why is there so much bad job advice out there?

A reader writes:

Yours is the first advice I have ever come across in job searching literature, dictating that that the job seeker should NOT end a cover letter with a promise to call in a few days and schedule a time to meet. Most of the books and articles I have read on this subject state that this is exactly what one ought to do.

Having received an annoyed response from employers when I have occasionally tried to “stay in the driver’s seat” like that, your advice does intuitively make sense. Do you have any speculation on why most interviewing and job seeking books out there would push this approach? Why do you think these other authors are so off-base? In other words, I’m wondering why the first time I’m hearing this advice is from you.

As far as I can tell, it’s a mix of the following:

  • people giving advice on how to get hired without having any significant experience actually hiring someone — so they’re speculating on what they think might/should work, without any actual first-hand experience
  • people who do have first-hand hiring experience, but from long ago, when job searching conventions were very different
  • the fact that anyone can proclaim themselves a job search expert, with zero credentials that matter (but they do often tout irrelevant credentials, like having taken a resume-writing class or being a trained “career coach” — neither of which get you a nuanced understanding of how hiring managers think)

Of course, there are also hiring managers out there who give bad advice too — you can find hiring managers who believe all sorts of bizarre things (like this one or this one), and sometimes they share that bad advice with the world. But they’re less of a problem, because they generally have don’t have as large of an audience as the people in the categories above, since for the most part they’re  busy managing rather than advising strangers.

But in all these cases, it doesn’t help matters that the target audience for job search advice is often anxious and vulnerable and therefore inclined to believe what they hear from someone who looks like an expert bearing help.

A better bet is to always ask this question before taking job search advice: How many people have you hired yourself? And how recently? The answers are generally pretty dismaying.

(By the way, it’s hard to write about this topic without sounding like I think that my own advice is the best ever and everyone else should be ignored — but I don’t. I just want people to evaluate advice sources before assuming that the fact that someone is being presented as an expert — by themselves or by a media outlet — means that they’re credible, because it so often doesn’t.)

{ 100 comments… read them below }

  1. AdminTO*

    Some of the “advice” on Workopolis and LinkedIn is ridiculous. That’s why when I found your blog I read it for 6 hours straight. Finally good, clear, sensible advice.

  2. Jamie*

    The only thing I would take issue with is that if the person giving the advice doesn’t do any hiring, but the advice is pointing you to AAM…then you should follow the link because clearly they are very wise. :)

    1. Felicia*

      That’s the advice I always give…or I tell them about an entry I read on AAM that relates to their problem.

  3. KJR*

    I have been hiring people for 20 years now. I can tell you that your advice is the best I’ve seen out there, so give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back!

  4. YoTeach*

    So I’m going to be teaching a one-class period section on careers/professionalism to beginning college students and I’d love to hear from everyone what you wish you’d known when starting out. What is your best job advice? I know AAM gives a lot of good advice generally, but I’m looking for some quick things I can share with the class to help them get started in understanding the good, the bad, and the it’s so ugly put it in a corner and feed it with a sling shot.

      1. YoTeach*

        Great, thank you! I’m excited to be starting these kids on the right path to success. I’m glad they’re going to be able to skip over the crappy things I had to learn the hard way.

    1. AllisonJ*

      Learn how to manage your manager.

      Before I started working, bosses were mystical folks that only gave orders. THE BOSS! But, they are people, who have goals and need help reaching them. How can I help them do that unless we talk about expectations and I get to know them?

    2. Emma*

      I wish I had a course that had me really lay out that game plan and acted as a reality check against any unrealistic expectations. Your class sounds wonderful!

      Of course I say this as I am now, so perhaps this may be a case of “if I had known, would I have cared?” but I recommend having them assess their prospective majors for the hard skills they’ll be able to develop. Not just “I’ll be able to write well with my English major,” which is obviously important but considered pretty basic as far as employability goes, but “With my degree in English/CompSci/Biology, I’ll be able to do X/Y/Z that will make me employable to do A/B/C.” Then find the work experiences to back that up.

