are you being too aggressive in your job search?

When you’re job searching in a job market like this one, it’s easy to feel like you need to be aggressive to stand out in a crowded field of applicants and make sure employers notice you. But with most employers, being too aggressive will backfire and lead to more rejections than interviews.

You might wonder why – after all, employers like persistence and enthusiasm, right? But when those things cross the line into annoying employers, making you seem desperate, or making you appear not to understand and follow normal business conventions, you’ll harm your chances.

So what does it mean to be too aggressive? Here are some of the most common overly aggressive tactics that employers see:

Applying for every position a company has open. When you’re feeling anxious for a job, it can be tempting to apply for every opening you see. But if you apply for every opening a company has, even if you’re only somewhat qualified, you’ll start to look desperate and employers will doubt your judgment. (To be clear, it’s fine to apply for two or three openings if you’re truly qualified for all of them. The problem is when you apply for every opening, no matter how dissimilar.)

Calling to follow up on your application, especially more than once. Candidates sometimes think that calling to follow up on a job application will show persistence and enthusiasm, but most employers will tell you that these calls don’t help and sometimes hurt. These days, with 200+ applicants for every opening, if every applicant called to follow up, employers would spend all day fielding these calls. It can be hard to accept when you want to feel a sense of control in your job search, but once you apply, the ball is in the employer’s court.

Showing up in person without an interview appointment. With the exception of industries like retail and food service, you should not apply in person unless an employer specifically directs you to. It’s annoying, it’s disrespectful of other people’s time, and it displays a lack of understanding of how hiring works (because candidates can’t decide on their own that they’re getting an interview; the employer needs to make that call). Plus, many companies these days only accept resumes electronically because they get put into an electronic screening system, so you’ll simply be told to go home and apply online.

Using deception to reach the hiring manager. If you’ve ever intimated to a receptionist or other gatekeeper that you know the hiring manager personally – or worse, that you are calling on a personal matter – or if you’ve ever marked a envelope with your application in it “personal and confidential,” you’re not doing yourself any favors. Trying to reach the hiring manager through deception and trickery doesn’t make you look resourceful; it makes you look like someone who’s willing to lie to get what you want.

Asking hard-sell closing questions in your interview. Job interviews shouldn’t be a high-pressure sales environment, on either side. Ending interviews with hard-sell questions like, “Is there any reason you wouldn’t hire me for this job?” and “Is there anything standing in the way of me getting an offer?” will turn off most interviewers, because it puts them on the spot and feels too aggressive. These tactics are too much like car salespeople who ask, “What do I need to do to get you into this car today?”No hiring manager wants to think she’s being aggressively sold; we want the best person for the job, not the pushiest spiel.

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

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    Gah, I needed to read this. I went to my alma mater’s career fair a couple weeks ago and thought I absolutely killed it. I followed up with all the people who gave me their business cards but have gotten only a couple replies, those ones being rejections. It is so frustrating!

  2. Ann O'Nemity

    #7 seems increasingly common, especially among college students. I’m wondering if the college career centers are advocating the hard sell.

  3. Anonymous

    After a lengthy interview I’ve been known to ask the hiring manager about my strengths and weaknesses for the position. Too aggressive?

    1. PEBCAK

      Depends on the phrasing and/or the opening given to you by the hiring manager. I have been asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?”, and I may then give some final info, and end with something like “Is there anything you feel I haven’t addressed?”, but it has to be really conversational, and give them the option of just saying “no”.

      But you REALLY don’t want to do it in a way that makes the hiring manager feel they are put on the spot. Directly asking about strengths/weaknesses will do just that, and it isn’t good.

      1. E.R

        I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve asked ‘do you have any concerns that perhaps I could try to address before I leave?” at the end of an interview, very politely. Never had any negative reaction to that, as far as I can tell. And I’ve almost always received very useful feedback (sometimes glowingly positive, which made me think they were going to make me an offer – and they did – and another time I was told that despite my qualifications I just wasn’t likable. Also useful – I didn’t hold my breath for an offer from him.)

