Breaking Down the 3 Most Common Job Application Questions

  • Have a question that you just can’t find a satisfying answer to? It can be confusing when you Google “are cover letters really necessary” or “how important is LinkedIn REALLY” and you have 20 different people giving you 20 different opinions with not much statistical evidence to back them up. While much of what you read online is totally valid and written by industry professionals, I’ve always desired a bit more statistical evidence when I read things like “oh HR only spends 6 seconds per resume”.


    While my article isn’t without bias and has a TON of opinion, I’m going to try to back it up with as much statistical evidence as possible. So here are 3 of the most common questions I get asked and my answers to them:


    • “Do I really need a cover letter?’



    • Careerbuilder
      • 2017 survey
        • Sample size: 2575 hiring managers and recruiters
        • 38% said a cover letter makes them more likely to pay attention to an application
      • 2016 survey
        • Sample size: 2153 hiring managers and recruiters
        • 40% said a cover letter makes them more likely to pay attention to an application
      • Methodology
        • Harris Poll
    • Addison Group
      • 2015 survey
        • Sample size: Undetermined
        • 18% said cover letters are important
      • Methodology
        • SurveyMonkey
        • Undetermined sample size and SurveyMonkey makes me wary of these statistics.
    • Jobvite
      • 2017 survey
        • Sample size: 2287 total (1531 U.S.)
        • Mixture of hiring managers, employers, and employees.
        • 26% of recruiters considered cover letters important.


    Conclusion: According to these polls, the majority of hiring managers seem to think cover letters are not that important, and the general sense I got by reading comments from recruiters and hiring managers seems to agree. However, anywhere from 20-40% of hiring managers indicate that they put SOME stock on cover letters so it doesn’t hurt to include a basic one with your application package anyway.


    Recommendation: Only a minority of hiring managers/recruiters care if you include a cover letter, and even then, the majority of the ones that actually care won’t read them for the most part. Is it possible that a great cover letter might give you an edge? Of course, there are always exceptions. But the general rule seems to indicate that most people don’t care, so:


    • Include a cover letter because it will most likely never actively hurt your application, and the possibility that including one MIGHT help, gives you enough reason to include a basic one.
    • However, there’s no need to spend more than 30 minutes on a cover letter you can use for every application. Spend the majority of time building your resume or your LinkedIn profile.


    Speaking of LinkedIn…


    • “How Important is LinkedIn really?”



    • SHRM
      • 2013 Survey 
        • Methodology
          • Sample size: 651
          • Margin of error: +/-4%
          • SHRM Poll
        • 77% of organizations use social networking sites to recruit potential job candidates.
          • This is in 2013, that number has increased significantly since then (For instance, 56% in 2011, 34% in 2008, growing to 84% in 2017)
          • LinkedIn is the most common, with 94% of organizations that DO use social media using LinkedIn.
    • SHRM
      • 2017 Survey
        • Methodology unknown
        • 84% of organizations use social media currently to find candidates, with an additional 9% planning on using it (for a total potential of 93%).
        • 82% of them use it to recruit passive job candidates.
    • LinkedIn
      • 2016 Statistics
        • Methodology
          • LinkedIn breakdown of job postings on their website
        • Of 112,000 job openings that were filled through LinkedIn,
          • 45% were directly sourced (meaning recruiter found them)
          • 40% were referred through network
          • 15% were through traditional job application methods
    • LinkedIn Demographics
      • 2018 update
        • 546 million total people on LinkedIn
        • 146 million US users, about 45% of the total population of the country.
          • Obviously, not all 146 million are unique, active, or complete, but it gives you a general sense of how big LinkedIn really is.
        • LinkedIn profiles with pictures get 21x more views and 36x more messages
          • If you don’t have a picture on LinkedIn, it’s going to be a waste of time.
        • LinkedIn profiles with 5 or more skills get 17x more views
          • Recruiters search candidates by skills, make sure you include them!


    Conclusion: Most people get hired through networking. That has always been the case, still is the case, and will probably remain the case for a long time. Applying directly online has always been relatively low returns for a high investment (in terms of time). For anyone serious about finding a job, statistically speaking they’re doing it wrong if they’re not on LinkedIn.


    Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely possible (and not even that uncommon) to get great jobs while not utilizing LinkedIn, I understand that. I’m not saying that you WON’T get a job by not using LinkedIn, but I am saying that LinkedIn is the most efficient way to use your time.