      I say this as someone who went into college thinking “I like writing and French and History, so I’ll major in English or French or History!” without any game plan beyond how that’ll make me employable (and I was the first of my family to go to college, so my parents had the idea that college degree = automatic job). I fell into public health, though, so I eventually did find my practical, action-oriented course of study.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I love this. Pushing students to think through what their degree will prepare them for, and then testing those theories against real life evidence, would be hugely valuable.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          Yes, it absolutely would! I wish YoTeach luck. I have had mixed results in my career in getting career/professional information in front of students in an academic setting (but I’m still plugging away). Broadly speaking, a few of the challenges on college campuses (that I know personally) are as follows:

          1) Quite often faculty have no personal experience with the “real world” and/or don’t want to cover that as part of “class content.”

          1a) Faculty/Adminstration often oppose mandatory career development classes on the grounds of “intellectual rigor” and/or cost.

          2) Lack of suitable non-academic mechanisms in place to push students to reflect on what they want to do and how to get there.

          3) Lack of interest in career planning (or hell, call it “future planning” or “prepping for life after college” if the word “career” is too off-putting) by many college students.

          4) Regardless of what you think of them (and I acknowledge that bone-headed career advice from university career offices is well-documented on this site) career services programs and resources completely voluntary at the vast majority of higher education institutions in the U.S. You’re far more likely to attend a college with a gym or “wellness” requirement (note: I’m not knocking the potential value of this) or even a swim test graduation requirement than anything mandatory in the career services realm.

          This is [slowly] changing from what I’ve seen. But institutions have to put the resources in place to do it. Unfunded mandates generally don’t work out.

        2. Mike C.*

          The danger here is that many, many “in need” degrees, even STEM degrees, aren’t as in need as many claim. Many times you have trade groups trying to drum up more graduates in a particular field to lower overall employment costs.

          1. Heather*

            And also, not everyone is interested in/has the ability to pursue those fields. Sometimes the people talking about how we need more STEM grads sound like they think kids are robots & they just need to be reprogrammed to be interested in the right subjects.

            1. Diane*

              Yes! The myth that “reprogramming” kids to be interested in the hot field is so wrong. Our governor floated a proposal to offer more financial aid to students and schools that graduate more STEM students, and it drives me six kinds of crazy. Not every liberal arts and social science student can be, or wants to be, redirected to STEM. And, as Mike C. pointed out, many employers who want more STEM graduates don’t have jobs for most of them. Look at unemployment rates among biology and chemistry grads, even with MS degrees.

          2. SevenSixOne*

            And even if any given degree is legitimately in high demand when students are in high school, it may not be in demand by the time they’re in college because there’s a flood of recent grads a few years older.

        3. VintageLydia*

          My anthropology program does this. They have a course called “Applied Anthropology” which is basically how to use the skills you acquire studying Anthro and parlaying that to other fields. We did resumes and cover letters and things, too, and nothing my prof taught in class conflicted with your advice so there is that.

        4. YoTeach*

          I just assigned the major career exploration project for this term where they will take their major and explore every avenue of it – what skills does the job require, how much money can they make with it, does the job require graduate education and if so, how much, etc. We’ve also discussed developing the basic skills regardless of degree such as proficiency in Microsoft Word, Excel, and so on. We’ve talked about (and will continue to talk about) the need to make yourself marketable with not only the degree, but real skills you can show, to do internships before leaving school, to network and all of that.

          The course I’m teaching is a college success course to first-year college students so it covers a lot of areas, with careers being one facet. I will soon be covering cover letters and resumes where I will pass on some of the great wisdom I’ve learned here and hopefully that will help some of them have a better start than I did when I was in their shoes.

      2. Chinook*

        The flip side is that, even if you find a career path that you want and you earn the degree that you need, realize that there may be time when you have to “think outside the box” (and I hate that term – I really like being in a box because it is comfy) because that career no longer exists (like typerwriter salesmen) or the market is flooded with people just like you but there aren’t enough jobs to go around (like teachers around here). Remind them that it is not a sign of failure if your career path takes a sudden right turn or even a u-turn.

        That would also be the perfect time to let them know that there is no such thing as a dream job and that there is no shame in working any job that allows you to follow (and afford) those dreams when they are done for the day.

        1. Jessa*

          Exactly. You need to expand your skills beyond just “what I need to do job x.” If you fail to keep up, you’re going to be left behind.

        2. YoTeach*

          I’m an adjunct so in addition to teaching, I’m also working in the real world and I’m able to use myself as an example of someone whose career took a different path than I originally thought it would. Interests change, life changes, you have to roll with it. That is something that I am impressing upon them that things can take a different road, but the destination is no less worthy.