        1. PEBCAK

          I actually once got “I’m pretty comfortable with your experience in X, but I really don’t know how you deal with Y”. Because I had done SO MUCH Y in my previous jobs, I thought that my resume/experience spoke for itself there, and had been focusing on X, which was more of a stretch for me. So, this gave me the chance to go back and talk about Y, and I ultimately got the job.

    2. FormerManager

      Instead of asking about your strengths and weaknesses, you could just make it more generalized, “What do you see as the strengths needed to succeed in this position?” or “In your experiences, what has been some of the weaknesses in others who’ve had this role?”

    3. AnotherAlison

      I’ve asked this, though not in those words and I cannot remember exactly how I phrased it. Something more like if there was any questions he had about my ability to be a successful candidate in the role.

      It may have been borderline too aggressive as NOW I think it comes off a lot like that Hard Sell Close Question Alison referred to. However, it was smart because he said he wasn’t sure if I would be assertive enough to handle the role, and that allowed me to make a case that I would be.

  4. Sara L

    Alison! I love you, but I’m a retail manager, and we’re not the exception to these rules. I see it every time you do an article on how not to tick off hiring managers, and it drives me bonkers! We’re actually more likely to be royally pissed off by walk-ins, calls, etc because we’re not sitting at a desk, we’re on the floor trying to juggle fifteen tasks in real time with the general public up our butts. Corporations are always cutting, cutting, cutting, meaning I don’t have time to drop what I’m doing to talk to job seekers until I’ve specifically set aside time to do it.

    Of course people do sometimes call or walk in and have good luck, but it’s like any other company: it means they’re badly managed. And it’s only slightly more common in our industry than white collar, not enough to be listed like it’s the big exception.

    On principle I don’t hire walk-ins or people who call, because in my experience those are the ones who will harass the heck out of me when they want time off or to switch departments.

    1. LAM

      I agree. We have a mountain of apps and digging through that stack when there’s a to-do list a mile long is the last thing I want to do. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Especially if its the day before Thanksgiving…

    2. Sara L

      By “real time” I mean that if a customer is in your store asking for something, you can’t email back at your leisure and tell them when you’ll be available to talk.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      Any chance you’re more the exception than the rule? I’d think everyone would feel like you, but when I used to not give the retail exemption, I’d get letters from people telling me retail was an exception!

      1. jesicka309

        Perhaps for retail you need to have a caveat like: Walkins are more acceptable for retail, but try to pick a quiet time of the day/year.
        Retails is usually more open to walk ins (how many times do you see: STAFF WANTED Enquire within signs?) but if the manager is run off their feet by customers, or facing a line at the registers that’s ten people long, go grab a coffee and come back later. It’s just about avoiding being pushy in a different way for retail, not that anything goes. :)

      2. Sara L

        I think I remember seeing comments like what you’re describing, but the impression always got was that these aren’t from managers (or at least not managers who’ve hired anyone recently). Back before the recession it was probably more common simply because there weren’t 300 people applying for every opening *and* online apps were much less common. Not to mention that before times were tough, stores and restaurants were much better staffed and the managers weren’t (necessarily) trying to do three people’s jobs.

        I mean, it’s like that guy from the other thread who got into HR 6 years ago with no experience and was telling other people they suck at maximizing opportunities. I think people who comment like that are living in the land of Pre-Recession and Stupid Blind Luck, lol.

        I’ve had plenty of retail and a couple food jobs before I lucked out and got promoted at one of them, and I only remember one manager who didn’t get angry at being interrupted to talk to someone about a job. And no surprise, this guy basically promoted the biggest whiners and I only got promoted after he left. So I just think that including retail and food as exceptions requires so many caveats and warnings that it’s better not mentioned at all.

    4. FD

      I think the confusion there is that a lot of retail, food service, and other jobs that tend to be ‘first job’ type jobs don’t *have* online applications. For example, at my current hotel job, I had to physically walk in to get an application.

      But I also didn’t assume that the manager would have time or inclination to see me the same day I filled out my application. Different kinds of walk-ins, perhaps? Or maybe the town I live and work in just hasn’t moved into to the 21st century yet…

    5. Anonymous

      We get lots of people who walk in to the store where I work (large national chain) to ask for applications, and we always refer them to the online app – there’s no other way to apply.

