I recently ran a help-wanted ad on Craigslist. The position was a photo-editor job for a site that I dare not mention because some people will complain that I promote it too often. Here’s what I learned a lot from this experience—much of which you may apply to a job search if you respond to a Craigslist ad:

  • Apply fast. I posted the job at 11:19 pm on Thursday, August 2nd. The first response came in thirty-one minutes later. Fifteen more responses came in the next day. Therefore, 43% of the responses came in the first day or so. If you wait a few days, employers who advertise on Craigslist may already fill the job. Indeed, looking for a job is a job, so don’t take a few days off (for example, the weekend) from your search.

  • Write a cover email that addresses the position. Two people simply attached their resume to their response. I pushed back on one and suggested that he write a cover email. He copied and pasted my job description to, I guess, let me know which job he was applying for. Needless to say, both candidates didn’t get serious consideration. I don’t know about other employers, but the thing I can’t stand the most is laziness. Although, to be fair, the ad was for a position at the worst website in the world.

  • Rise to the occasion. The vast majority of the candidates were highly-qualified professional designers, photographers, and photo editors. My response to the first thirty-one applicants (who were diligent enough to write a cover email) involved a test to find pictures that illustrated five sample stories. Twenty-six (94%) of the twenty-nine immediately completed the test. Now you know that there are highly-qualified diligent candidates in the Craigslist talent pool.

  • Apply well. You should jump right on an opportunity because if the position is filled there’s usually nothing you can do. However, the three people that we hired did apply on the fifth and seventh days after the listing. The reason is that they simply picked the pictures that we liked best—which is to say either our tastes were similar or they figured out what we liked, both of which work for me.

  • Apply really well. The person who was the most obvious “right candidate” did something that no one else did: He not only chose good pictures, but he also resized them to approximately 140 x 105 pixels. This is the size of the pictures that we use on our site. Thus, he figured out what kind of pictures we liked and what size we used.

    Several other candidates said something to effect of, “These aren’t the right size for your site, but I figured you just wanted to check my taste, not my ability to resize photos.” Actually, we wanted to see how much initiative candidates had too. Most companies would love to find the one candidate that stands head and shoulders above the others, so be that person by applying really well. Ask yourself this simple question: “If I were hiring for this position, what would impress me?”

  • Don’t be stupid. I mentioned in the ad that Macintosh expertise was highly desirable—specificially with a handful of apps. One person wrote back, “Quite frankly, I’ve never even heard of FlySketch, Skitch or MarsEdit (or Ecto or Qumana).” Honesty, is not the best policy: either don’t mention your lack of qualifications or spend ten minutes to go figure out what these applications do. My conclusion from the candidate’s response was that he was lazy, and laziness wasn’t in the job description.

  • By the way, the ad cost $75, and it yielded approximately thirty-seven good candidates—therefore, at a cost of a mere $2 per candidate. I’d heard from other companies about the extraordinary effectiveness of Craigslist, but now I “know” this is true. And if you’re a candidate for a job on Craigslist, now you “know” what you’re up against, so apply fast, write a good cover email, apply well, apply really well, and don’t flaunt your lack of qualifications.