      3. ChristineSW*

        I love this too. When I went to college, I had no CLUE what to do. My alma mater’s psychology program allowed you to major with one of two tracks: general and graduate. The graduate track is just as it sounds–it’s intended for those who want to pursue further education in Psychology. Thus, I took the general track. However, most who do that have a second major, usually education or business. Soooo being the genius that I thought I was (lie), I took the general track but no other major (just a minor in music…another “what was I thinking?” decision). Geeee Dr. Psychology Department Advisor, nice of you to warn me that I wouldn’t get anywhere with a plain old general psychology Bachelors!!!

        We need more people like YoTeach in our colleges!!

        1. YoTeach*

          Thanks Christine, I’m doing my best to make sure they know the things that I (and many others) learned the hard way. I’ve told them about double majoring and being sure to understand that some majors exist solely as a path to graduate school. We’ve talked in class about the different degrees and what they lead to and what they DON’T lead to and how important it is when planning your degree program to keep in mind where you’re trying to go.

          1. jesicka309*

            In this vein – make sure you encourage them to explore related disciplines while they still have electives/credits left. I went into my communications degree wanting to be a journalist…then the economy tanked, and I was stuck with armloads of cinema and production credits that had no practical experience, and newspapers were shedding journos by the thousands. Now I’m doing a second degree in marketing to get the business/marketing knowledge that I could have gotten the first time around if I’d used my electives more wisely.
            If I’d had a class where I looked at related industries (marketing, PR, advertising etc.) I could have built my degree to make my skills more well rounded.
            Eg. If you have a kid that is deadset on aerospace engineering, get them to have a look at other related industries like mechanical, surveying, civil engineering or other ‘in demand’ industries. My boyfriend’s brother thanks his lucky stars every day that he switched from automotive engineering to mechanical, as now the automotive industry has imploded, he has infinitely more options should he lose his job.

      1. A Bug!*

        Unless you’re reaping the rewards of nepotism!

        But specifically on the topic of professionalism (rather than just general career advice), I’d like to offer this:

        Even if your job is crappy, you’re being paid to do it. Do it to the best of your ability, and do it with enthusiasm, even if you have to fake it. What starts out as faked enthusiasm, practiced in good faith, becomes a strong work ethic, which is an asset that will help you no matter where you go.

        (Related: Respect all work. No work is beneath you, and neither are the people who do that work. A janitor is worthy of the same respect an executive receives, and arguably more.)

    3. Mike C.*

      Here’s a thought: go over basic labor laws, especially stuff that is specific to your state. This will do a few big things:

      1. Help to manage the expectations of your students. Are breaks required and when? Difference between hourly/salary, etc.
      2. Quell popularly held but incorrect beliefs – “You can’t talk about your salary”, “PTO is required”, etc.
      3. Help your students protect themselves from shady employers looking to take advantage of them. Those with the least experience are most likely to be targeted, after all.

      1. YoTeach*

        I like this and something I’ve got planned already! Some of them have or have had jobs already, mostly minimum wage as they are still young (beginning college students) and they’ve already run across things that they think should be true, but are not with labor laws. I definitely plan to talk more in-depth about this when we get to the careers/professionalism module.

        1. Mike C.*

          That’s great to hear. Too often I hear horror stories from my peers about things which are clearly illegal, but they don’t know the first thing about what to do, or that something illegal has happened in the first place.

  5. fposte*

    I think this is also a small-scale example of the overall problem with written information–most of it is just regurgitated from other sources rather than being confirmed in the real world. That’s why urban legends are so successful.

      1. Chinook*

        The internet has absolutely made the problem of incorrect written information worse. Before it, you atleast had to convince an editor and/or publisher that you made sense or that they could make money of it. Now any doofus with two fingers and a keyboard can become a guru about anything they want.

        And, atleast, in the past, you had to rewrite someone’s information before claiming it was yours. Now you can copy and paste someone else’s words without even having to notice what has been written.

        I think I am going to go back to my lawn chair now and yell at the kids to get off my lawn!

      2. Yup*

        Yes and no. I do agree that the rate and proliferation of bad advice seems like it’s being shot out of a cannon via the web. But it’s also so so amazingly helpful to be able to actually get the official OSHA statement or state unemployment rule or IRS guidance. There’s more garbage than gold, for sure, but it’s so much easier for non HR people to educate ourselves and access the tools now.

