8 things you must stop today in your job search

featured-on-usnEvery job searcher faces different challenges, but hiring managers see some of the same mistakes over and over again.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about eight errors that are so common that there’s a decent chance you’re making a few of them — including trying to read into every word or action from your interviewer, stressing out over elements of your job applications that really don’t matter (like who to address your application to), scrimping on your cover letters, and more. You can read it here.

{ 29 comments… read them below }

  1. Felicia

    #1 is especially hard to me, because most of the time when an interviewer tells me they’ll be in touch within a certain time frame, i never hear from them again. So since they said they’d be in touch and didn’t mean it, i start over analyzing everything. I know I shouldn’t but it’s hard not to.

    1. JM in England

      Have been burned this way many times before, so know where you’re coming from. So have learned to take everything recruiters and interviewers say with a pinch of salt.
      I now job search with the attitude that 99.9% of my applications will go nowhere, thus saving myself a lot of un-necessary heartache!

  2. Minneapolis mom

    Learning how to evaluate my interviewers and their company really need the job searching process much better. I had an interview this spring and after the interview I knew that I did not want to work for that company. I heard the job sounded wonderful on paper, but I asked several probing questions and got unsatisfactory answers. I withdrew my name from consideration and continued pursuing other avenues. Without the advice from this blog, I wouldn’t have not correct questions. In the past, I have been so worried about impressing them that I did not think about the signals the company was sending.

  3. JenTheNiceHRGirl

    A recruiter or interviewer not ever getting back with a candidate after an interview would definitely be a bad signal to me. It could just be a good company with an unorganized or thoughtless recruiter, however it could also mean that it is a company who doesn’t really care about their candidates. If you think about it that way, it is a little easier to digest. I would be crossing that company off of my list of potential employers and moving on. How a candidate is treated during their interviewing process says a lot about a company.

    1. VictoriaHR

      Just remember a lot of time it’s bad management or a bad hiring manager, not always the recruiter. Often our hands are tied and we’re not allowed to follow up with the candidates who were rejected.

      1. JenTheNiceHRGirl

        That would certainly be a tough situation to be in. I have never been told not to ever let a candidate know that they had been rejected, however I have definitely had hiring managers take forever to give me feedback on a candidate, leaving them hanging. I guess if I worked for a company that frequently told me not to let candidates know if they had been rejected, then I would just let them know up front that they will only be contacted if chosen to move forward.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Agreed. I’d also add that if you’re in that spot, you’ve really got to push back on the policy in the organization and strongly advocate for changing it.

        2. Jessa

          That’s an awful policy. Not to let people know. They’ve given up their time to talk to you, they should be told. Anyone who actually gets to the interview stage is due the courtesy of being told sorry, we went with someone else.

  4. Rich

    Exquisite post/article. Yes, I said exquisite.

    I think forgetting to interview the company is a common mistake. People get so wrapped up in saying whatever’s necessary to move forward that they forget where they work is just as important as what they do. You’ve gotta ask detailed questions.

    I also just wrote about the handwritten v. email thank you note. I tell folks that the message is more important than the medium. Saying something more than “thanks for your time” will go further than scribbling thanks on parchment paper and waiting for the note to get there. Some people don’t even check their mailbox at work because they expect anyone who has met them to email them. Also, can you imagine writing thank you notes for people at companies where they have 7 or 8 interviews? Sheesh.

    People reading into things is another good one on the list. I get a ton of questions about the most minute details and have to tell folks to relax. Glad you addressed that.

    I will be sharing this post on social media now. I know a lot of job seekers that need it!

    1. Smunchy

      I agree with your comment that the message of the thank-you is more important than the medium. Here’s an interesting story – My husband interviewed for a job this past spring. He never heard back from them (not unusual, but very disappointing). However, one of his former co-workers also interviewed there and was hired. When they met for lunch recently, my husband asked the former co-worker if he had any information on why he (my husband) hadn’t been hired. Apparently, the hiring manager only hired candidates who hand-wrote thank-you notes. My husband had emailed his thank-you right after the interview. When I heard this, I told my husband that he had probably dodged a bullet. He agreed with me – the former co-worker had hinted that the hiring manager was difficult.

      I recently interviewed many candidates for a staff position. I received one hand-written thank you note, one typed note (with the company name incorrect), and a few emails. Roughly 1/3 of the candidates sent a thank-you. The person I hired? Sent a thank-you through email that sealed the deal for me (after all the appropriate background and reference checks).

