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The Do’s and Don’ts of Applying for a Job Position: Ethical Considerations

Sending Unsolicited Supporting Emails From Former 'Employers' Can Backfire

A few weeks ago a student of mine asked for my advice with respect to applying for a position to start on January 6. She had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree and had two companies in mind. She asked me if I knew of a way to make her resume stand out so it doesn’t get put in a file to be forgotten forever.

I thought about her request and realized that she had unique experience working as a financial analyst during summer internships and before she became a full-time student. Since her desired job position required a degree in accounting, I told her to play up the angle that she had financial advisory experience. Many of the CPA firms have thriving practices in personal financial planning and consulting.

I didn’t hear from the student until after she had applied for the two jobs and was immediately rejected. She was distraught and somewhat blamed me for the suggestion to play up her past experiences in financial analysis. I felt badly so I asked her to explain exactly what she had said. It turns out she had references from her past jobs send unsolicited emails of support directly to the prospective employers. While those employers did not explain to her the reason she was rejected, it’s my guess that it was because of the unsolicited emails. Employers don’t want to be bombarded with information about a candidate unless they specifically ask for it.

I was curious what those emails had said so she sent them to me and what I found is a lesson for all people that find themselves in a similar position. None of the emails talked about how they knew her or what made her great. Instead, they were short, vague, and simply assured the prospective employers that they “couldn’t go wrong” with hiring her. None appeared to be from previous supervisors and maybe not from previous colleagues.

One just identified her as a “warm person.” Another called her “a hard worker.” A third said “she was great to be with.” You get the picture. These were vague descriptions of her personality and had nothing to do with her job qualifications and performance.

Does this mean you should never have former managers email a prospective employer on behalf of your candidacy for a position? No, it’s just that such communications should be limited to one or two and they had better be highly valuable to the prospective employer. The communications should: address your qualifications to complete jobs on a timely basis; follow instructions; be a team player; ethical attributes; willingness to accept responsibility for your own work; openness to changing when asked for by a manager; and a general performance review during the time you worked under the manager sending the email.

Applying for a job is a matter of ethical behavior. Potential employers will try to gauge your honesty and trustworthiness by the information received. That is why references are always required.

The worst thing you can do is lie on a resume, exaggerate the facts, and provide information on nonexistent jobs with false information about experiences and skills.  

If you are out in the job market as the year 2014 begins, try to address your character as much as possible. Employers want reliable, diligent, and dedicated workers. Ask yourself how you can demonstrate that you embrace the virtues of good behavior that would attract a potential employer to offer you an interview and, hopefully, a job opportunity. Good luck!

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 31, 2013