Top Ten Job Search Mistakes (Plus One)

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1. “Shotgunning” applications

Randomly applying for every position that you might remotely qualify for could seem like a good idea. After all, the more jobs you seek, the greater the odds that you’ll get one of them, right? However, it doesn’t usually work that way.

Better Approach: Identify the specific types of positions where you can shine, then tailor your resume for each one. Focus your job search efforts on those specific goals. (See Five Steps to Finding the Right Job)

2. Electronic laziness

The Internet makes it oh-so-easy to just sit at home in your comfy pajamas and fill out online applications. But the problem is that every other unemployed slacker is doing the same thing, so you have a lot of competition for those online jobs.

Better approach: Get up off the couch and start working on a networking strategy. Your goal is to hear about vacancies before they ever get on the Internet. (See Expanding Your Job Search Network)

3. Using a bad “sales rep”

The presentation made by your “personal sales rep” will determine whether you get an interview. The seller that we’re talking about is your resume, which represents you in the eyes of the interviewer. If your resume is poorly formatted, sloppy, hard to read, or badly written, forget about being called in.

Better approach: Study books or online resources to learn about constructing a first-class resume. You may think you know how to do this, but odds are that you can improve. (See Creating a Resume)

4. Ignoring the cover letter

Many people simply don’t want to bother writing a cover letter, feeling that writing a resume was quite enough work. However, these lazy applicants are missing a great opportunity to stand out from the pack.

Better approach: The resume presents the facts of your education and experience, while the cover letter conveys your attitude and personality. So take time to study some creative cover letters, then write one that will get an interviewer’s attention (in a good way).

5. Half-hearted networking

“Networking” appropriately contains the word “work”, because it takes a lot of effort. Unfortunately, many applicants just make a few calls or send a few emails and think they’ve done their networking duty.

Better approach: You need to approach your job search as a job. An important part of that job is to develop an organized, comprehensive networking strategy. Look for books and online resources that provide tips on how to do this. (See Why People Hate Networking)

6. “Winging it” in interviews

If you believe that you’ll make a better impression by giving fresh and spontaneous answers during interviews, forget it. Few people are that verbally adept. Unplanned, impulsive responses usually lead to interview disasters.

Better approach: Interviewers ask many of the same questions, so find a perceptive friend or family member and engage in some rehearsals. Your best bet is to find someone who has been in management or human resources, because they have actually hired people. (See Interviewing Skills)

7. Not doing your homework

Interviewers expect you to know something about their organization, industry, or profession. If you draw a complete blank when they ask “What do you know about our company?”, you will look like a real dunce.

Better approach: At the very least, you should always Google the organization with which you are interviewing. If you know the name of the interviewer or hiring manager, Google that person as well. To go beyond the Google basics, see if you can network your way to someone who has actually worked there.

8. Failing to take the employer’s view

The BIGGEST mistake made by applicants is failing to view themselves and the job through the eyes of the interviewer. As a result, they blurt out answers that create absolutely the wrong impression.

Better approach: You must understand that the first goal of every interviewer is to weed out potential problems. So you must be sure that your answers don’t give the impression that you are difficult to manage, high maintenance, easily dissatisfied, or afraid of hard work. All the more reason why you need to rehearse. (See #6 above)

9. Too much honesty

Honesty is great, but complete disclosure is often stupid. Saying “I’m looking for another job because I can’t get along with my boss” is job search suicide.

Better approach: For almost every question, there are several possible honest answers. You just need to find the one that will make the best impression. For example, you may hate your boss, but you might also like to have some new challenges. And that’s a much more acceptable reason for leaving.

10. Leaving troublesome Internet footprints

The Internet can really help you research an employer. But it can also help an employer research you. If your drunken fraternity pictures are readily available on Facebook, that will not help your image. Ditto for any hobbies or political activities that might be offensive to some interviewers.

Better approach: Before sending out any resumes, you should Google yourself to see what prospective employers may find. Getting information off the Internet can be difficult, but if it’s bad enough, it’s worth a try. Then start working to create a positive Internet impression.

11. Blowing the follow-up

What you do after the interview can help you land a job or get you scratched from the list. If you call or email repeatedly to check on your status, you will be viewed as a pest. But if you fail to follow up at all, you may appear to be uninterested.

Better approach: After every interview, send a thank-you note – at least an email and at best a handwritten card. Use this opportunity to express your great interest in the job. Then, if you have heard nothing after a suitable interval, make one follow-up attempt (email or phone), again expressing your interest. After that, stop.