Using a Banana to get a better Hire

Recently I was helping a small independently-owned English conversation school in Yokohama hire teachers. The part-time position was just your average part-time teaching position with limited benefits and average (perhaps slightly lower) hourly pay. The biggest draw was the location (a one-minute walk from a popular station) and a really friendly atmosphere.

Part-time teaching positions often get flooded with applications, and I was dreading the task of sorting through all the applications even though I have a system (see previous blog). 

It is just way too easy to apply to jobs online. The job seeker doesn’t even have to read the job description, and often doesn’t, before applying. And they can do this with a single click of the mouse. Just like shopping online, one click is all it takes. With it being so easy, many job seekers just throw their hat into the ring for any job that remotely matches what they are looking for. We call this “Spray and Pray”

While many industries require the applicant to submit a sample of their work with the application or complete a task such as a coding test for an IT job or translating an article for a translator position, this does not work with an average part-time teaching position.  If I required the applicant to submit a video of him or her teaching along with the application, I would likely get no applications at all. 

To make things easy on the applicant and ensure that he or she read the entire job description, as well as could follow instructions, I ended the job description with the following sentence:

“On your cover letter, please start the first paragraph with the word ‘Banana.’”

Guess how many applicants followed directions? About 1/3rd (This was actually more than I had expected).

I did not even have to read the entire cover letter to find those that wanted “my” job and not “any” job. Actually the total response was above what the position warranted, which I credit to the Banana request which made our job advertisement a bit different, which translated to our school being a cool school to work at.  Everyone that we interviewed mentioned it and some incorporated this in a sentence as a way to better show off their personality in the cover letter. 

Out of professional curiosity, I reviewed all the applications that did not have “Banana.” There were a number of qualified applicants most of them had copy/paste templates. This confirmed everything that I said in my previous article about personalizing your cover letter to the job that you are applying for.

And the most important part: we hired a fantastic teacher and were thrilled with his performance.

Peter Lackner

Peter Lackner operates the employment website Jobsinjapan.com. He was a former director at GPlus Media (GaijinPot & CareerEngine) as well as a director at CareerCross.com. In addition to being active in the English Teachers in Japan (ETJ) organization, Peter serves on the Board of Directors for Tokyo Association of International Preschools.

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