      That said, if you drop by we’re not busy, you are polite and well spoken, *and* I know the manager isn’t swamped, I might see if he has a minute to come out and chat with you about what they look for, how the process works, etc.

      (Another lesson in being nice to your front-line people like receptionists and cashiers…)

  5. VictoriaHR

    The most annoyingly aggressive candidate I ever saw contacted me through LinkedIn to ask me about a project management job opening that my company had open (that I wasn’t doing the recruiting for). I responded politely and forwarded her contact info to the recruiter who was doing that job, and he said yeah, she’s been bugging everyone who works here that she can find on LI. Oy! Nothing like making someone at your target company feel dumb for talking to you.

    1. EnnVeeEl

      No, you were being helpful. Not your fault this person can’t follow the probably very clear application instructions provided in the job posting.

      I too was recently contacted via LinkedIn for someone looking to get hired in a job I wasn’t hiring for. I don’t even work in that division. I let them know kindly I probably couldn’t help much, and directed them back to the application process. I truly hope they stopped contacting people on LinkedIn and just followed the application process, because I KNOW the folks in charge of this would not respond well to applicants not following directions.

      And on a related note, I think it’s time for a LinkedIn Dos and Don’ts post. Because it’s starting to increasingly be used by folks in ways that aren’t helpful to them – such as contacting complete strangers about jobs as a way “in,” sending connection requests to people they do not know AT ALL with no explanation, etc.

      1. the gold digger

        I tried to send a note to someone on LinkedIn who wasn’t a connection (not to pester her but to compliment her on asking for a BA in English for the position), but LinkedIn wouldn’t let me send a message to someone I don’t know. Not that I want to get around that – I wouldn’t want to pester people – but how are people sending these messages?

        1. The IT Manager

          Users can set their security levels including that people can only contact you if they know email address.

        2. EnnVeeEl

          Well…Do you do this often?

          If you send notes to people you don’t know, and several people ignore the message and mark it as “I don’t know the person,” anyone dinged enough times with that will have to submit an email address each time they send out a message or connection. Which is a pain.

          LinkedIn does this because they kind of don’t want people sending messages and requests to strangers. I think they do it to stop spammers – but it doesn’t work very well for that.

          1. the gold digger

            No. I have never sent a message to someone I don’t know. I tried once, but there was not a way to do it that I could figure out. I am curious to know what these people are doing that didn’t seem obvious to me! I don’t intend to contact people I don’t know. I just want to know, in the same way I would want to know how you would break into Ft Knox. No plans to do it, I just like knowing how things are done.

            And yes, I get spam linkedin mail a lot. So spammers are not stopped.

            1. jubileejones

              As IT Manager mentioned the person you tried to contact may have adjusted their settings for receiving invitations. I think that the options are: anyone, people who know your email address or people on your contact list.

              I don’t usually try to connect with people I don’t know, but I did once join a group to contact someone who wasn’t a friend or coworker whose contact info I’d lost (so according to LinkedIn I didn’t know them).

              I’ve also found with some 3rd connections that I can’t connect with, if I search by their full name then pull up their profile I can connect.

        3. Ariel

          I think if you have a LinkedIn Premium or Professional or whatever account, you get a certain number of messages to people who aren’t in your network per month.

          I suppose it’s also possible that they had one connection in the company and the people they contacted were 2nd level connections? Can you message them?

        4. jesicka309

          Eesh Linked In. I recently accepted an invitation from a woman who worked at a company that I had applied for a few months ago. The company had never called me back to reject me or anything (rude), but I thought perhaps they had forwarded my information onto someone else for a different role.
          As I read through this woman’s profile, it became apparent that she was the candidate who got the job that I applied for. She has ten more years experience than I do. I have no idea why she wanted to connect with me, other than to rub it in my face? We have no mutual contacts, aside from one person who we both previously worked with years ago. The only way she could have known to add me was if the interviewer told her about me.
          Linked In sucks sometimes.

