are you being lazy in your job search?

If you’re searching for jobs and not getting interviews, or getting interviews but no offers, you might be tempted to blame it on the bad job market. And the market is often the culprit – but in many cases, the problem is the way you’re approaching your search.

Here are some signs that you’re being lazy in your approach to your hunt.

1. You only apply to jobs you find online. While plenty of people get hired by responding to online job postings, if that’s all you use, you’ll be up against an enormous amount of competition. Your odds of getting interviews will go up dramatically if you use your network to mine for personal connections to jobs you want.

2. You send the same basic cover letter to every job you apply for. If your cover letter is generic enough to work for every job you apply for and you’re not customizing it each time, you’re missing out on one of the most effective ways to grab a hiring manager’s attention. A good letter needs to be adapted for every application, because it should talk specifically about why you’d excel at this particular job, not just any job.

3. You don’t prepare much for interviews. If you’re not spending at least several hours preparing for an interview, you’re selling yourself short. You should spend time reaching the employer, but also practicing your answers to likely interview questions and coming up with thoughtful questions of your own. Doing this can dramatically change how well you come across in an interview.

4. You don’t prep your references before giving them out. It’s courteous to let your references know when they should be expecting a call about you. Plus, by touching base with them before they’re contacted, you can tell them what you’d most like them to emphasize about you for any given job.

5. You’re not even sure what your references would say about you. If you don’t know, it’s time to find out! Call up your references and ask for an honest assessment of how positive a recommendation they can give you. And if you’re worried you’re getting a bad reference from a former employer, see if you can negotiate something more neutral. It’s often easy to get a bad reference toned down if you ask politely.

6. You’re not helping others. One of the best ways to build and reinforce your network is to help the people who are in it – by connecting them with potential opportunities, sending them articles they might find interesting, or introducing them to contacts with similar interests. Not only is this a kind thing to do, but it means that your network is much more likely to be there for you when you’d like to ask for something yourself.

7. You don’t send thank-you notes after a job interview.You might think a post-interview note is an unnecessary nicety, but sending them can make a mark on an interviewer who is on the fence about you. Make a point of always emailing your interviewer within a few days after the interview to reiterate your interest in the position and refer back to the conversation.

8. You’re only interested in a job, not in finding the right job. Caring only about getting a job offer and not thinking critically about how happy you’ll be once you’re in the job is a good way to ensure that you end up with a job that makes you miserable. Take the time to look for jobs – and managers and office cultures – that are truly right for you and screen out the ones that aren’t.

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

{ 20 comments… read them below }

  1. nomorerefs*

    I have but a vague idea what my references will say, and frankly, the more experience I have in the workplace the less value I place on references. My view is if references only have positive things to say about you it must mean one of two things: it’s fake or you’re practically a doormat; someone who never stands up for him/herself or a cause, lets anyone and everyone take what they want whenever. Seriously, look at President Obama. He’s won reelection, yet 1 out of every 2 people is likely to give him a ‘bad’ reference. I’m sure even members of his cabinet might have less than flattering things.

    I’m more likely to trust a prospective who gets some negative reviews for then I’d be more confident of the character behind the face. But I know risk-averse HR reps and hiring managers do not share this view, or do they?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Politics isn’t a useful comparison here; it’s an entirely different set-up with its own norms.

      In my experience, great candidates do have glowing references. They might be able to talk about areas where the candidate is weaker, of course, but the overall reference will be glowing — the overall message is “I’d hire this person back in a second.” That’s what you want from your references.

      1. nomorerefs*

        You might think I’m nuts, but there’s one ‘bad’ reference I have to put on my list. I first worked at there, a single proprietary outfit, for 2 years before quitting to tend to family matters. About a year and a half thereafter, I worked there again for 4 years, at the end of which we parted ways on bad terms. Oddly, when I first worked there, there was only one employee from the previous year and I never quite got the full story what had happened to all the others. A couple to times as we tried to plan what we’d do in the coming year, he’d just put his head down on the table, seemingly in despair. Don’t be fooled however, he’s a ruthless businessman through and through, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

        Anyway, I will/must put my former boss as a reference because 1) I enjoyed the work immensely and 2) it relates directly to my future plans. Even if I didn’t put him down as a reference, I can’t see how a prospective employer would not call him. In this case, I can imagine somewhat what he’s likely to say, and the word ‘difficult’ will pop up, though prior to our parting of ways, mutual acquaitances have said he’s called me the best employee by far he’s ever had in 30 years. Thoughts?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The fact that you enjoyed the work and it relates to your future plans isn’t a good reason to encourage employers to call him as a reference, unless you know for sure that he’s going to give you an enthusiastic reference. I’m not sure specifically what he’ll say about you, but from what’s here, it sounds really problematic and like it might be a deal-breaker for many employers.

