8 things you must stop today in your job search

Every job searcher faces different challenges, but hiring managers see some of the same mistakes over and over again. Chances are good that if you’re looking for a job, you’re making some of these errors – and can have an easier search if you resolve to change your ways.

Here are eight job search missteps to put an end to today.

1. Trying to read into every word or action from your interviewer. Because job searching can be so stressful, many job seekers try to find clues about their chances in everything an employer says and does. This leads to frustrating and generally fruitless attempts to parse every word from an interviewer – “Was she signaling I didn’t get the job when she said they had more candidates to interview?”“Is it a good sign that he shook my hand and said he’d be in touch?” More often than not, these “signals” don’t mean anything at all, and just drive candidates crazy trying to read between the lines.

2. Stressing out over elements of your job applications that really don’t matter. Employers really don’t care whether you spend time tracking down the hiring manager’s name or just address your cover letter to “dear hiring manager,” so don’t put time into that. Similarly, most hiring managers really don’t care what your resume design looks like as long as it’s organized and easy to skim, or whether your post-interview thank-you note is handwritten or emailed. Don’t sweat the little stuff; put your energy into showing your qualifications and why you’d excel at the job.

3. Scrimping on the cover letter. If you’re applying for jobs without including a compelling cover letter, one that’s customized to this specific job, you’re missing out on one of the most effective ways to get a hiring manager’s attention. A cover letter is your opportunity to make a compelling case for yourself as a candidate, totally aside from what’s in your resume. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t write one tailored to each job you apply for.

4. Thinking that you have the job before you have an offer. Too often, candidates see good signs from an employer and think it means that they’re going to be getting an offer – only to be crushed when the offer never comes. And not only does this regularly lead to disappointment, it can also lead you to make bad decisions for yourself – like not continuing to apply for other jobs or even turning down interviews, because you think your search is over. Never assume that you’re getting the job until you have a formal offer.

5. Not explaining why you’d excel at the job. If you’re simply submitting a resume that runs down where you’ve worked and what your job duties were, it’s no wonder if you’re not getting interviews. Hiring managers aren’t nearly as concerned about what jobs you’ve held as they are about what you accomplished in those jobs. Your resume needs to list specific accomplishments (like “increased Web traffic by 25 percent over 12 months” or “regularly recognized for highest number of customer compliments”), and your cover letter needs to explicitly address how your track record shows that you’d excel if hired.

6. Taking advice from people with no experience hiring. There’s tons of advice on job searching out there – from your friends, your relatives, and plenty of self-styled experts on the Internet – much of it contradictory. Before you take any job searching advice, think critically about the source. Is it someone with significant experience hiring people? And recent experience, at that? If not, that advice might not be worth much.

7. Taking it personally. It’s easy to become personally invested in a job you think you really want and then be devastated when you end up not getting it. Many job seekers start to question what’s wrong with them and what they were lacking – but most of the time, these decisions aren’t personal at all. Often candidates get rejected not because they weren’t well qualified but because someone else was simply a better fit. When there’s one open slot and multiple qualified candidates, lots of great people will be getting rejected. You can’t take it personally.

8. Forgetting to evaluate potential employers just as much as they’re evaluating you. In the anxiety of an interview, it can be easy to focus only on whether you’re impressing your interviewer, but it’s crucial to remember that you should be thinking about whether you even want the job. The interview process isn’t one-way; you should be using the time to think about whether you’re the right fit for the work, the manager, and the workplace culture. Otherwise, you can end up in job where you don’t excel or aren’t happy. So interview that employer right back before you make any decisions.

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

{ 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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