      3. A Bug!*

        It’s made it worse for the people lacking critical thinking skills, but better for the people who have them.

        1. Kit M.*

          This is a good summation of something I’d been trying to express for a while, thank you! I remember being mystified in high school that people were so misinformed about sex, when there was a whole internet full of information….

  6. steve g*

    People think that since managing involves a lot of subjectivity and soft skills, it’s easy to fake it to you make it. I have the same thing in my job, where a lot depends on how you spin things to customers. People watch me and think ‘I could have had that conversation.’. Yes – they understand what I say – but they wouldn’t give as good information as me if they were given a blank slate to just start dealing with customers

  7. AllisonJ*

    “why is there so much bad job advice out there?”

    Because people keep reading it.

    Many seekers are hungry for an edge and your advice is often straightforward and simple, it can be confusing. (You mean I should create a well-written cover letter that emphasizes fit? I don’t need a video? Or infographic? I don’t need to add everyone from that organization on LinkedIn? I don’t need to call or visit the office? Just…write…well?)

    There are certainly hiring trends worthy of exploration (for example, how do employers use social media to recruit or vet candidates?). But nothing beats thoughtfulness…and following directions.

    1. SevenSixOne*

      It seems like everyone knows someone (or knows someone who knows someone who knows someone…) who got a job using some ridiculous gimmick. So you tell them gimmicks don’t work and they counter with “NUH-UH! So-and-So landed an amaaaaaaaazing job by [over-the-top stunt] so neener” and there’s no convincing them that situations like that are the exception, not the rule. Sigh.

  8. Joey*

    I’m curious. Now that you do what sounds like mostly consulting work do you worry about keeping your management skills sharp? I know that you still deal with a lot of the same issues (probably tenfold through reader questions), but its not the same as being in the trenches with these issues and dealing with all of the follow up stuff that happens.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes. I do a lot of hiring for clients, and I do a lot of management coaching (where I’m helping managers figure out how to handle management issues), but I imagine a time will come where my experience has for too long been too different from what it ideally would be for the author of this blog.

          1. NutellaNutterson*

            I will read that blog!

            Dear AACP: My cat keeps trying to steal the warm spot on the couch when I get up to refill my bon-bon tray. Is this even legal? I tried to get the dog on my side, but he said he represents the animals, not me! I asked the dog to keep it confidential. Can the dog tell the cat what I said?

  9. Anonymous*

    Adding to the confusion is the fact that anyone can be a hiring manager, and that there isn’t really any consistent best practice or guideline for hiring practices aside from some vague notions of things that you’re supposed to do as an interviewer. Everyone’s heard a tale of someone that did some wacky thing to get ahead or used hard-sell tactics and the hiring manager actually liked it.

    Even the advice here isn’t universal; the difference is that most interview advice is written from (or for) the perspective of the desperate job-seeker, who typically feels that they’re qualified (or at least can’t do anything about their qualifications), wishes there was something they could do to push things along, and fears that the hiring manager is just failing to see their resume and recognize their qualifications for some reason. From that point-of-view, being pushy and pulling wacky stunts makes perfect sense…but if you really think about it, it requires you to assume that the hiring manager is basically incompetent and either can’t locate qualified applicants on their own or doesn’t consider qualifications to be a major factor in the hiring decision. It’s an easy assumption to come to as a frustrated job-seeker mostly only interested in their side of the story, and there are plenty of bad hiring managers like that out there, but it’s not really realistic most of the time.

    Here, on the other hand, the basic assumption is more reasonable: that the hiring manager is a competent professional that is perfectly capable of evaluating resumes on their own and is more likely to be annoyed than grateful if a job-seeker makes a nuisance of themselves in an attempt to draw attention. Rather than thinking of hiring managers as faceless drones buried under piles of paper or hotshots willing to whimsically hand out positions to whoever shows the most “initiative”, it encourages us to put ourselves in the manager’s shoes as professionals just like us, and make it easy for them to do their jobs and select the best candidate – and to accept that we won’t always be that best candidate! The advice here isn’t necessarily accurate for every environment and every manager, but it’s accurate for professional managers interested in picking the best candidate.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      From that point-of-view, being pushy and pulling wacky stunts makes perfect sense…but if you really think about it, it requires you to assume that the hiring manager is basically incompetent and either can’t locate qualified applicants on their own or doesn’t consider qualifications to be a major factor in the hiring decision.

