Is It Worth It?

A disclaimer to start: I have never applied for a job, at least not in the sense of responding to a classified ad or to a job board. So I have never had to go through the rejection process which so often results from sending in a cover letter and a resume for a position that seems to be a good fit for one’s skills and experience. I’m sure that it wears you down, maybe makes you skeptical – or even cynical – about what you read or hear, directly or indirectly, from hiring managers.

Whether it’s through a terse but polite phone call, or a standard reject letter, or – much worse – no response at all, rejection is something you don’t get used to, if you’re at all invested in the process.

And that’s the issue of the day: investing in the process.

A week ago, on, Craigslist, and, I posted a listing for a Divisional Accounting Manager for my client, Quench USA in Waltham, MA. This is a full-time job requiring five to seven years of experience with a salary of $60-70,000. I positioned it as an opportunity for someone to “give up all-day number-crunching in favor of using your numbers and analysis to contribute to both tactical and strategic management decisions.”

At the end of the listing, I asked people to “please send resumes together with a cover letter (important) to,” and I committed to provide a follow-up to all candidates within ten days.

The responses have been coming in for a week now, and the flow has been good, though it’s perhaps not the best time of the year for capturing people’s attention. But the underlying issue is capturing people’s attention to detail.

Wouldn’t you think that accountants – of all functional specialists – would be good on detail?

Not so.

Poorly-edited resumes come in with run-on sentences, obvious spelling mistakes, missing words, and grammatical errors. Standard-issue cover letters are addressed to “Dear Hiring Manager,” even though it’s clear that Brad Howe is the doing the hiring. And at least a third of the time, there is no cover letter, despite my saying that it is important.

And then there are the folks who are clearly overqualified, listing fifteen to thirty years of experience, despite our asking for just five to seven. They look at our list of job responsibilities and think, “Hey, I can do that,” and forward their resumes figuring that they meet all of the qualifications. But there’s a reason that we specify five to seven years: we’re seeking someone who is going to grow both into the job and with the job, someone whom we can mentor, not someone who comes in thinking that he or she has all of the answers.

We’re also not looking for the $90,000 a year person who figures that he or she can negotiate the salary upward, based on long experience and multiple skills. The salary is commensurate with the job, and we have a pretty good sense of the market.

So where’s the lesson in this? Simply that job candidates, if they are serious about a listed position, have to do some of the heavy lifting on their end, rather than expecting to be “discovered” in an inbox full of resumes. They would be well-advised to:

  • Always include a cover letter, one that describes their skills and experience in terms of the job requirements.
  • Personalize the approach, even if it takes a little research. I’m always impressed by an applicant who, seeing my URL in the ad, learns a few things from my website and my client’s site before responding.
  • Avoid a recitation of their job descriptions. I’m less interested in “maintains general ledger” and “reconciles bank accounts” than I am in accomplishments, e.g. “reduced monthly close from twenty days to five,” or “managed conversion from QuickBooks to Sage 100 ERP.”
  • Prove commitment to their functional specialty. They don’t have to be CPAs, but a B.A. in Accounting is a good start, as is proficiency in accounting and reporting software.
  • Show that they understand the small-company difference. Having primary responsibility for maintaining a full set of books is very different than doing general ledger analysis, for example.

Actually, I did apply for a job once. I was ten years old, and I wanted a morning paper route in the worst way. As I remember them, the criteria were something like this: your chin had to be above the counter at Hill’s News Store in Melrose Highlands; you had to be willing to pick up your papers at Hill’s no later than 6 a.m. every day; you had to have a bike; you had to be reliable; and you had to learn the “long toss” – putting the rolled-up newspaper within five feet of the customer’s front door from a distance of fifty feet.

It took six months of persistence, target practice, and stretching to reach the counter to get that route, and the savings from eight years of delivering the Globe, the Herald, the Post, and the Record helped to put me through four years of college. Given that, and all the life lessons from that first job, it was definitely worth it.