Standing Out: Follow the Directions (Duh.)

It’s Tuesday morning and Meico Whitlock is scanning his email. There’s far too many to go through this morning (or this week), but his growing communications team at National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) is moving fast on a new email campaign and he wants to get copy edits back to his team this morning.

Yesterday Meico’s supervisor decided NASTAD should send an email campaign to all of their members about new Healthcare policy that affects HIV treatment accessibility. The campaign will include a brief report on how the policy affects each State. 

Everyone on Meico's team is feeling stretched a little thin already this week. It’s the least he can do to give them a prompt response.  

As he gets to the bottom of the first page of his email, he notices the subject line, “Manager, communications” Meico’s been trying to bring on a new comms manager to ease the load on the rest of his team, especially in situations just like the one he's in now.

Meico clicks and reads,

“Mr. Whit,

I’m reaching out to express my interest in the Communication Manger role at NASTAD. Youll find my resume and cover letter attached. I appreciate your consideration and look forward to discussing next steps.”

Meico gives a sort of amusement, deletes the email and continues searching for the campaign drafts.


This is a fictitious example of real applicants Meico see’s too often at NASTAD.

When Meico joined the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) five years ago, he was the only communications person on staff. Since then he’s slowly built out a communications team to meet the full spectrum of NASTAD’s communications needs.  

With each new hire, Meico looks for a professional who can fill gaps and expand capabilities. He also looks for someone who has enthusiasm for NASTAD's work and fits the culture of his growing team. This means there are a set of baseline expectations that Meico has for each applicant he considers.

This begins with the initial email from each applicant. The expectations aren’t high, but they’re a good first screen for who actually cares and who does not. It’s simple. If you don’t follow directions, you’re not going to get hired by Meico.

Application emails that don’t have the correct subject line don’t even reach his inbox. Of the emails that do reach his inbox, any that don’t spell his name correctly, or are addressed to the wrong person are deleted. Emails with spelling mistakes are also deleted.

This may seem harsh, but Meico has a team to manage. He smartly invests his limited time on candidates who display enough attention to detail and externally facing savvy to make their application materials error free.

Basic preparation is one of the most common points that come up when I ask social sector hiring managers about the biggest weaknesses in potential applicants.

It's a little frustrating to me that I even need to write a blog about this, but apparently some professionals still don't grasp the importance of  taking the time for basic preparation, especially in the social enterprise space. 

Larger corporations with dedicated HR teams may have the time to accommodate an applicant who doesn’t follow directions. But at small, social sector organizations, managers are responsible for their full-time roles as well as hiring their team. They will not take the time to correct your mistakes.

It’s not hard to prepare application materials, but it does require a time investment. Putting in the time to proof read and double check directions is the surest way to mitigate the biggest weakness hiring managers see in applicants.  

Ready to advance to the interview round with your perfect application email? Meico is actually hiring communications manager at NASTAD. Check out the role here