      Yes! This is what I’m always trying to get across — along with the idea that if the manager does operate that way, you really, really don’t want to work for them because your work life will be unhappy.

    2. Lynn Whitehat*

      The “Inside the Head of a Hiring Manager” articles are the worst! Because that’s exactly what they give you–an insight into THAT hiring manager. Who may be hiring for a position radically different from what you do, and certainly has their own individual quirks. But you’re supposed to think that’s what all hiring managers want for everything, everywhere, in every sector and level of experience.

      I’ve hired software engineers and in-home nannies. You can be sure my standards for the two positions were very, very different. And I have my own quirks that other people don’t have. I personally can’t stand people that chatter constantly whether they have anything to say or not, and I don’t want to be around them all day, so I screen them out. But that’s me. Obviously most of those people find jobs with people who don’t feel the same way about it.

  10. jmkenrick*

    I really do feel like dated advice is a big part of the problem as well. Especially if you’re looking at books.

    The way we job search has changed so much in the past years…now it’s much easier to resume-bomb, or just find a phone number and call a manager whenever than it was just 10 years ago. It can take time for new conventional wisdom to take root and become established.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yeah, I think a lot of the problems with job advice boil down to that the fads and styles have changed very quickly in the last few years, so the books are outmoded and the career counselors at colleges don’t know any better and you have to wade through what’s “cool” and “uncool” and “changed by the Internet” now.

  11. VictoriaHR*

    Unfortunately I’ve found that some job seekers listen to the advice that is telling them to make the least amount of effort. I’ve come across it on Reddit – someone will ask “why am I still unemployed rawr” and I’ll give them some advice like “tailor your resume/cover letter to the job posting” and “write a thank you note for interviews” and they return with “but SOANDSO Big Name Person told me that I didn’t have to do those things so I’m going to listen to THEM!” Ok, well, it’s not working for you, now, is it?

  12. Career Counselor*

    I’m approaching this purely from the perspective of a college career counselor – that’s only a small part of the pie in terms of potential sources of bad advice. For us, the issue is systemic. I have hiring and managerial experience from industry and I’m in the sharp minority. Although I know my background is one of the reasons I was hired, I do find myself at odds with some of the practices my colleagues suggest to students. Like objective statements. Or telling an employer you will call them in ten days to check on the status of your application. But hey – part of having a job is understanding the culture that you’re working in and more or less conforming to it – sure there are strategic moments where you can push back on the party line but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I picked my battles. A lot of people are coming from counselor background, which I do think has some place in career development conversations, but there’s no doubt that some bad advice is doled out, or not articulated correctly.

    1. MiketheRecruiter*

      I lasted 5 months in the career counseling space. My Director chewed me out when I told kids it’s important to network, job boards are not the best source for jobs, that they shouldn’t have an objective statement, and that they don’t need to list tons of things like “I play basketball” on their resume…

      Ugh, nightmares are racing through my mind.

      1. j-e to the double n*

        Just from a purely personal place, where are the best places to look for jobs if not on job boards?

        1. NBB*

          I am not MiketheRecruiter. But, best places are usually the company you want to work for website itself, craigslist, and local newspaper (online) job listings.

          1. Joey*

            Company web and social media sites, and industry specific local job boards are the best after inside contacts. The generic job boards are a last resort for most employers. Newspaper job listings are old fashioned or bottom feeders.

  13. MiketheRecruiter*

    I’ve helped hire for both clients and internal positions – hiring will never, ever be an exact science (Google did a massive data driven study earlier this year that says even they can’t really figure it out).

    As hiring manager for my position – don’t be pushy, I’ll contact you when I’m ready (my job posting says that), a custom cover letter helps but isn’t required. Show me what you’ve accomplished in your career (what have you built, how have you effected P&L, how have you handled and taken on increasing responsibilities)…it’s usually pretty easy to separate the wheat from the chaff….

    1. Joey*

      Hiring is pretty close to betting on say races, contests, or tournaments where you’re trying to predict the performance of others with all kinds of outcomes that don’t always make sense. A good hiring manager is like a successful professional bettor. They will lose every now and then, but over the long haul they’re more successful than most.

