mistaken beliefs that are holding you back in your job search

Most job seekers approach their job search with a set of beliefs about how the process should work and what will and won’t be effective. Unfortunately, many of those beliefs are wrong – and some of them will actually hold you back in your search.

Here are six common misconceptions that can keep you from getting job interviews and offers.

1. The interviewing process is about convincing the interviewer to hire you. It can be easy to think that – but if you think a little deeper, you’ll realize that the interviewing process should be about figuring out if you’re the right fit for the job, and whether it’s a job you even want. Too often, job seekers only think about getting an offer and forget to think about what will come after that. You want to end up in a job that you’ll excel at and be happy in, not in one that you’ll struggle at or that will make you miserable. If you approach the interview process as a two-way street, not a one-way judgment process, you’ll get a better outcome.

2. If the job is work you want to do and would be good at, this is the job you want. The work is only part of the equation in figuring out if you’d be happy at a particular job. The rest of the equation includes the culture of the company, the people you’d be working with, and the manager you’d be working for. Too often, job seekers ignore signals about terrible managers and a culture that will make them unhappy because they’re only paying attention to the work they’d be doing – but jobs don’t exist in a vacuum, and you need to evaluate the workplace and the people as well.

3. You have to have connections to get a job. When you hear people talk about the importance of connections in job-hunting, it’s easy to start to believe that you’ll never find a job without them. Connections do help – but plenty of people get jobs by spotting an ad, sending in a resume, and interviewing, with no connections helping them at all. Networking can help make your job search easier, but don’t give up on more straightforward methods of applying either.

4. You need to do something unusual to catch the hiring manager’s attention and stand out. Job seekers are sometimes tempted to resort to gimmicks to stand out, like using a fancy resume design, having their resume delivered by overnight mail, or recording a video resume. But gimmicks don’t make up for a lack of qualifications and will turn off many hiring managers. The right way to stand out is simple: Write a great cover letter and have a resume that demonstrates a track record of success in the area the employer is hiring for.

5. If you don’t call to follow up on your application and ask for an interview, they’ll think you’re not persistent or interested enough. While this might have been true at some point in the past, today these calls generally don’t help and sometimes hurt. With hundreds of applicants for every opening, if every applicant called to follow up, employers would spend all day fielding these calls – and they don’t want to. Once you apply, the ball is in the employer’s court to decide if they want to talk with you.

6. You just need to show that you’re qualified to do the job. Many job seekers think that all it takes to get an interview is showing that they meet the requirements listed in the ad, and then are confused and frustrated when they don’t get interviews. After all, they met all the qualifications listed! But often dozens or even hundreds of applicants meet the job’s qualifications, and the employer can’t interview all of them. That means that successful applicants go far beyond simply meeting the qualifications – they write engaging cover letters explaining why they’re interested in the job and why they’d excel at it, they have compelling resumes that explain what they’ve accomplished in the past (not just what their duties were), and they stand out as thoughtful, responsible, and enthusiastic. If your applications aren’t portraying you that way, it’s probably holding you back.

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

{ 17 comments… read them below }

  1. Jaime*

    I can really relate to 1 and 2. I think it’s vital to figure out if the culture is a fit and if you overall would be a fit.

    But what happens when you interview at a company and people seem nice and friendly. Then after you start working there you realize there are factions, gossip and negativity all around? This has happened at two jobs I’ve worked at.

    For the most recent, I met with several employees and was introduced to them during the interview process. However, after I started working there people started showing how they really are. During my interview the CEO even admitted that there used to be a problem with negativity but he sent everyone an ultimatum saying that they need to change and that negativity wouldn’t be permitted, and if it continued, people would be let go. Maybe that should have been my hint. :)

    I just never know what to do in those situations. I know I can just ignore it but it can be hard. I’m the type of person who genuinely likes people but the negativity and meanness tends to bring me down. I don’t engage in office gossip because I feel it’s childish and hurts the person that is the focus of the gossip. But then people wonder why I’m not socializing with them and it seems to make things worse.

    1. Chinook*

      I think the key to finding out if office politics is a problem in the office is to ask about it in the interview because it is part of the cultural fit. I have been stabbed in the back enough to be willing to take less pay or no job rather than to voluntarily go into such a situation, so I will ask questions about how personnel issues/conflicts are dealt with in the organization. In one interview, where I got the job, I had a good enough rapport with the interviewer to ask about interpersonal connections within the organization and brought up the point that I am not good at playing politics and prefer an atmosphere where I am given the tookls, knowledge and space to do the job. She was able to mention that there were issues (and man, were there!) but that they were working on them partially by strategic hiring. But, because I was straight forward about being politically klutzy (that is an understatement), the office manager was able to do a little interference with it.

  2. Joey*

    For me, Id add:

    7. If the process isn’t fair someone must be doing something illegal. There are millions of unfair, but perfectly legal reasons why a person who may be perfect for the job won’t even get considered.

    8. If I show them how bad I want or need this job that will convince them to hire me.

    1. JM in England*

      For 7. it’s sometimes more important that your face fits than your actual qualifications and experience.

      For 8. it can come across as desperation if you’re not careful. Using the bank loan analogy I posted on here recently, you have to more or less prove that you DON’T need the job!

  3. De Minimis*

    I agree for the most part with #1, but sometimes people just need some kind of job to support themselves until they can find a better opportunity, especially if they have been unemployed for an extended period and are having that held against them—in that situation I’d say it might be more important to get hired even if it’s more of a “right-now” job instead of the right job.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For sure. Although interestingly, even if you’d secretly take any job that was offered to you, if you act like that’s not the case, you’ll often make a better impression in your interviews.