    2. K

      I’m so glad someone mentioned handwritten thank you notes vs emails. I decided to do both this time around.
      While I’ve certainly received offers without it, I I had a friend who was really insistent that I needed to hand write something as well. I think this overkill, but I decided I’d try it their way this time. I’m still waiting to hear.
      I have a hard time believe that this will magically solve all my troubles and result in a job offer. If anything, it’s made me more aware of making my notes (whatever format I choose) stand-out.

  5. VictoriaHR

    And there’s no such thing as a dream job! Argh! I see it all the time on Reddit from job seekers and if I dare to say it couldn’t have been a dream job, they jump all over me. Yes it was RAWR!

    1. Yup

      Agreed. A ‘dream job’ is a fantasy of what you *think* it would be like to work someplace.

      My dream job — which consisted of a big-deal organization, interesting work, good pay, great benefits, short commute to a non-scary office — was, when realized, a nightmare. In addition to all the pleasing fantasy elements, it came with a bullying micromanager boss, a dysfunctional board, and outright stupid processes. I barely escaped with my sanity.

          1. tcookson


            And we need a list of phrases that have been added to the AAM Magic 8 Ball so we can remember them all.

  6. Waiting Patiently

    #3 is becoming more difficult for me to *want* to do. Recently I found a job online I was interested in, after putting together a custom tailored cover letter and submitting my resume to an email address per the instructions, I got an email back saying they were would be reviewing applications and setting up interviews shortly. And I would be contacted directly if they were interested in my application ….and they appreciated the time I invested in the application….
    Well the repeated use of the word ‘application’ coupled with a post here a few months back about what ‘application’ meant, I decided to go back to their website to see if I missed something. And there on the side of the webpage was a link to download and print an application. The application has all kinds of releases to be signed for background checks, consumer reports, and drug and alcohol testing. However, the instructions within each a job description says interested candidates should send a resume and cover letter to an Terry@ email address.com. I know I’m moving into #1 (over analyzing) but my gut reaction say Terry’s response email was a dig at me not submitting an application. I decided that if Terry couldn’t simply direct me to fill out the proper application despite their own flaw on their website maybe just maybe this isn’t a company I want to work for anyway. Of course, I could be wrong….

    Then today I was talking to my friend about how difficult the job search had been and that I was working on a cover letter for submission for a job. She asked, “Don’t you already have one?” When I explained to her that I customize my cover letter for each job, especially for jobs I really want, she said “they don’t read them anyway” So I’m a little jaded. I know now I’m moving into #6 …

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I would definitely not assume that. Many people use “application” as shorthand for “resume and cover letter,” and employers aren’t in the habit of sending passive-aggressive, coded messages to random job candidates, particularly as they have hundreds of them and they can simply delete or reject you.

  7. Rob Bird

    One question to AAM about cover letters. If the employer doesn’t ask for it, should you still do one?

    I work in Government and we are not able to grade materials that were sent in that were not asked for. So if you applied for a State job that didn’t require a cover letter and you sent one in anyway, we would have to shred it or send it back to you.

    Many of the employers we work with also don’t want materials sent they didn’t ask for because, if the applicant can’t follow the instructions on how to apply, when kind of employee will they be?


    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I would always send a cover letter unless they specifically say not to (or unless it’s a case like a govt job where you know they have crazily rigid rules and can’t consider it). A cover letter is such a standard thing to include, requested or not, that it would be really alarming if a hiring manager held it against an applicant.

  8. Manda

    RE #2: I get that you shouldn’t go out of your way to figure out who to address your cover letter to. I always ignored that advice. But what if you only have the person’s first name? I’ve seen some ads that say something like “send your resume to Jim at jim@randomcompany.com.” Does it sound too informal and personal to say “Dear Jim” when you don’t know Jim at all? And if you say “Dear Hiring Manager” in that case, does it look like you weren’t paying attention?

  9. Sigrid

    I find it really difficult to quantify my achievements. I have done a lot of good work but it is not within a field that allows for these achievments to be concretely measured. Some of my work has also been carried out in a very challenging environment, so it may not seem as something note-worthy to an outsider who doesn’t know the context.
    I really really struggle on this point and I think this is what is holding me back despite me tailoring every CV and cover letter to the advertised job.
    Could you perhaps write a post giving tips on how people can identify and formulate achievments if their line of work is less tangible?

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