job search rules you should break

Job search advice that worked in the past isn’t always advice that you should still follow today. In fact, some of it can actually hurt your chances of getting interviews and job offers.

Here are 10 job search rules that you should go ahead and break.

1. Limit your resume to one page. While you might have heard the one-page resume rule, times have changed and two-page resumes are common now. If you only have a few years of experience, you should still stick to one page, but two pages are fine for everyone else.

2. Your resume must be written in formal language. The most compelling resumes are written in real language, without jargon or stiffness. Write your resume in normal language, like the way you would describe your achievements to a friend. Don’t suck the life out of it with stuffy corporate-speak!

3. Include an objective on your resume. Hiring managers don’t really care about your objective; they care about what you can do for them. Resume objectives never help, and they can actually hurt if they aren’t tailored enough to the position or, even worse, have nothing to do with it. Most objectives, though, simply waste space. Instead, include highlights or a skills summary in place of an objective.

4. Lead with your education. While your college career center might have convinced you that your degree is your best selling point, what employers most care about is what you’ve achieved in the work world. Most resumes should list your education beneath your work experience, because work experience will be more relevant to employers.

5. Include “references available upon request” on the bottom of your resume. Like the one-page rule, this is a convention from another time. Employers these days assume that you’ll provide references when asked, so you don’t need to explicitly say it.

6. After you submit your resume, wait a few days and then call to schedule an interview. Job-seekers don’t get to decide to schedule the interview; employers do, and it’s overly pushy to pretend otherwise. These days, with hundreds of applicants for every opening, if every applicant called to follow up, employers would spend all day fielding these calls. It might be hard to accept, but once you apply, the ball is in the employer’s court to decide who they want to talk with.

7. Arrive early for your interview. It’s smart to give yourself a buffer against being late, but don’t walk into the company’s reception area early. Most interviewers are annoyed when candidates show up more than five or ten minutes early, since they may feel obligated to interrupt what they’re doing and greet the person, or feel guilty leaving a candidate sitting in their reception area that long. Instead, if you’re early, kill that time in a nearby coffee shop, or even in your car if you need to.

8. When an interviewer asks about your weaknesses, answer with a positive framed as a weakness. Claiming that your biggest weakness is perfectionism and you work too hard is disingenuous, and has become such an interview cliché that your interviewer will assume you’re avoiding a real answer to the question. Instead, talk about an area you’ve truly struggled with and what you’ve done to overcome it.

9. Don’t name a salary number first. Job-seekers used to be advised to avoid naming a salary figure first in order to avoid accidentally under-selling themselves, but these days it’s often impossible to avoid. Since employers increasingly use online application processes that require candidates to input a salary number before they can proceed, job-seekers need to be ready to talk money – which means being prepared with a salary range based on research about what comparable positions pay in your particular geographic area.

10. Ask for the job. While this kind of hard-sell tactic might have worked in the past, these days employers don’t want to feel they’re being sold. Hard-sell tactics put your interviewer on the spot and can come across as desperate. Interviewers like to think they’re hiring the best person for the job, not the most aggressive. Instead, what works better is to treat the interview as a collaborative process where you’re both concerned with finding the right fit.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. Greg*

    I think the most important rule to break is the one that says you should slavishly follow rules. With very few exceptions (eg, you should always send a thank-you note), I can’t think of very many absolutes to the job-search process. Sometimes you should state your salary, other times you should bob and weave. Sometimes you should dress up for the interview, other times dress down.

    How do you know what to do? Ah, that’s the tricky part. You have to use your own judgment. Scary, I know. Sometimes, as with appropriate dress, you can just ask. But mostly, it comes down to things like context and reading clues from your interviewer. For example, if you’re doing an HR phone screen for a well-defined role with a large company, odds are very good that dodging the salary question could kill your chances. But if you’re talking with the CEO of a startup about a newly created role, she may not have a number in mind, and may not press you if you decline to name a number. Or maybe she will; you have to pay close attention to her reaction.

    It’s unsettling to realize there’s not always a well-defined path. But it is essential to be flexible, and to be able to assess a situation and make a decision on the fly. Actually, that’s true outside of the job-search process, too.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree with this 100%. The problem is that most people don’t have a baseline of information about how hiring works on the employer’s side and often find the whole thing stressful and mysterious. So having the basics is useful, and then they can make judgment calls from there.

  2. J*

    Any comments on this – I just got a second master’s degree. My previous degrees were in 1991 and 1987. I’ve been working at the same organization for 20 years. The new degree is part of a possible career shift, and is relevant to jobs I’m looking for. So I’m thinking about leading with education. The earlier degrees were from famous schools (Yale, Harvard) so it’s almost embarrassing to put them up front since they were so long ago. But I want to have my most recent degree highly visible for both the content of the degree and to imply that I’m keeping current. Does that make sense? The basic order of text would be as below:

    2011 masters degree, relevant to jobs I’m interested in
    MA 1991 famous university
    BA 1987 famous university

    Work experience
    20 years at one organization, split into about 4 job titles
    Recent part-time internship, relevant to jobs I’m looking for Another recent part-time internship, relevant to jobs I’m looking for

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that’s reasonable, because you have a very specific reason for why you’d lead with the education (unlike people who start with it because they just think they’re supposed to).

    2. Greg*

      Without knowing all the details, my initial reaction is to say you shouldn’t list education first. Two reasons:

      1. The explanation you give is reasonable. However, you won’t be there to make that explanation when the hiring manager looks at your application. Absent that info, the HM might just assume you’re clueless.
      2. In this case, Harvard and Yale may work against you if the HM thinks that you’re listing education first in order to drop the “H-bomb”.

      I would suggest communicating the info you’re trying to get across differently, such as by explaining it in your summary. Listing education first is too easily misunderstood.

  3. J*

    Thanks. One other question. I just (a few minutes ago) got my diploma in the mail. It’s dated this February but the my last class ended in December.

    I was in school part-time starting in 2009. Do you think I should list the degree as 12/2011 or 2/2012?

    I’ve been doing a range for school dates, ie 9/2009-12/2011.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Probably doesn’t really matter, but if you want to be exact, call the school and ask what they have recorded as your graduation date. That way, if an employer verifies, it’ll match up.

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