    2. Rob

      I’m seeing a lot of ‘advice’ out there on the Interwebs that say to get in touch with the hiring manager for various positions at various companies through LinkedIn.

      A big problem with this approach is that there is virtually no way of knowing who the hiring manager is for a specific position that is posted on the website, so you are basically left to ‘spray and pray’ when it comes to trying to find that person (if they are even on LinkedIn). You more likely just end up p*ssing people off instead, like in your example.

      1. EnnVeeEl

        Ugh. I wish people would think about this. Yes, you are going to p*ss people off, you probably won’t get the right person anyway, and it just seems like a waste of time.

        I wasn’t so much p*ssed off by the person approaching me about the job, but there is NOTHING I can do to help her. In her case, just like you said, the spray and pray didn’t help her one bit.

      2. jesicka309

        Sometimes if I know who I am interviewing with before the interview I look up their profile (I don’t try to connect with them though!)
        I find it helps with getting an idea of their background before they started in the role. Some people have been at the same company for years, others have been to many different big companies, some have risne rapidly through the ranks etc.
        I guess as someone who is sort of ‘transitioning’ I find it useful to see how they got to where they are. Is this a bad/invasive thing? I know they can see when I look at their profile, but it shouldn’t send up a red flag, right?

        1. EM

          I think that’s a great way to use linked in. Plus, it won’t always tell who looked at ones profile, unless they have a paid account. I can see that “someone who works at x company” or “someone who works in the greater Denver area” looked at my profile, but rarely specific people.

          1. the gold digger

            You don’t have to have a paid account to see who’s looked at your profile. You just have to the proper settings.

            I think I mentioned before that I did not realize people could tell I had looked at their profile until after I had LinkedInstalked some old boyfriends.

  6. Rose

    On #7– I’ve seen some places advise that an interviewee close with a question like “Do you have any doubts about my candidacy that I could address for you?” Does that come too close to a hard sell, or would it be taken as just offering additional information/to go the extra mile if need be?

    1. PEBCAK

      I think the key thing is that you have to phrase it so that the hiring manager can say “no” without feeling that she is promising you a job or otherwise backed into a corner.

      It’s tricky, though…a good interviewer would simply ask you about any doubts she has. Lots of managers are not good interviewers.

      So, I think some version of the question is okay, especially if you feel there might be areas of your qualifications that haven’t been discussed, but it has to be worded just right, and your tone and body language have to be really casual.

    2. Yup

      I use a version of that: “Is there anything about my experience or skills that we haven’t addressed or discussed in enough detail, for you to have all the information you need?”

      I’ve never loved the “doubts about my candidacy” phrasing: to me, it sounds like I’m asking “Are you concerned about my professional history of arson and embezzlement?” or something. But I don’t think the general gist of the question is too aggressive. It seems like a polite way to offer the interviewer a way back into a forgotten or diverted topic.

      1. Mrs Addams

        “Is there anything about my experience or skills that we haven’t addressed or discussed in enough detail, for you to have all the information you need?”

        I like that phrasing a lot. You’re not pressuring the interviewer to say “there’s nothing wrong with your candidacy” with the (usually wrongfully interpreted) implication that you’ll get an offer, but at the same time you’re asking if there’s anything else you could address in your time with them that could potentially strengthen your candidacy.

        I have an interview on Thursday – I might have to steal this :-D

  7. Another Evil HR Director

    Great article! Can’t tell you how many “stalkers” I get! I’ve had people call every day…….for a week or more to “check on the status of my application”; I’ve had people come into our building, without an appointment, to check on their status; and the number of people who attempt to disguise who they are in order to get through to HR or the hiring manager is surprising. Job seekers need to be persistent in their search, but they also need to understand where the line is.

  8. Anonymous

    I recently looked at the 2012 edition of the classic job search book, “What Color is Your Parachute.” Haven’t looked at it since I graduated college years ago. I cringed to see that the author was recommending some of the aggressive techniques you discuss…like showing up at an office unannounced. I can’t see that helping a candidate’s standing in any way, shape, or form.

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