When I became Philadelphia University’s Director of Online Programs in 2014, I asked our HR department to post an ad for adjunct faculty and SMEs in various disciplines. I wanted to – gasp! – build up the pool. There was an existing adjunct group, but they were too few and concentrated in one or two disciplines.

The day after the ad ran, I eagerly checked the jobs mailbox. Thrilled to see more than forty applications, I decided to allot time later in the week to begin my review.

Before the end of the week the inbox count was up to more than 220. In the next two weeks, 300+ more applications came in. A nice problem to be sure, but how to sort through the abundance? The obvious answer would be to first eliminate those without qualifications, but most – at least on paper – seemed more than qualified to be online instructors.

Staying Out of the “No” Folder – Also Called the Round File

I’m fortunate to have a wonderful graduate assistant who helped me organize– now in the hundreds – these applications. I set up a series of folders by discipline, so the applications could be sorted. I also included an email box labeled, “No.”

So what would get an applicant routed to the “No” folder? With so many more candidates than open positions, hiring managers have to quickly assess applicants. Add to this the ever-growing interest in flexible work – in all fields – and you have a very competitive pool.

Here are some things sure to get you popped into the “No” folder:

    • Ignoring the ad’s application instructions – in ours, the direction below was included. If you didn’t do this, you went straight into “No.”
      • Important: You must indicate which majors and courses you are qualified to teach. You may do this in the body or your email or attach a cover letter. Applications without this information will not be considered.
    • An empty email body – an application coming in with attachments only creates work for the hiring manager. Help me hire you by pasting your cover letter, or at least writing a brief introduction in the body of the email. An empty email body feels sad and unfriendly, like you didn’t take the time or care to write directly to the hiring manager.
    • An email signature with anything other than your contact information - you may think you’re being profound, thoughtful or erudite by adding a quote from Mother Teresa, Gandhi or Lee Iacocca, but trust me, your email isn’t the place. Likewise religious or political references. Keep that for your personal life. Job applications and business writing should be professional, with a neutral tone.  See my earlier article Three Things You’re Doing on Social Media to Sabotage Your Online Teaching Search for more about this.
    • Beginning with a salutation of “Dear Sir.” These still land in many HR inboxes and I guarantee they are not well-received. Are you applying for a job in the 1950s? If not, use “Dear Hiring Manager.” Some ask if “To Whom it May Concern” is acceptable since it’s difficult now to get the name of the person doing the hiring. I wouldn’t put an applicant in the “No” folder for this, but directing it to the hiring manager is safer.

Don’t Despair!

Candidates DO actually get hired from these pool-style ads, so don’t disregard them. It may not happen quickly, but know that most hiring managers regularly comb their jobs inboxes when they have openings. I’ve hired two instructors in the past weeks who applied over a year ago!

So the next time you apply for an online position, remember that your application is the first impression a hiring manager or HR screener gets of you. Be sure it’s professional, positive and excruciatingly proof-read. Read it aloud to catch typos and awkward phrasing. Follow the directions of the ad to the letter and don’t send a blank email with attachments only. Your cover email and letter will tell your story; make sure it’s a compelling one.

And speaking of your story, watch for the next article in this series on how to get the interview by impressing the hiring manager with your well-crafted, compelling professional narrative.

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About the Author

Mary Beth Kurilko M.Ed, BA

twitter @girlmeetsweb

As the Director of Online Programs at Philadelphia University, I provide vision, leadership, direction, and expertise in support of faculty design, delivery and evaluation of technology-enhanced instructional materials.

I'm also an enthusiastic and energetic communications instructor, specializing in emerging media and writing for the web.

My strength is taking the fear out of scary things - technology, social media, writing, public speaking - with humor, verve, and elan. Okay, that's what someone else said about me, but the humor part is true.

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