    Recommendation: If you’re young, seeking a white-collar career outside of government (government and blue-collar jobs are 2 of the demographics that LinkedIn is relatively useless for, so if you’re seeking employment in those fields than LinkedIn is largely irrelevant to you), have a degree, and SOME experience, make a good LinkedIn page ASAP. In order to get the most out of LinkedIn, you should follow these steps:


    • Break down your job duties and job experience.
      1. You can get away with copy and pasting your resume onto your LinkedIn profile.
    • Upload a picture of yourself.
      1. I get it, some of you are camera shy. I guess this boils down to how much you don’t like to post pictures of yourself vs how much you want a job. If you don’t have a picture, LinkedIn is going to be a barren wasteland for you.
    • Have 5-10 skills on your profile.
      1. Same with skills. Keep in mind that recruiters are searching for candidates by inputting keywords into their queries. If you don’t have a list of skills, you won’t pop up in any searches, meaning even if you WERE a great candidate, you won’t even get the chance to make an impression.
    • Toggle the “Open Candidate” switch on your profile settings.
      1. You can alert recruiters that you’re open to new opportunities in your profile (, so make sure that this is ON otherwise you won’t pop up in their search!
    • Connect with people
      1. I recommended 500+ connections before, but that’s really only relevant in sales. I would recommend ~50ish connections and definitely try to connect with a few recruiters so you can message them directly.


    Time and time again statistics show that networking is by far the BEST way to find a job. If you’re struggling and wondering why you’re not getting callbacks after sending in application after application, try a different method. You would be surprised by how many applications I talk to who haven’t even attempted making a LinkedIn profile but are extremely frustrated that they can’t find a job.


    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. If your application process isn’t working, change it up.


    • “Do I really need to tailor my resume?”



    • Careerbuilder
      • 2017 survey
        • Sample size: 2575 hiring managers and recruiters
        • 60% said a customized resume makes them more likely to pay attention to an application
      • 2016 survey
        • Sample size: 2153 hiring managers and recruiters
        • 63% said a customized resume makes them more likely to pay attention to an application
      • 2016 survey
        • Sample size: 3244 hiring managers and recruiters
        • 54% said the most common mistake job seekers make is not customizing their resume for each
      • Methodology
        • Harris Poll

    A couple points to talk about first:

    • There isn’t a WHOLE lot of data on how important a tailored resume is. In fact, a lot of people can’t seem to agree on what a tailored resume even is.
      1. To some people, a tailored resume means including keywords from the job posting into your resume.
      2. To others, a tailored resume means tailoring your resume specifically for the industry or company.
      3. In order to figure out what these statistics mean and how important a tailored resume truly is, we first need to come to an agreement for what a tailored resume means.


    Conclusion: Going into a detailed breakdown of what it means to tailor a resume is going to require a completely new article and a LOT of subjective opinions and bias from my part. There isn’t really an agreed upon definition, and for many hiring managers and recruiters they follow a “I know it when I see it” protocol.


    My recommendation is to just follow the job posting as closely as possible not in a “copy and paste word for word” kind of way, but in a “oh, they’re looking for this skill or qualification? I’ll make a few points in my resume that specifically address that” kind of way. To me, a tailored resume is more of a breakdown of why you’re good for this SPECIFIC role, rather than just shoving in as many keywords as you possibly can.


    Recommendation: Here’s the thing, I look at resumes like clothes in the sense that a tailored outfit, specifically fits ONE person. For most people, they’re not looking for a specifically tailored outfit every time they go shopping. Instead, they want clothes with general sizing guides that fits them relatively well enough. I personally think that job searching goes the same way. For most positions, a sized resume will suffice and a specifically tailored resume won’t really be necessarily.


    Think of it this way:

    • Retail, fast food, part time = fast fashion (H&M, forever 21, etc.)
    • Entry level = Abercrombie, UNIQLO
    • Mid-level = Banana Republic
    • Manager and senior level = Nordstrom
    • Executive level = Brooks Brothers, Allen Edmonds, and more high-end options


    It’s not a perfect analogy and this is just a super rough range, but you get the idea. Going by this chart, there’s no real reason to start tailoring your resume until you start applying to more mid-level and manager level roles. For entry level and retail positions, a sized resume that fits well enough will be all you need.


    Let me give you an example: If you’re thinking of 3 different careers (for instance HR, administration, and marketing) you want to get into and you’re starting at an entry level, you don’t need to specifically rewrite and tailor your resume EVERY single time. A sized HR resume, administration resume, and marketing resume should be good enough with some slight tweaks here and there. Will you get a higher ROI if you specifically tailor to every single application? Yes. Will it also require an inordinate amount of time that an entry level position doesn’t really justify? Also, yes. It makes sense to spend a lot of time on a CFO resume if there are only 3 positions available in your area at the moment, but entry level positions are a dime a dozen and it’s better to focus on volume WITH pretty good quality.


    So that's pretty much it! I'll be doing a more detailed and comprehensive breakdown of LinkedIn and tailored resumes later, so stay tuned!

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