  14. Mishsmom*

    um, you are the best one out there and you should pat yourself on the back (and then some!). the fact that you are humble makes you even better. :) just sayin’…

  15. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    There is so much bad advice out there for job seekers, it is hard to weed through everything and figure out what is the best advice. Personally, I don’t care if someone announces that they are going to call and schedule an interview… because when they do, I will just politely explain our interviewing process. However, once I had a guy show up unannounced for an “interview” with me. I didn’t have him on my calendar, and had never heard of him before… so I went to our lobby where the candidate was waiting and had a brief conversation with him… come to find out, someone had actually advised him to show up and pretend that he already had an appointment. They actually told him that if he did not do this that his resume would never be considered and that he wouldn’t be contacted for an interview. Totally ridiculous! Upon reviewing his resume, I found that he had some excellent credentials and a very solid work history, however was not at all a fit for the position with my company. I explained the job to him briefly and he agreed that he wasn’t a good fit. Then being the nice HR girl that I am, I told him that the advise he was given was not good. I told him that his credentials speak for themselves and that he doesn’t need a gimmick (ahem like pretending to have an appointment) in order to be noticed. I was a little caught off guard by his tactic, but I would imagine that other managers could be annoyed by this and he could even possibly disqualify himself from the running (for a position he could very well be a good fit for) because the hiring manager may see him as someone who doesn’t understand how businesses work, doesn’t have respect for their busy schedules, and well, is willing to lie for their own benefit. However, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy for being a victim of bad job seeking advice.

          1. Andrea*

            That was *really* nice of you. I would have either had reception chase him away or (likely) given him a piece of my mind about respecting other people’s time and how, guess what, it isn’t all about him. I have job to do also, don’t try to steal my time.

            Unless he looked sweet or vulnerable or completely wet behind the ears. O.o Then I might have been nice. I can be a bit of a sucker that way.

      1. Joey*

        That’s interesting considering they’re more HR and you seem to advise people to not go to HR unless its legal type stuff.

      2. Julie*

        I just looked at them, and now I’ll be spending countless (enjoyable) hours reading their blogs from the beginning (just like I did yours)!

  16. S from CO*

    I have been looking for a job since Sept. 2012 and I got a job offer letter a few days ago! I am very happy and excited!!
    I am convinced that my success came from reading AAM every day and the advice in the free interviewing guide. Thank you Alison G.!!
    I am so thankful that I found this blog. I have learned so much along the way. for me the most important advice was: know what kind of manager you are looking for and ask questions during the interview. Interview your future manager and find out if you want to work with him/her.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      Congratulations! I had been unemployed for a long time (in the past), and I know how tough it is. I’m very happy to hear your good news.

      Let us know in a couple of months how your job is going.

      1. Jean*

        +1 to both points: Congrats and please update us. You sound like a thoughtful, careful person who ran a well-organized search with a clear goal. Some of us could learn a lot from hearing whatever you want to share about adapting to your new workplace and responsibilities.

  17. Not So NewReader*

    What I like about the advice here is that it is doable. I do not have to develop a larger than life personality to follow the advice.
    Some of the job hunting advice out there is actually scary. I could not foist myself on another person like that.

    I think that it is good life advice: If you need to learn how to do something ask a person who is currently doing it with success. Far better for me to ask my plumber friend how to fix the leaky faucet than to ask my very well read friend who read all about how to fix faucets.

    1. ChristineSW*

      YES!!! Not only that, Alison’s advice just feels….natural. Not sure if that’s the right word, but I’ve seen all of these suggestions about saying you’ll call to check on your application or ask for the job in an interview. That’s just SO against my personality. Okay, I’ll admit that I could improve on my assertiveness, but those tactics just feels too much. Maybe for someone looking for a high-level sales position, but not for shy little me ;)

      1. Ruffingit*

        I’m with you. The tactics suggested by other (ahem, stupid) people/sites have never sat well with me. I was so grateful to come across this blog and see that “call to follow up on your application” was not recommended because I’ve always thought it was stupid and an unnatural thing to do for the reasons Alison has stated – it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Also, directing your cover letter to a specific person falls along the same line. I’ve called businesses asking who to direct the cover letter to and most people have responded as if they have no idea, probably because they don’t because it’s stupid advice. Dear Hiring Manager is fine, move on.

