I’ve been using Craigslist since long before it came to Montreal. I was living in Boston and first used it to find an apartment. I couldn’t wait for it to take off in Montreal and I’m happy to report that it has become commonplace in the city.

For those of you who aren’t sure what Craigslist is (and for some reason a lot of people have trouble describing what the site is), put simply: Craigslist (Craig’s List) is a free classified ads website. The company generates revenue by charging for job posts in a select few cities.

Once in a while I post help wanted ads as I search for fresh talent to hire. Most of the time I’m looking for web designers, website programmers, graphic designers, SEO people, Internet marketers, and related talent. Unfortunately, the replies I receive, while plentiful, leave a lot to be desired. So here is my guide on how to reply to an ad for a web-related and/or designer position on Craigslist.

Job Postings

Just for the record, I recognize that many job posters on Craigslist put in a lot of vague statements such as “we need a web designer” and end it there. I don’t do that. I typically provide full details of the precise professional skills, bonus skills, ideal personal skills, and benefits of working with my team. If you can’t take a few minutes to read through the details, there’s not much you’ll be able to do for us, as attention to detail is crucial in my company’s success.

Guidelines: What To Do

1. Read the Ad Carefully

I typically describe the position in detail so applicants know exactly what they are applying for and I can cut down on time wasted sifting through inappropriate applications. I think that offering a lot of details is quite reasonable, yet I receive replies like this one: ”I have not included examples of my work because I am not sure what type of work you are looking for.” (Yes, that’s an actual reply). Just read the ad!

When I write that my company needs an SEO technician who is fluent in English (verbal and written), don’t send an email with the following: “My inglish is good for you pleese hire me.” I get that far too often. Another real one: “Hi my name is Claudia I’m interesty to job…how to do for apply…thank”

2. Treat the Ad Like an Interview for Your Ideal Job

Imagine that you are about to get interviewed for a position in a company that you really want work for. Spend some time preparing what you want to say and customize your email to the job that is posted. If you’re applying to get a position as a web designer, don’t send your CV full of glowing references to your past as an IT technician. It’s unbelievable how many “IT guys” apply for a job as a “web guy.” They are completely separate positions and require different skill sets and personality traits.

3. Send the Specific Info that is Requested

My ads typically ask for the following:

  • A few lines describing your experience and strengths to be written in the email
  • A CV/resume
  • A link to your website or to websites you’ve worked on in the capacity for which I am looking to hire you (i.e., don’t send me a link to CNN.com where you designed one banner ad, and expect me to believe you designed their website.)
  • References (optional)
  • Samples of your work (sometimes a small jpg file with some graphic design artwork is requested)

I don’t believe that the above is over the top, yet many of these requests are ignored.

I ask for links to your website because I want to see your work in action so don’t send me an MS Word document with logos and screenshots of websites. Or, worse, screenshots of templates you purchased from a template reseller website that you want me to believe was designed by you (see note about honesty below).

I received this actual reply from a web designer ad: “familiar with all the designing software.” Like what?! What does “familiar” mean in this context? That you’ve heard of it?! Give me the specifics of what you can do with what software by way of samples.

Another real application stated that ”I have very good experience with best marketing company in Canada” but failed to give me information about what they actually did there or could offer my company in terms of job skills.

Emails which ignore the above requests for information such as ”www.[sitename].com please call for info” (yes, that’s a real reply) get deleted immediately. I know about the automated Craigslist application software and related non-sense and will delete all suspected emails of that nature.

I receive many job applications with ”more info/portfolio is available upon request.” (a real reply). Actually my friend, the post WAS the request!

4. Pay Attention to the Location

If my job posting says “you must come to the office once in a while but can work from home most of the time” don’t bother applying if you can’t come to the office once in a while! That means no out-of-towners and people on different continents. Once in a while I do hire people from around the world and I will say so in my ad. If I need you to be in or near my city, and you live far away, don’t apply!

5. Keep it Short and to the Point

Write a few lines about you, your experience, what your needs are (yes, you have a say), and list URLs to your best work. If I ask you to attach a CV, then attach one! A lot of businesses and private individuals don’t care about having your CV on file but I do. so attach one. I don’t need a long cover letter with everything you’ve done for the past 20 years in painstaking detail (I get tons of these). Just reply with the relevant highlights in a short paragraph or two.

6. Send Contact Info

You want me to get in touch with you? Don’t make it hard! If the ad says “qualified applicants will be called” then give me your phone number!

7. Don’t Customize Your Reply Email Title

Use the title of the job posting in your reply email. Don’t change it to “CL job” as I may have posted multiple positions and this just confuses matters. Sometimes people write a few extra words such as “This is PERFECT for me” or “I’m an ideal candidate for this job” which is fine.

