In the current edition of her e-newsletter, Claire Kittle, who runs the Talent Market staffing agency, recounts an anecdote that immediately rang true for me. With Claire’s permission, I’m reprinting the story, which I’ve edited slightly.
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I get dozens of applications every day, and you would be amazed to see how many seemingly intelligent candidates do not follow instructions. If I had to put a number on it, I’d estimate that 50% of applicants fail to send me what my clients request.
I used to give all candidates the benefit of the doubt. I would follow-up with them and ask for the information they neglected to send the first time. But I learned that those same candidates often still fail to follow instructions on the second (and third!) attempts, and worse—they frequently get belligerent about being asked for more information!
Here’s a sample scenario:
Me: “Are you free for a phone interview Friday at noon? If so, what’s the best number where I can call you?”
Candidate: “Yes, that will work!”
Sigh. Now I’ll only throw the life preserver to candidates with very strong resumes, but I still file away the fact they didn’t send the right information off the bat.
All this prompts the question: If a candidate can’t follow instructions for a job application, how will that person perform on the job? Will he take direction? Will his work be sloppy? How will he treat your customers? It’s hard to say for sure, but the initial data points don’t bode well for his future as an employee.
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Indeed, although I don’t work in HR, I too encounter this bugbear routinely. Here’s a recent example:
Vendor: “Please provide profile details.”
Me: “Can you let me know if you can’t get this info from the document I sent this morning?”
The vendor’s response? Silence. Apparently, she could; it was just easier to ask someone than to find a previous e-mail herself.
I learned this passive-aggressive technique from an old boss. Rather than explicitly point out a mistake I had made, he would take the mistake to its logical conclusion. For example, if I wrote that a campaign would run from April-March (rather than March-April), he might reply, “When did our month-long budget get extended to a year?” While my first reaction was, Huh?, upon reflection I appreciated the humor—and gentle guidance.
So, what can we do to minimize these miscommunications? While people will always and forever be lazy, the principles of Web writing suggest separating out anything crucial from the body text. To wit: Any questions or requests should be put in list format, or at least be bolded or highlighted. The extra time this takes upfront will save you from wasting time down the road.
A version of this blog post appeared on LindsayOlson.com on November 23, 2010.