Job Application Pitfalls in the Digital Age

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By Alyssa Stahr

I send thousands of text messages and emails a month. In fact, so much correspondence is done via digital means that when my phone rings it practically startles me. Who in the world could be calling me? And, do I screen my calls? Absolutely. Thinking back to the time of corded phones and no caller ID makes me cringe. I may have just aged myself, but I think I’m in the crucial medium of the corporate world: I’m old enough to respect long-lasting technology and proper etiquette, yet young enough to adapt to change.

With that being said, texting and social media have vastly changed the way we communicate. We shorten phrases to their bare minimums or numerals; use emojis to share our virtual body language and to evoke sarcasm; and we have lost the essence of formality in the process. This is particularly evident in what should still be a formal process—the job application.

Part of my duties at VAPE Magazine is to screen and hire potential candidates. In a nutshell, I serve as our HR department. The applications that come out of the woodwork baffle me. Out of 100 that I receive, there are possibly two that I will give a second glance. There are myriad job sites at the touch of a keyboard with endless tips on how to send a proper cover letter and resume. Is it the digital age that has failed us, or is it our educational system? That is a case study in the making, I’m sure. But for now, here are some of the most common job application blunders I see, that no matter how young (or old) you are, should still be the norm.

I is not a sir. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve received a cover letter that begins with “Dear Sir.” I am not sure what has led the applicant to think I am a man, and the utter lack of simple research to find out who the hiring manager is surely will send your application to my trash bin. This became a running joke at my old job because the applicant not only committed this blunder, but he also couldn’t figure out the difference between the is/are verb in his letter. Therefore, “I is not a sir” was born.

“Hey There” is not the way to the hiring manager’s heart. I am not your friend. I am the person who is potentially going to give you a job. Using a phrase this informal right out of the gate isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it won’t put you at the top of the stack.

Here’s a link to my stuff. Let’s chat. People actually use the word “stuff” in a job application. And “let’s chat” goes back to being too informal for the situation at hand. Your “stuff” better be pretty great to get an interview.

The random resume with no body copy. One of my favorites is when I receive a resume attached, but no cover letter. We have a multitude of job openings, so what position is it that you are applying to? Sometimes if the person has an advanced degree or something on the resume that catches my eye, I will respond and ask that very question. Nine times out of 10 the answer is “Whatever you have available; I’m very talented in many areas.” Really? You can design a web page AND edit copy? Fantastic! Clearly you don’t care about the company in particular, however, and are just looking for “any old job.” Well, we aren’t the company for you and most others won’t be either.

Grammatical and spelling errors spell longer unemployment. If you spell something wrong or have glaring grammatical errors, especially after you’ve told me that you have stellar attention to detail and are applying for a writing position, you’re out. Period.

Not following directions. This is possibly one of the worst offenses on the list. We, like most companies out there (especially start-ups) work around the clock. We work through weekends and on holidays and we eat and breathe our product. I particularly am this way because I love what I do and I’m a sadistic workaholic. I don’t have time to deal with people who don’t follow directions. Our staff has to be able to communicate clearly or the wheel will fall off the car. It’s about building trust. And, if I’ve asked on a social media post to email your cover letter and resume with “writer” in the subject line, it’s more to see if you can follow simple instructions than a way to filter applications in my inbox.

Alyssa Stahr is the founder of Alyssa Stahr Communications & Consulting. She is an award-winning journalist who is a member of the Freelancers Union and COO/Editor in Chief of VAPE Magazine. For inquiries, contact her at

about author

I love the aspect of managing the entire product, not just being pigeonholed into one area of the creative process. Using my love of writing, editing and research as a catapult, I work with you in creating social media strategies.


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