    2. Jessa*

      Yes and if you are unemployed you can’t say NO to an offer unless it’s a really huge reason “job is 50 miles away,” is an excuse, “job does not pay a living wage,” is NOT, otherwise you lose what meagre benefits you have. At least in Ohio I could have had to say yes to a job that would have paid me so little, and was so far away, that every penny that was paid would go to transportation costs. IE I would make NOTHING. But that’s how the system works. I could have fought that one because minimum wage and half a state away isn’t really a reasonable offer at all. But I’da been down my benefits while I argued and COULD have still lost them if I got a nasty rep.

      The STATE agency would send me to jobs that were over an hour and a half drive from me.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I’ve seen that kind of ridiculousness myself. It’s insane. I live in a very large metropolitan area and sometimes you will be sent jobs that are technically within the metro area, but in reality the commute would be anywhere from 60 – 90 minutes. Not worth it if the pay doesn’t include the cost of gas. And often, it doesn’t. So they offer you minimum wage with a commute of three hours a day round-trip. So you’re filling the gas tank with what you’re making and there is no public transit that works with the situation or goes where you need to go. It’s all ridiculous and yet, they wonder why you won’t accept that job.

  4. MrSparkles*

    From what I’ve experienced:
    1. This depends on if you already have a job or if you’re collecting benefits. In the former you have the ability to be critical; if it’s the latter, one doesn’t have the luxury to be as critical, especially if you’re nearing the end of your benefits. That, and the company has the money and therefore the balance of power.
    2. See Number 1. Also, as others have mentioned, it isn’t always possible to assess the company culture at the interview stage as the interviewers may be on their best behaviors.
    3. I agree, with a caveat; the only time a connection has aided me in obtaining an interview is if they had direct connection to those with hiring influence, or were able to forward my resume to those with hiring influence, thus bypassing the typical online application process.
    4. I agree; this is something career consultants/job consultants advise when they realize that anything reasonable and rational hasn’t worked. At least they can then imply that you have not, indeed, “tried everything”
    5. I agree; this is something people who aren’t or haven’t had to look for work in a long time simply do not understand.
    6. I’d have to slightly disagree; given how the application process is nowadays, assuming it is a legit add, odds are no human will even glance at your resume. As for the engaging cover letters? It’s hard to be engaging and enthusiastic when you’re drafting something many won’t even glance at/use as consideration.

    That’s just from the soles of the shoes I’ve waked in.

  5. Bryce*

    To piggyback off of Joey’s additions, here are some others:

    9. Soft skills aren’t as important as hard skills. The two $64,000 questions employers are asking in inverviews are: “Can you do the job and do it well?” and “Will you be a good fit with our company culture and the people you’ll be working with?” The second question is just as important as, if not more important than, the first, because a superstar who’s a royal pain is as bad as a klutz who’s the life of the office. So, it may make sense to read or re-read “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

    10: When it’s time to negotiate compensation, play hardball. Yes, getting a higher salary is a good thing, but when you’re focusing on salary, you may be overlooking things that matter as much as, or even more than, a high salary, when it comes to contentment on the job, such as your future boss and coworkers, your commute, your workweek, and the organizational culture. Not to mention the fact that playing hardball can leave a bad taste in your mouth and your employer’s mouth, which is not the foot you want to start off on (pardon the mixed body part metaphor). And then being paid a lot means you may be an easy mark for cost-cutting when business goes south.

    1. Jessa*

      Huge yes to number 9. A good company can train hard skills fairly easily. You canNOT train someone to get along with other people. You can partly train your corporate culture, but you can’t teach a sit down type person to be a hit the corporate gym and play squad basketball if they’re not into sports. You need to start with a person you can get along with. Most everything else can be worked out.

      I did once work for one of those rah rah sports and get together companies. I’m disabled, it’s NOT a visible disability (I do have a cane, but my real problem is my lungs,) I Became the gal who SAT with pom poms and went rah rah, or kept score, or brought the gatorade. I organised the group use of the gym and I made sure the equipment was in repair and if the teams had team shirts I had them ordered. I managed to participate to my level and never make anyone worried that they hired someone who couldn’t get along. And if the teams did an activity I COULD participate in (a picnic,) I bought my share of the food with me. One time they had a family day at the beach, I ended up the kid wrangler while the other workers played beach volleyball because I could in no way play but I could swim and sit by the beach.

      They could teach me their company stuff. Teaching me to fit in with the group would not have been their job.

  6. Chris Walker*

    A big yes to #1. The poor little job seeker versus the big, bad interviewer is not a productive scenario.

    11. Thinking there is only one way to find a job. Many, many factors influence what will and will not work for a particular company or industry. Taking into account the size of the organization is critical. For example, if an RN is looking for a position in one of the major hospitals here, he has no choice but to fill out an online application. Having connections inside can certainly help, but there is no avoiding the online app. However, if that same RN wants a position in a doctor’s office, the telephone can be a great tool to identify opportunities which would never work at a big hospital.

  7. Julie*

    So true! When I was promoted internally, I had to go to the public, online job application and apply for my new job.

  8. Manda*

    but jobs don’t exist in a vacuum,

    Unless you’re an astronaut! ;)

    With hundreds of applicants for every opening,

    I have to wonder about the exceptions to this. I’m sure it’s true most of the time. But I’m guessing the number of applicants is very dependent on the type of job and the size of the local population. I imagine some jobs would attract more interested/qualified people than others. And I would think that a job posting in a large metropolitan area would get more applicants than a similar job in a much smaller city. Also, when I see jobs that are posted for a couple of months and then re-advertized, I wonder if they really had a couple hundred applicants and nobody was promising.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Could be — I’ve definitely re-advertised jobs after getting a few hundred applicants and having none of them be quite right. For a lot of roles, you really have to be picky, and it’s definitely possible to go through a few hundred people and still need to repost it.

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