8. Be Honest About Your Skills

Don’t send an email saying that you’re an expert at Photoshop but Craigslist didn’t allow you to send files because they were too large. Just about every ad I place looking for graphic artists or web designers generates at least one reply that tells me their email was returned because it exceeded the Craigslist attachment file size limit. Ok, well if you’re great at Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, or any other relevant program, I’m sure you can find a way to shrink the file size to something that is within acceptable limits (I believe the Craigslist file size limit is 150kb). As the job applications stream in, I rarely have time to write back to people who, at face value, already don’t qualify.

Even worse, don’t ask if you can you snail mail them to me. I’ve gotten this on several occassions. If you’re great at using Photoshop, it won’t take you long to prepare a jpg file with some samples in it. I will obviously know that you aren’t an expert so there’s no reason to lie since you won’t get the job anyways.

If you designed a banner for CNN.com/health, don’t write that you designed the health section of their website. Show me the exact sample you created for them.

If the art director in your last company gave you a concept which you brought to life in your design, don’t take full credit for the design. Explain that you followed instructions (and hope to be able to generate similar work of high quality on your own).

I happen to be good at seeing the potential in people and the truth is that I only call people who I think will absolutely excel in my organization. I take pride in the fact that I’ve hired people who looked good and I guided and pushed them into being great. At the end of the day, I hire people who I believe to be very talented and have room for more growth.

9. Adopt a Professional Approach

Say “Hello,” “Hi,” “Dear Sir” or some other acceptable greeting in your email. Sign off with a “thank you” or something similar. Don’t use profanity or stupidities. At least one person sent me to see his sample designs on his blog which had profanity all over it.

Someone else sent me a link to his blog which had a post about the glorious nature of drugs. If he’s a major user, I don’t want him on my team. I also received an email with no name other than “Artsee Fartsee.” Please keep it professional! Create a separate, professional email address if you have to.

I received a Craigslist job application that read “please look at my portfolio work” and when I went to look, the portfolio page was empty. That’s not helpful!

Just a few hours after I posted an ad, I received this: “is the web design job still available?” Sometimes I post at night and I received one response saying something along the lines of “here’s my application. By the way, you must be desperate because you posted late at night”… and he thinks I will hire someone with that attitude?

What Not To Do

1. Don’t Ask If the Job is Still Available

Don’t email 3 days after the post is put up and write “is this job still available?” with no other information. Those get deleted faster than all others.

2. Don’t Apply to Every Single Job Posting

If I happen to post 2 completely different jobs posts and get two back-to-back emails from someone, I assume they can’t be good at either since they’re applying for both positions.

3. Ignore a Request for a Freelancer

If the ads specifies ”freelancers only,” chances are I’ll ignore your company. If I wanted to hire a company, I’d contact one.

4. Don’t Try to Sell Me Something

I have actually received this in an application:  “P.S. Ask me how you can process credit and debit cards for your business for as low as 1.65%”

5. Don’t be Stingy with Your Intro Text

For example, don’t write “see my attached CV” or worse “see my attached cover letter.” Those replies often go directly to Deleted Mail, no passing Go, no collection of $200.

6. Don’t Make it Difficult to See Samples of Your Work

If I have to log in to Facebook, a portfolio website, or any other site to see samples of your work, your application will be deleted.

7. Don’t Send Emails Complaining About Craigslist Job Postings

These are quite annoying and if you don’t like something about the jobs being posted, then look elsewhere! It’s your choice – no one is stopping you from going to other job websites. I run a legitimate company with competitive pay and don’t care to hear about how other companies are ripping you off with low wages.

More Advice

This is just an FYI for people applying for jobs on Craigslist.

1. Watch Out for Bogus Claims

Be aware of job posts that claim ”we’re the #1 whatever” as these are sometimes sketchy companies with bogus claims.

2. Be Watchful of Gimmicks

Be wary of job listings with unusual ideas such as ”we’re asking everyone to send in a logo sample and we’ll give $100 to the best one” from an anonymous company. That is complete garbage. Stay away from those.

3. Who Gets Hired? The BEST Candidates.

Many people complain that they never get hired on Craigslist. The people who get the jobs on Craigslist are frequently the same people who are very talented and in demand elsewhere. Most web designers, SEO technicians, and others in the field of Internet marketing and website development are average (by default). If you want to get hired, you need to stand out with your work and application. Create amazing samples, take advanced classes, and show off your talent.

Most of the applications I receive fail in a number of ways but mainly it’s the shear lack of demonstrated talent that prevents me from hiring candidates (not to mention the points in the list above).

Finally, some companies will post who they are, others won’t. I tend to post jobs anonymously because I can! I don’t care for the world to see that my company needs someone new. One of Craigslist’s main strengths is the level of anonymity it allows and I take advantage of that when it comes to hiring staff.