how to derail your job search

If you’re searching for a job, you face a hard enough market these days without making things even worse by sabotaging your own efforts. Here are eight ways that you might be derailing your job search without realizing it.

1. Not bothering to apply because you’re sure you won’t get the job. Sure, if it’s a wild reach, put your time into other opportunities, but if you can make a reasonable case for yourself, don’t write off an opening just because you assume that others will be better qualified than you. For some jobs, hiring managers may be willing to take a risk on a less experienced candidate who brings other strengths. But you’ll never find out if you don’t try.

2. Obsessing over your resume and cover letter to the point that you miss application deadlines or don’t apply at all. It doesn’t matter how perfect your cover letter is if no one ever sees it. If you tend to agonize and put off applying while you work to get things “perfect,” set yourself a time limit: No more than 30 minutes spent per cover letter, and once you start writing one, you must send it that same day.

3. Not bothering with a cover letter at all. If you’re applying for jobs without sending in a cover letter, you’re missing out on one of the most effective ways to grab an employer’s attention. A cover letter gives you a chance to make a compelling case for yourself as a candidate, totally aside from what’s in your resume. But some job seekers convince themselves that because somehiring managers don’t read cover letters, none of them do – which is far from true. At a time when most job seekers are wondering how they can stand out in a crowded field, a great cover letter is one of the best ways to strengthen your chances of getting noticed.

4. Being shy about telling people that you’re looking for a job. If you’re hesitating to let your network, family, and friends know that you’re looking for work, hesitate no longer. There’s no shame in being on the job market; it’s very common, and most people are glad to help if they can.So let people know that you’re looking! You never know who in your network might know of an opening that you’d be perfect for.

5. Getting defensive about a job that didn’t work out. If you’re asked about a job that you were fired from, you don’t need to give an exhaustive accounting of what happened. Most interviewers are only looking for a few sentences and won’t expect a detailed account. Be brief and to the point, up-beat, and don’t sound defensive or angry.

6. Being bitter and letting it show. It’s easy to start feeling pessimistic if you put a lot of time into applying for jobs and it hasn’t paid off with a job offer. But if you’re bitter, it’ll almost certainly show when you talk to employers, and that will kill your candidacy faster than a spotty resume or bad interview answer ever could.

7. Not showing your enthusiasm for the job. Sometimes I interview a candidate and end up not sure if she’s even particularly interested in the job. If you’re excited about the job, say so! Hiring managers are human–we like it when we feel a real interest from you.

8. Being too quick to assume that you’re out of the running, so not following up. After a job interview, do you obsess over all the little mistakes you think you made, and beat yourself up for not giving different answers? Some people take this to such an extreme that they decide they obviously failed the interview and so don’t bother to do any follow-up. Obsess if you must, but don’t let that deter you from following up after the interview to reiterate your interest. Your self-assessment may not line up with theirs!

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


{ 10 comments… read them below }

  1. Eric*

    How do you let your network know you are looking for a job without alerting your present employer?

  2. Anon*

    Maybe I’m slow, but I can’t imagine finishing a cover letter in 30 minutes, and I certainly can’t imagine sending one that I started that same day. I spend hours working on my cover letters, and I always wait at least a day after I finish the first draft, so I can look at it with a fresh set of eyes. I’m glad I do, too, because I almost always notice something I’d missed.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That particular advice was directed to people who end up not applying at all because they agonize so much about getting the letter right. That said, spending hours is too much — unless you’re getting a very high interview rate from them, in which case continue right along! But in general, hours is too much time to spend. (There’s a post on this here, actually: )

      1. Anonymous*

        Hours is too much? Well, I’m doing something really wrong then. Generally the letter would have to be somewhat the same with a few customized sentences mixed in? Which would be great – I am a deadline misser because of this.

        Oh, and how long should cover letters be? No more than 2 paragraphs? Four?


        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Take a look at the post linked just above for some advice on this. But length-wise, two paragraphs is a minimum, but usually it takes something closer to a page to write a really great one. Don’t go over one page though.

  3. ChristineH*

    #1 is definitely my biggest weakness. I always manage to find some reason to not apply for otherwise interesting job opportunity, whether it’s because I’m missing a specific skill, don’t have enough experience, or that it requires a drivers license, which I don’t have.

    I also wanted to add to the parts about showing bitterness or getting defensive: Believe me, I do get discouraged. But when describing my situation in an interview or network event, I always try to put it in a positive perspective. Yeah I’m bitter about being laid off; I’m sure lots of people get that way. But I tend to frame it around the fact that afterwards, I decided to re-assess my career goals and explore different options.

  4. JfC*

    Just wanted to say this was very timely for me. I tend to commit 1 and 2, and I was about to again, but reading this article inspired my to actually get off my ass and apply to a particular job I was waffling over.

  5. danr*

    Add … spending too much time reading AAM when I should be writing my new cover letter and getting that resume out…

Comments are closed.