Are You Making These 12 Job Search Mistakes?

By    October 3, 2013

job search mistakes

Hiring coach Laura Renner says you should approach your job search like you would the search for love. (You probably can skip dinner and a movie, though.)

“Hiring someone is a huge commitment. Employers want to make sure they’re hiring someone who is going to be worth it and who will stick around,” Renner said.

“Just like in dating, if you’re looking for marriage and the other person is looking for a fling, you will be reluctant to date the fling—unless you’re desperate or ignoring the signs, which employers are guilty of, too.

So, how can you ensure your “date” with a potential employer evolves into a long-term relationship? Pay attention to these 12 mistakes that you should avoid during your job search.

1. You’re Trashing Your Previous Employer.
A hiring manager doesn’t want to hear how awful your last boss was, said Keith Fall, a partner at legal search firm Walker Associates.

“If you left on bad terms and your last employer was the job from hell,” Fall said, “paint a rosier picture and talk about how you wanted to move forward in your career, and you didn’t see a growth plan there.”

trash heap

2. You’re Being Unrealistic.
This advice, from SpareFoot recruiter Rachel Morse, is aimed at newly minted college graduates. Just because you earned a degree from a prestigious university or you racked up a kick-ass GPA doesn’t mean you’re going to snag a high-paying job right off the bat.

“If you’re looking for your first full-time job,” Morse said, “be ready to work your way up in both position and pay.”

3. You’re Being Too Eager.
Don’t apply for every single open position on an employer’s website, Morse said. You need to zero in on one position and demonstrate your interest and skills in that one position.

Anne Howard, a recruiter at Lynn Hazan & Associates Inc., an executive search firm for communications and marketing businesses, advises job seekers to “be like a duck.”

“If the job posting is for a duck, the more duck-like you are, the better your chances of being hired,” she said. “Candidates who tailor their résumé and responses to match the position for which they are applying—who present themselves as more duck-like—are more likely to be considered.”

eager girl

4. You’re Spreading Yourself Too Thin.
Don’t portray yourself as a jack-of-all-trades, said Neil Warlicht, Americas president 
of recruiting firm Wahl & Case Inc. In other words, don’t vaguely brag that you can “do” something like business development or product marketing.

“In this day and age
 of highly specialized skill sets, most companies are not looking for
someone that can do a little bit of everything, but at someone that is
 exceptional at a more specific task,” Warlicht said. “In most cases, a too-broadly-presented background would lead to not getting that all-important first interview.”

5. You’re Being Self-Centered.
A job interview is not the time to recite your résumé line by line, Fall said, or to talk only about how great you think you are.

“Impress them with your knowledge of the industry. Do some research on their company and ask them probing questions. Show an interest in the position and learning more about the company,” Fall said.

self-centered man looking in mirror

6. You’re Not Setting Yourself Apart.
Too many job seekers don’t take the time to figure out what differentiates them from everyone else, said Lauren Milligan, a job search coach and résumé writer with ResuMAYDAY. For instance, you can stand out from the crowd by highlighting the types of problems you enjoy solving.

“It’s not enough to say 
that you’re a CFO or a marketing manager or executive director. So what? So 
is everyone else who is competing for the same job as you,” Milligan said.

7. You’re Making Grammar and Spelling Errors.
Since this often is the first point of contact with a potential employer, you’ve got to make sure your résumé and cover letter are error-free.

“Clients will approach me and say—fairly often—that
 they aren’t sure why their job search has stalled. I’ll open their documents
 and find mistakes,” said Krista Morris, owner of Virtuoso Resumes, a résumé-writing service.

In one case, Morris said, a registered nurse meant to write this: “Works quickly and efficiently on each assigned shift.” However, she had left the “f” out of the word “shift,” producing a four-letter word that typically doesn’t appear on a résumé or in a cover letter.

resume errors

8. You’re Being Generic.
Carol Cochran, HR director at FlexJobs, which helps people find jobs that offer flexibility, warned that you should never use essentially the same résumé and cover letter for every job you apply for.

Every résumé and cover letter must be tailored to the job or the employer, career coach Lea McLeod said. “We’re not in a one-size-fits-all job market,” she said.

9. You’re Concentrating Too Much on Your Own Goals.
Sure, prospective employers want to know about you. But, more importantly, they want to know what you can do for them. That’s why the “Objective” header on résumés has fallen out of favor, said Alfred Poor, author of “7 Success Secrets That Every College Student Needs to Know!”

“Hiring managers don’t really care what you want to accomplish or what sort
 of job you want,” Poor said. “They want to know how you will be able to add value to 
their company—how what you do will be worth more than what they will pay 
you.”

10. You’re Being Unprofessional.
If you want to be taken seriously, then be serious, said Michelle Riklan, whose company provides résumé and career services. Get rid of the “cutesy” email addresses, like ilovehellokitty@domain.com, and silly voicemail greetings. Stop plastering Facebook with photos of your wild weekends. In short: Grow up.

Using “cutesy” email addresses, recording silly voicemail greetings, and broadcasting your weekend partying activities on Facebook guarantee that a prospective employer “will question your maturity and professionalism,” Riklan said.

being unprofessional

11. You’re Spending Too Much Time Online.
According to Riklan, 85 percent to 90 percent of jobs are not publicized—they’re part of what’s known as the “hidden” job market.

What does this mean for you? You’ve got to stop relying on online job boards to land your next gig, Riklan said. Your time probably could be better spent beefing up your LinkedIn profile or attending networking events. “Get active,” she said, “and get noticed.”

12. You’re Not Properly Marketing Your Skills.
Trisha Craig owns a music school in New Hampshire. Would-be teachers often send her résumés that don’t highlight their musical training, performance experience or teaching experience. A recent applicant for a position as a piano instructor submitted a résumé that spotlighted all of the customer service jobs he’d held. He buried his experience as a church musician in the “Other” category.

“Job applicants should try to show, through their résumé and other communications, how they are suited for the position in question,” Craig said.

John is editor of The SpareFoot Blog. He first moved to Austin in 1999, when downtown Austin wasn't nearly as lively as it is today. John's loves include pizza, University of Kansas basketball and puns.

  • Jenny Zhang

    “3. You’re Being Too Eager.”

    What’s wrong with being too eager :(

  • Lauren Milligan

    Jenny, there’s nothing wrong with being eager, but just make sure that eagerness is matched with qualifications. No one will ever be qualified for every open position that a company has, but many job seekers apply for all the jobs, thinking that it’s a numbers game. It’s not. The real trick is to be the candidate who is qualified for the position, with a GREAT presentation.

  • Chris Laurin

    MORE CRAP from the people that ask you what your favourite colour is and why. Office decorators that have never generated a cent for the company. Time for mgmt to get head out of ass and take charge and work human capital let hr do the admin work.

    Chris Laurin

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