How to get a job on CraigsList: Confessions of an Employer

“Eagle Eyed Ed” immediately stood out as a name I could remember.  Among the nearly 300 applications I got in the first 24 hours from my Craigslist Jobs ad, Ed’s name is still the one I remember to this day.  One of my job application requirements was to “Have a sharp eye.”  How could I not want to interview this person I had never met?  I knew I wanted to hire him even before I had read his resume.

I was very surprised about the response rate I got to the CraigsList Job ad.  The job payed $8.50-10/yr and offered 4-5 hours of work a week.  In a 24 hour period I got 271 CraigsList responses!  As a small business owner I was overwhelmed.  How could I narrow the field of applicants to the few that I would interview for the position?

Most responses were just “plain.”  Nothing about them to make them stand out from the crowd, they were “middle of the pack.”  It wasn’t that they were bad and many of the applicants may have been great for the job, but there wasn’t any way to tell based on the information provided by the applicant.

The paragraphs below are my confession of everything I learned while I was reviewing each of the 271 responses to my CraigsList Jobs ad.  I confess to you every hint and trick I’ve thought of that can help you be more successful in your job search through CraigsList.  Many of the tips will keep your email from quickly getting relegated to the trash bin and some of them will help make it easier for you to stand out from the crowd.

Find a job that that is a great match for you

Remember when you’re applying for a job through Craigslist that in most cases it isn’t to “get the job” with that first email, but rather to make the cut to the next step.  You want your prospective employer to send you an email with more questions or even better, to give a phone call and schedule an interview; it’s up to you to work your magic in the personal interview.

Your goal in coming to CraigsList is to find jobs for which you want to apply.  As a prospective employer I want you to be happy in your new job, not just take it because you’re desperate. I want you to stick around for a while after you’ve been trained.

“Desperate” is not a job qualification

Times are hard! Plain and simple, but skip the sob story.  As a good employer, I will select the best qualified candidate who I think is the best match for the job. Your cry of desperation may only work against you. Desperate people do desperate things, and that is a risk as a small business employer I’m probably not willing to take.

Rather than telling a sob story, write and let me know why you are qualified for the job.  This does two things, it tells me that you read the job application carefully and have a basic understanding of what the job is about.

Over qualified?

For some of you being over qualified would be a nice problem. If you are over qualified for the job, tell me why this job interests you.

One of my applicants was a PhD, I wondered “why is this person even applying?” Couldn’t they get a better job than this in their sleep? It was a pleasant surprise as I read their email that they had recently retired and wanted to earn a little extra cash to save for their vacation.  This made total sense to me.  When I read their resume it showed that they had worked at the same company for the past 20 years, then retired.  I saw this as a great opportunity for me as an employer.

Put something memorable in your cover letter

Your email response to the CraigsList employment listing is really your cover letter to your prospective employer.  Put something memorable in it!

Even if I just ask for your email address, tell me why you want the job, repeat some of the qualities for which I am seeking based on your understanding of the job description.  This tells me that you’ve read the job ad, done your homework and aren’t just doing a cut/paste.

How to title your response to the CraigsList job ad

Make sure you include your FIRST and LAST name somewhere in your email reply, preferably in the email subject line.  If all you give me to go on is an email address you make it a bit difficult for me to find you among all the other applicants.

Help your prospective employer easily search and find your resume

If you attach your resume, be sure and put your FIRST and LAST name in the resume filename.  Using an initial for your first or last name is better than nothing but really your full name makes it much easier to find you.

I got many resume attachments and they all had the same filename: “resume.” Do you have any idea how hard it is to find your resume in the pool of files all titled, “resume?”  Again, do your best to make it easy for me to find you among all the applicants.

Distance to the job site

Give some consideration to how far you live from where the job is located.  Now, I know some job postings don’t give an exact address, but most provide at lease a little bit of geographic information.
Living close to the job site is good for both you and me as your prospective employer.

If you live 90 minutes (or more) one way, do the math first.  How much gas and/or wear and tear on your vehicle are you willing to put into the job?  How many hours do you have to spend on the bus each day?  I don’t want to hire someone who is going to quit after a month because they can’t afford to make the trip, or get burnt out from the commute each day.

A few simple suggestions

Make sure the email address that you’re responding from is the same one listed in the email you send to me and in your resume.  Not being consistent can raise questions about to which email address I should use when I reply.  Should I use both?  Again, try and make it easy for me.  The less think about how to reply to you, the more likely it is that you’ll make the cut to the next level.