          Yes, some employers will call him anyway, even if he’s not on your list, but (a) lots of employers WILL stick to your list, and (b) those who don’t will question your judgment for including him as a reference.

          The point of references is that you want them to be people who can explain why you’d be a great hire.

          1. nomorerefs*

            Thank you!

            Do references get ‘stale’? How far back in years can you go for a reference? How far back is too far back?

  2. Janet*

    So very very true on #8. I’ve been there before so I understand it but it’s bad. I know what it’s like to hate your current job so much that you apply for anything and everything under the sun but you’re just setting yourself up for rejection. Even now I have a few friends searching and one will tell me what he’s applying for and the jobs are all over the place and don’t demonstrate any specific interest or industry. I’ve tried to help him make a list of what he wants in a job and the type of work he enjoys doing and use that as a guide to applying for future jobs.

    1. Jamie*

      I think this may be a factor in why being currently employed gives you an edge.

      It’s totally understandable to want to take just anything when you’re unemployed – as opposed to those who already have comfortable positions and are looking to make a change only if it’s the right fit for both parties. If the person you are interviewing has the luxury of being discerning it’s a little easier to trust why they are telling you they’d be a good fit and know it’s not “what do I have to say to make you hire me because I really need a paycheck?” kind of thing.

      Not that it doesn’t suck – because plenty of the currently unemployed would make excellent hires.

  3. Jamie*

    the overall message is “I’d hire this person back in a second.” That’s what you want from your references.

    This is such a great way to look at it. I’ve yet to work with anyone who is perfect – but I have worked with people with whom I’d jump at the chance to work again.

    A great reference doesn’t mean they are writing the petition to get you canonized…but the good should vastly outweigh the tepid.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For an in-person interview, several hours — learning about the company, practicing your answers to likely questions, thinking about your own questions, etc.

  4. ChristineH*

    These are all great reminders! Two in particular that stand out for me:

    #6 – It’s so easy to forget that networking is a two-way street when you’re desperate.

    #8 – Again, when you’re out of work, it’s so easy to accept a job offer without thinking about whether it’s truly a good fit. No job will be perfect–I get that–but this time around, I vow to go in with my eyes open.

  5. Elizabeth West*

    I do some of these. I can work on better cover letters for sure (I’m a writer–what am I waiting for!?). I can also check with my references on what they would say. I do follow up with them periodically, but no one has been called, or so they say. Even that one that offered me a job didn’t call them!

  6. Sara*

    What if all your network/contacts are just not responsive? I feel like this is happening to me, and I’ve spent hours thinking about it and I just can’t figure out where I’m going wrong or what I did wrong.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      When you think about your work with them, are they people who you’d think would be likely to think glowingly of your work? Or are they more likely to have a mediocre impression? If it’s the latter, that could be what’s going on.

      1. Sara*

        Glowing? I don’t know. To be honest, up until about a year or two ago, I never really put much effort in my work–did what I was told, didn’t break any rules, got my paycheck and went home. So, no I wouldn’t get a glowing recommendation…. but I don’t think I’d get a bad one either because I wasn’t bad at my jobs….just not amazing. I’m diligent about 2, 3 and 7…

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d bet this is probably the explanation — if you weren’t putting much effort into your work, it’s likely that you’ll end up with references who aren’t always going to be super responsive.

          1. Casey*

            So what would you suggest people do in that situation? Obviously Sara can’t travel back in time.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              There’s not a ton you can do — it will make it harder to get a good job, especially at places that have a high bar and do a thorough reference check. It’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to take your jobs seriously, even when they don’t feel that important to you at the time.

  7. Tara*

    I am, I guess, making a career change, and I’m having a hard time a) selling myself, and b) using a network. I recently completed my PhD in history and I’m now looking for a job in grant writing/project coordination with non-profits. I’m encountering two main issues: I am relocating and so I don’t have a large (if any) network and I lack “real world” experience. I have employment history as an office manager/administrator and in retail, but these are decidedly not the types of jobs I want. So my questions are, how do I use a network if I don’t really have one and how do I parlay my academic experiences into interviews?

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