  18. Sascha*

    “I could not foist myself on another person like that.” That’s my litmus test for evaluating advice. Does it involve me imposing on someone, or have a salesy feel to it? Then it’s probably not a good idea.

    1. Jane Doe*

      Yeah, it seems like a lot of job search advice is overly sales-y – go in person to “show initiative,” call to check up on your resume, “ask for the job” at the interview, etc. It ignores that many people find pushy sales tactics pretty off-putting, especially when you are trying to make them conform to your timeline instead of respecting their process.

      1. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

        I have a lot of people call me to ask if I have received their resume. So I check our database and say “yes we did” and then there is dead silence from the candidate… and then they say “um so, ….am I being considered?” I would much rather a candidate call me and just be honest and say that they are calling because they are extremely interested in the job, meet all of the qualifications, and are excited to learn more, OR that the job description looked interesting and they had a couple of quick questions. Then I usually enter into a conversation with a candidate where we talk about some of the key points of the position and if all goes well, often times I send a quick e-mail to the appropriate hiring manager letting them know that I had a conversation with that candidate and they seem like someone that they might want to bring in for an interview. It isn’t my decision who the hiring manager wants to interview, but if I have a good experience with a potential candidate, I love sharing that info with the decision-maker. For what it is worth, that’s just my little piece of job searching advice for the day! If you are going to call the hiring manager or HR person etc… make it count. This is just me, other people might not like phone calls from candidates at all. I don’t mind them one bit.

        1. Emma*

          If you are going to call the hiring manager or HR person etc… make it count.


          I’d like to apply this logic to networking. I’m sure I made these networking mistakes as a new graduate, so I’d suggest -don’t write to a contact just to say “hey, so, uh, tell me about your field because I might be interested in it?” Have a few specific questions to help guide the conversation. “Tell me about working in public health,” in my case, for instance, means so many things that we’re not getting the most out of this chat unless we have some questions for guidance.

      2. Linea*

        I’d also read these suggestions about being “sales-y” and, coming from Europe, assumed that they were tailored to a more straight-forward, assertive American reader (I was fairly sure it would never work on most employers around me)…. And then I found Alison :-). Aside from perhaps the legal stuff, I find the advice truly universal, just “natural” as someone above wrote.

  19. Rob Bird*

    I love it when the only credentials someone has for advising people on a subject is that they have written a book on that subject. For example:

    Rob Bird is the author or coauthor of the more than 132 books in the biggest series of books on Tahoma font in history. His books appear in all languages (including dolphin, Akkadian, and hieroglyphs!!) and are required reading in many 3rd Grade programs worldwide.

    Now I can do a consult (for a nominal fee of course) for all your Tahoma needs!!

    1. NutellaNutterson*

      I’ve noticed that “nationally recognized expert” is a qualification for many folks on the speaker/talk show circuit. Ideally this would mean that they’ve been vetted by producers/researchers so that their media outlet isn’t embarrassed. Too often it seems that the expert status is achieved via some sort of ouroboros/media echo chamber…

  20. Andrea*

    A lot of the bad job advice sounds like bad dating advice, full of magical thinking. The secret is to — ignore him, not ignore him, be aggressive, play it cool, wear red, tell the truth, don’t tell the truth, exaggerate the truth, never sleep with him until the 3rd month, don’t have sex before you have an engagement ring, have sex right away, always pay your way, never pay your way even for coffee, pick up the check for both of you…blah blah blah. Readers shop for the advice *they* want to follow in the illusion that they can control a situation that’s more serendipity than anything else.

    Ultimately, making a successful career match is about being in the right place at the right time where you match your skills and personality and needs with an organizations needs, benefit and personality.

    A lot of what Allison says can be boiled down to needing to kiss a lot of toads. Which isn’t sexy. But it’s true.

    Hiring manager 20+ years on my end, and I kiss a lot of toads also. Establish solid practices, be polite and respectful to people, rinse and repeat until you find your match (new job or new hire). There aren’t many shortcuts and no magic talismans.

  21. anon*

    I think there is a lot of bad job advice out there because there is just a lot of bad advice in general. A lot of “advice” in magazines, on websites, etc., is not there to advise you – it’s to get you to buy the magazine, view the website (and view/click on ads). Some of it is “clickbait” (i.e. pretty crappy article/listicle with a sensational headline to get you to view it and view their ads) and some of it is just an uninspired editor or writer with a deadline.

