Applying for a Job: 5 Tips for Avoiding the Discard Pile

WorkCoachCafeLast week, I wrote about how to get your resume noticed when you send it through email. This week, we’re looking at how to make a good impression once they open that email. And I’m not talking resume formats and lists of accomplishments.

This week’s focus is on what you send in the email and when you should – and should not – send it.

Some things are beyond your control as a job seeker, and your resume is tossed onto the discard pile because of a mix-up, bad timing, etc. However, more than 50% of the time that resumes and applications end up in the discard pile, the reason is because of carelessness on the part of the job seeker.

Regardless of what you’ve heard or read, a successful job search is not the result of winning a “numbers game.” Applying for as many jobs as possible as quickly as possible is not a winning strategy. It’s a waste of time, in most cases.

Succeeding in a job search takes focus and attention to detail. Show potential employers that you’d be the kind of employee they would want – the kind of employee who pays attention and does a good job, someone who is a reliable team member, someone they would want to work with.

Describing how wonderful you are on your resume isn’t enough – demonstrate it to them through your job application.

Like it or not, you are in sales and marketing mode in a job search.  Show them how wonderful your “product” is by your high quality application and interactions with them.

View Your Job Application as an Audition for the Job

As part of research for a book I’m writing, I am interviewing many recruiters about how the job search process works, or doesn’t work, from their perspective.

And more than one of them has told me that they view the application process as something very like an audition – not the term they have used in our discussions, but certainly the process they have described.

Look at it from the employer’s perspective.  If your application is sloppy or incoherent, clearly demonstrating that you didn’t read the job posting, why would they think that your work would be any different?  They won’t.

They view your application as an example of your work.  And, they don’t want to hire someone who isn’t paying attention or who is unable to follow directions.  They assume that’s a demonstration of how you would perform as an employee.

How to Minimize Appearing in the “Discards” List – 5 Tips

Hopefully, by now everyone knows to carefully scrutinize your resume, cover letter, and all relevant written communications to ensure that they don’t contain bad grammar and typos.  Those are almost always instant deal killers.

If you can, have a friend double-check your proof-reading.  Most of us can’t easily see our own mistakes.  (When I write something like this blog post, I read it out loud to myself which hopefully helps with coherence and good structure, but not often with typos and misspellings.  So someone else helps me find those.)

1.  Read the job description, beyond the job title.

Read every paragraph, every sentence.  Read it word-for-word.  Seriously!

Several recruiters have told me about posting a systems analyst job, and getting resumes from job seekers looking for business analyst and financial analyst positions.  Eh?  Those resumes are obviously from people who didn’t read past the word “analyst” in  the job title of the posting.

Those people were not only eliminated from consideration, they looked very dumb – probably not a good impression to leave with a potential employer.

2.  Look for – and read – the job’s duties and/or responsibilities.

Most job descriptions contain a section that describes what the employee will be expected to do in the job, usually labeled “duties” or “responsibilities.”

Look for them, and read them carefully.  They describe what the person in the job will be doing on a daily basis.

Are those duties and responsibilities in line with what you would enjoy doing 5 days a week, 8 hours a day?

Yes, the duties might change over time, or they might, in fact, be wrong.

Regardless, if the duties listed do not interest you, move on to the next job posting because you probably won’t make your best efforts to land this job.  So don’t waste your time.

3.  Analyze the job’s requirements.

Most job postings specify a list of requirements – education/degree/major, number of years of experience doing a given task, skill with specific software, ability to write coherent reports, etc.

Compare your experience, skills, and accomplishments with the job’s requirements.  Apply when you meet MOST  – if not all – of those requirements.

A job seeker recently asked me if she should apply for a job requiring 5 years of experience even though she only had 1 year of experience.  The answer: probably not.

Right now the job market is so competitive that such an application would very possibly be a waste of her time.  In addition, this employer’s applicant tracking system (ATS, a database that stores and retrieves resumes for many employers) probably would not even show her resume to the recruiter because she didn’t meet that specific requirement.

If she had a contact inside the company, it might have been another story, but she didn’t.

4.  Watch for the “gotcha” question or request buried in the posting.

I have helped employers recruit online (very educational!), and almost every time, the employer has included a question or specific request in the posting.

I don’t believe they were done to trip up job seekers, but that’s exactly what they did.

For one employer, we requested that cover letters answered certain questions relevant to the job.  For another employer, we typically asked the job seeker to describe an experience where they demonstrated one of the required skills in a work situation.

In ALL instances, fewer than 10% of the applicants responded appropriately!  So 90% of the applicants ended up in the discard pile.

5.  See if you can connect with a current employee who will hand your resume to the hiring manager.

This one is tougher, unless you have focused your job search on a limited number of employers and worked to expand your network inside those organizations.  But, this one step gives a job seeker a tremendous edge in the competition for a job.

For years, countless studies have shown that referrals from existing employees are the best way for someone outside the organization to land a job.  That’s why we hear so much about the value of (ugh!) networking.  Because it works.

Short term:

  • Check your LinkedIn connections.  The LinkedIn Company Profile has an amazing amount of information, including current and former employees (where you might find a connection).  See if you are connected to anyone inside the company – or,even to anyone who used to work there.
  • Reach out through Facebook and Twitter to the company – like and follow the company and look for recruiting pages on Facebook and recruiters on Twitter.

Longer term:

  • Attend local networking events – professional association monthly meetings and industry expos.  They can help you to meet people face-to-face and establish a relationship.
  • Stay in touch with former co-workers, bosses, college alums, neighbors (current and former), and friends – both online and off-line.
These 5 steps, above, should get you through the first screen.  Then, there will be more evaluation done – online reputation checking, interviews, references, and more.  Through the whole process, do your best to show them what a great employee you would be.

For More Information on How to Successfully Apply for a Job:

To Be Hired, Be Referred for the Job

3 Reasons You Didn’t Hear Back on Your Job Application and What You Can Do About it

No Response to Your Emailed Resume? Here’s How to Get It Noticed

Not Hired: 10 Reasons You Can Control

Not Hired: 10 Reasons You Cannot Control

Not Hired for a Job You Really Wanted: How to Recover

Beat the Job Search Is a Numbers Game Myth (


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. I just recently applied for my dream job on August 1st. The deadline for applications is Friday August 17th, 2012. Should I wait until after August 17th to follow up or should I follow up this week? Thanks! I’m new to this website and I am really liking the advice!

    • chandlee says:

      You should absolutely wait until after the deadline to apply passes and follow-up next week. In most cases, the simple act of follow-up to ensure your application was received does not necessarily make it more likely you will be hired. If you follow up too frequently, you may run the risk of being ignored.

      Good luck,

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