I had a small number of applications that gave me incorrect email addresses, so I was unable to respond.  It never hurts to send yourself a test email message to be sure everything is working properly with your email account.

While Microsoft Word format (.doc or .docx) are certainly acceptable, I would recommend that you send your resume in PDF format unless your prospective employer requests a specific format.  With a PDF you can be sure your formatting will look the same on my screen as it does on yours.  Sometimes pagination can get messed up between different versions of operating systems, versions of Word file formats and screen resolutions.  Since I’m unable to easily edit a PDF, I can’t mess it up by accidentally editing it or unknowingly pressing keys. (Maybe I should just blame that on my cats?)

Common mistakes

Use a spell checker!  Want to make youself stand out in the wrong way? poor speliing and grammer will help… (yes, I did that on purpose).  I know that spelling and grammar aren’t one of my strong points so I always ask someone else to proofread my copy.  Here is an example of a one line reply I got, “Respomding 2 craigslist post”.  Needless to say, I didn’t bother to reply.

Avoid using text message shortners.  While its great to text your spouse or friends, “ru going to pick it up @ da store 2nite?”  Abbreviations like this have no place in a job application or cover letter.  In fact, I would recommend that you not apply from a mobile device.  It just too easy to revert to cell phone etiquette or overlook small mistakes that may land your resume in the trash bin prematurely.

Get your own email address.  While it may be fine to use your spouse’s or friend’s email for casual communication, as an employer I wonder why you haven’t gotten an email address of you own?  This isn’t 1994, email accounts are free and easy to get.  Yahoo, hotmail, gmail they are all there for you!

Just plain stupid!

I still have a small chuckle when I think about what happened below:

Don’t make subtle (or not so subtle) references to drugs in your email address or resume filename… duh!!!  What you do on your own time is your business, but don’t do something so stupid as to exclude yourself before I even read your email and resume.

Pictures

If you include a picture of yourself, or your email system automatically includes one through some social networking feature, let me recommend that you update the picture so you’re not giving me the “three-finger-salute”. (True!)  It may look cool to your friends, but but it does not look cool to your prospective employer.

If you do have a picture, make sure it represents something that you are proud for me, as your prospective employer, to know about you.  Used appropriately, a picture may establish a common bond between us, for example we may both share a love of hiking, bowling or participating in parades.

Conclusion

There you have it, my full confession.  I know that in today’s job climate, getting a job isn’t easy.  If it were, I’m guessing that you wouldn’t be using CraigsList to help find a job.

I hope that by following some of the suggestions above that you make yourself stand out from the crowd.  Most important, I hope that you learn from the mistakes of others and don’t exclude yourself from consideration even before your resume is read.

Please leave some comments in the comments section below and share a few stories of your own, especially if they make you laugh.

9 Responses so far.

  1. Vicki Mayer says:

    Very good advise. Not many would take the time, so thank you.

  2. M. Morrison says:

    Good insight and advice. I agree,…not many employers would take the time to share. Thank you very much. I’m going to try all of your suggestions.

  3. Shaney seniir says:

    Dear Mr. Mason,

    Thank you for the advice and tips, I’ve been out of the job for over a year and reading your post has given me the confidence to apply for my first job on Craigslist!
    Sincerely,

    Shaney Senior

  4. john says:

    Mr. Mason,

    Wonderful advise.
    Should be a class in every school.
    And a prerequisite for unemployment insurance.

    Sincerely,

    John Amaro

  5. Gail Bailey says:

    Interesting that you would talk about how important correct spelling and grammar are when you made a mistake on this article. To wit: “Even if the I just ask for your email address…”. Hmmmmm.

  6. Maria says:

    Very insightful suggestions. Thank you! It is always helpful to know what employers expect from job applicants as it serves both the interests of the job applicant and the hiring manager. I especially liked the emphasis you placed on the importance of detailed description. I understand employers’ time is valuable, so all provided information should be detailed enough to be pertinent to the job position, but efficient enough that it does not miss the job objective. Thanks!

  7. Thanks for this informative post. I do believe that all the points you have mentioned in this article are very helpful to get a job.

  8. Karen Jack says:

    Very good tips. Most of them I knew but did not take the time to treat my reply e-mail as an introduction of myself properly. I sent my resume and figured that would be sufficient. I am very disappointed with myself and feel as is I “blew” my chance to even be considered.

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