to cut down the numbers I needed to interview—and something to think about the next time you apply for your next position.


Fern Reiss is CEO of ( and ( and the author of the books, The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days, and The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days as well as several other award-winning books.  She is also the Director of the International Association of Writers ( providing publicity vehicles to writers worldwide. She also runs The Expertizing® Publicity Forum where you can pitch your book or business directly to journalists; more information at  Sign up for her complimentary newsletter at

Copyright © 2011 Fern Reiss


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