Some Common Job Hunting Mistakes

1. Apply to the maximum number of jobs posted online

Too many people feel that if they are sending in a ton of applications they are doing most of what needs to be done to find the right job. This is wrong on a couple of fronts. First, jobs posted online are the ones that receive the most applications, so the odds of success are diminished relative to applying to the much harder to find un-posted jobs. Second, the emphasis should be placed on quality of applications rather than on quantity; a well-tailored and well-crafted application can break through the clutter. Creating that application requires time and attention that you won’t have if you are focused on sending in dozens of applications a week.

2. Qualifications and experience are all that count

A delicate balance needs to be struck between sending in applications to jobs for which you do not meet the ideal qualifications and limiting yourself strictly to jobs for which you meet every single one. True, if you are missing a key qualification (“a minimum of seven years of experience” is required and you have three) you won’t make the cut, but if you fall a bit short in one or two you may be OK provided you can make a strong case that you excel in the others. You might be able to “make a strong case” in a cover letter (although cover letters are increasingly unread; also see point #3 below), but it would be far preferable to get a surrogate within the organization to make the case for you. How to find such a surrogate? Through reaching out to connections and connections of connections (see my post titled “A LinkedIn Primer”). Finally, don’t forget that an applicant’s personality / fit may be the single most important factor in hiring decisions, so use connections not merely as advocates but as people who can land you the interview at which you can wow the hiring manager.

3. Tell your story in the cover letter

Various sources state that between 60% and 80% of cover letters are not read. This will be particularly true for relatively low-level jobs for which there will be dozens if not hundreds of applications, and at large organizations that use computers to screen résumés looking for key words, and which do not scan cover letters. Nonetheless, you should always submit a cover letter if the option is available, but make sure that it is focused not on YOUR story but on the story of what you can do for the hiring organization.

4. Résumés should be one page

You should make every effort to reduce your résumé to one page. True, résumés should include all the facts about your work history that are relevant to what the hiring organization is seeking. But for people who have fewer than say ten years of experience it is virtually inconceivable that you would need more than a page to describe the work you’ve done that would be relevant, unless the job description contains a very large number of requirements. Do keep in mind that the most recent work experience will receive greater scrutiny than earlier work, so to the degree possible focus on your most recent job(s). HOWEVER if you have relevant information to convey to the potential employer, do not be afraid to go beyond page one.

5. Not hearing back after applying means you were unqualified

Very few employers take the trouble (or exhibit the courtesy) of responding to job applicants. Many of my clients take the lack of feedback quite personally, and assume that it means that they were woefully unqualified. At its worst, this interpretation can stifle motivation and lead to depression and subsequent inaction. Recognize that frequently there’s a preferred inside candidate, or that there were hundreds of applicants, and that the employer therefore has little incentive to respond to you. This is sad, but a fact of modern organizational life. Try to take it in stride. If you’re wanting to discuss specifics with a career counselor in Washington D.C., I’d be more than happy to speak with you about your career.