  22. EE*

    Weird hiring managers reminds me of a story I read on Corporette, where a lunch was incorporated into/followed a job interview.

    Interviewee was asked by the waiter if she wanted to take some of her unfinished lunch away. She said no. Interviewer said: “are you sure”? She changed her mind.

    Interviewer immediately said: “See, this shows you don’t have confidence in yourself.”

    1. Anonymous*

      And if she had said: “Yes, I’m sure.” then Interviewer probably would have said: “See, this shows you’re inflexible and can’t change your mind when presented with other options.” With some people you just can’t win!!

  23. Hugo*

    A lot of the bad advice online comes from stock stories one finds at MSN, LinkedIn, yahoo!, etc…job hunting “advice” articles probably written by some intern that knows next to nothing about looking for, applying to, and interviewing for a job.

    More importantly though, this bad advice is utilized by people out of desperation due to an impersonal and unresponsive job application process. How many people have applied to dozens of jobs and never heard a single word back? At that point, someone is bound to do anything to “stand out,” including acting on some of this bad advice strewn all over the place. So at some point you almost can’t blame someone for trying something out of desperation, after all, if they applied the “right way” 50 times and never heard back, then what have they really got to lose by considering so-called “bad advice?” I am not encouraging it, but trying to perhaps rationalize it from their point of view.

    To be fair, there must be an equal amount of bad advice given to companies on how to hire as there is bad advice for people job hunting. It’s the “death by keyword” approach where a company will list so many attributes of a “qualified candidate” that it’s ridiculous, in the meantime the job goes unfilled because they’ll never contact an otherwise excellent candidate who missed a few keywords. Thus the so-called, non-existent “talent gap” that is purported out there. There really is no lack of talent, just lack of absolutely 100% qualified candidates who match up exactly to the numerous keywords and arbitrary “qualifications” listed in a job posting. Companies want these so-called “purple squirrels” because they refuse to take a 75% qualified candidate and actually invest in training them for the job to make them 100% because training comes off the bottom line. Corporate America today (this is just my experience for having worked in it) has really no long-term vision, every decision is made based on monthly and quarterly numbers so hiring managers trip over themselves to find a 100% candidate ready to go out of the box.

    In the meantime, this is actually costing the company more money as they “wait” for the right candidate as it would had they just hired someone earlier and trained them. Companies today don’t value training as a long-term investment in their employees, it’s just seen as a cost and a failure by a hiring manager to hire someone perfect.

    A little off the rails there, but the point is that companies need a tune up on how to post a job and hire someone and treat candidates with respect, as Alison has remarked countless times already.

  24. Greg*

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as well. One thing I will say is that it’s not always a case of “good” vs. “bad” advice. A lot of it is just personal preference. There have been plenty of things AAM has written that I vehemently disagree with. It’s possible one of us is empirically right and the other is empirically wrong (and it’s even possible, if unlikely, that I’m the latter). In fact, as I recall, the first time I ever heard of this blog was when I saw a link to a piece and thought, “That’s ridiculous! What the hell is she talking about?” But the reason I keep coming back is because her batting average is pretty good, and I’m in sync with her overall philosophy, even if I disagree with some of the specific applications.

    I would also add that the reason there is a lot of bad advice is because the “good” advice tends to be a) repetitive, b) maddeningly vague, and c) difficult to put into practice. Consider the most basic question: “In order to get a job, you need to ___.” The best answer to the question is to figure out what role you want, research how it aligns with your skills, make connections in that field, etc. Seems simple, but if it were easy, everyone would just do it. Plus, it’s tough to build an entire blog around saying the same thing over and over.

    IMO, that’s why you see the proliferation of people advising gimmicks. Anyone who’s been through a tough job search can recognize the appeal of a “magic bullet” that can vault you past all the other candidates and get you the job. It’s analogous to stock-picking advice that promises some secret formula to beat the market. But the reason everyone can’t do it is precisely because it’s hard.

    That’s also why so much job-search advice tends to focus on what I call “deal breakers” rather than “deal makers.” It’s easy to tell you what will get your resume thrown in the trash, but “not getting your resume tossed” won’t get you a job any more than “remembering to turn your cell phone off before the interview” will. The “deal makers” are the things that can truly make your candidacy stand out, in a good way. But again, if they were easy to identify, everyone would do them, and then they wouldn’t make you special.

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