7 beliefs about your job search that are all wrong

If you’re like most job seekers, you approach their job search with a set of beliefs about how the hiring process works, what responses from employers are good signs, and what responses are bad signs. But in many cases, those beliefs are flat-out wrong, and some of them can hinder your search.

Here are seven of the most common things that job seekers often get wrong about their searches.

1. “I’m qualified for this job, so I should definitely get an interview.” If you see a job description that looks like it could have been written with you in mind, it’s easy to fall into this way of thinking – you have everything they’re looking for, after all, so why wouldn’t you get a call to interview? But employers often have numerous perfectly qualified candidates, and they can’t interview all of them – which means that plenty of well-qualified people will end up getting rejected without even an interview.

2. “The interview went well, so I’m likely to get a job offer.” A good interview doesn’t equate to a job offer. Other candidates might have interviewed as well as your or better. Or the job requirements might end up getting tweaked post-interview, and now you’re now longer as qualified as someone else. Or the employer might have an internal candidate they prefer, or decide to hire the CEO’s nephew, or put the position on hold altogether. There’s just no way to know from the outside, so it’s dangerous to let a good interview convince you that it’s in the bag.

3. “They said I’d hear back soon, so I expect to hear from them in about a week.” Employers and job candidates tend to be in different time zones when it comes to how quickly hiring moves. Hiring managers are often juggling their hiring work on top of all their regular work, and it can become their lowest priority – whereas for candidates it’s often the top thing on their minds. The best thing to do? Whenever an employer gives you an anticipated timeline, assume it will be at least double and possibly triple that.

4. “I haven’t heard back yet, so I probably didn’t get the job.” Maybe – but unless months have gone by, there’s no reason to assume that yet. As in #3 above, hiring usually takes longer than people assume it will. But much worse than that is…

5. “This job is a sure thing, so I’m not going to keep searching.” Slowing down your search or stopping it altogether because you think you’re likely to get a job offer is one of the worst mistakes you can make as a candidate. Some people even turn down interviews with other companies because they’re so sure an offer is forthcoming – and are left kicking themselves when the offer never materializes.

6. “I need to find a creative way to stand out to employers.” Job seekers sometimes resort to gimmicks to stand out, like using a fancy resume design, sending gifts to an interviewer, or having their resume delivered by overnight mail. But gimmicks don’t make up for a lack of qualifications and will turn off many hiring managers. The way to stand out to a good manager is simple: Write a great cover letter and create a resume that demonstrates a track record of success in the area the employer is hiring for.

7. “My graduate degree should make me a more desirable candidate.” Grad school will make you more marketable if you’re in a field that requires or rewards it – but if you’re in one of the many fields that don’t, employers may find it irrelevant. In fact, it can even more you lesscompetitive if you apply for jobs that have nothing to do with your graduate degree, since some employers will think you don’t really want jobs outside your field.

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

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. JM in England*

    I have often fallen into the trap of #2, thinking that a good interview has won the employer over. So it’s no surprise that not getting the job increased my self-doubt, wondering “what is it about me that turned them off?”………………

    1. Adam*

      I’ve both had this problem and the odd reverse, where I’ve gone through an interview and didn’t think I did all that great, only to find out later they really liked me. I guess I was still new to interviewing in a post-college world and had no idea constituted a truly “good” interview.

      1. Sunflower*

        Yes this happens to me too a good amount. In college I had what I thought was a terrible interview for an internship and ended up being offered it. I also got my current job after the interview was awkward at best.

      2. Lizzy*

        I have had something similiar happen to me. I made it to the final round of interviews for a position recently (didn’t get it, but I wasn’t too upset) and each time it baffled me how I kept making it into the next round. I am still baffled thinking about it.

        For my phone interview, I was coming back from a major specialty goods industry convention where I was working the floor. The interview was late in the afternoon and I was exhausted and really feeling out of it (I had been at the convention since 4am for prep). I am pretty sure I babbled and incoherently strung sentences together. But they invited me for an in-person.

        At the second interview, the HR rep seemed bored and uninterested in my answers. I also wasn’t feeling too hot when it came time for me to ask questions. But again, they invited me back.

        I was feeling a bit more confident by my 3rd interview and felt I did a good job. It was really close and I lost out on account that the other candidate had more experience. That I understood.

        No matter how well you think you did (but didn’t get the job), you have to accept that there is always one candidate who did better — more experience, sold their skills better, more likable, etc. You also have to accept that you either weren’t what they wanted or how you perceive yourself and how they perceived you was completely different.

        But dang, it is even more confusing when you weren’t feeling so hot about how you did, but they continue your candidacy anyway, lol.

    2. Laura*

      That one is hard for me too…because if the interview went well, and my cover letter and resume were good and i met all of the qualifications, then I technically didn’t do anything “wrong” though I was rejected. And that’s really hard to accept. When you didn’t do anything obviously wrong, then it’s easy to feel helpless, and even to wonder “what is wrong with me?” I think there’s a certain comfort in knowing “ok, next time I can do x, y and z and it will be better” but if everything went well and it was just that although you were great in every way, someone else was better, you don’t have that.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        The failure is thinking right and wrong Vs better and best. In the Olympics most of the top finishers did everything right or they never would have placed (got an interview). But only one gets the gold because they outperformed someone by 0.01 ms.

        1. Apple22Over7*

          Ooh I really like that comparison. I too find it difficult to accept rejection without being able to “fix” it for next time, and see it often as a right/wrong scenario (comes from being mathematically minded – if an answer’s right it gets full marks, if it’s wrong then obviously I’ve messed some calculation up). Thinking about it in terms of an Olympic event makes much more sense.

      2. Mints*

        Yeah, it’s simultaneously depressing and comforting when the feedback is basically “we like you, but we found someone with more experience for the same job at the same price.” Because I’m glad I interviewed well enough, but there’s nothing I can really do to have more years of experience right now

  2. Jill-be-Nimble*

    I’m so incredibly guilty of #5…that, combined with #7 (which I can’t really help after the fact), is what has landed me in jobless/temp/contract purgatory for more than a year now. I’m wise to these tricks, though, and never take anyone at their word anymore–no matter how many guarantees they give me or how much they say they love me!

  3. TNTT*

    I know I am guilty of feeling like the process needs to move MUCH more quickly as an applicant, but I’d be interested in a clarification of this (either from Alison or others in similar roles):

    “Hiring managers often juggle their hiring work on top of all their regular work, and it can become their lowest priority – whereas for candidates it’s often the top thing on their minds.”

    I guess I would have been under the impression that a hiring manager’s work IS hiring, reviewing candidates, responding to applicants, etc. In situations where I’ve applied to a position that specifies the recipient of my application information is a Hiring Manager or similar position, I’m always surprised when weeks or months go by with no action. Does anyone else have thoughts on this?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hiring manager doesn’t mean manager of hiring. It means the manager that you’ll be reporting to if you get the job. So if you’re applying for, say, a communications manager job, the hiring manager is probably the communications director. That person is focused mainly on communications work; hiring is an additional thing that gets put on their plate when a position on their team is open. Does that make more sense?

      1. MR*

        To piggyback off of this, when I have been a HM, I have found it a priority to hire and fill a position, so I have wanted to move quickly. Keeping a position(s) open just bogs things down even more, so I want to get that taken care of.

        As a result, I’ve always been curious as to why a lot more HMs have not made it more of a priority to get positions filled? As a HM, is it wrong of me to have the mindset of trying to get this problem taken care of ASAP so that it frees me up to take care of other things?

        1. Laura*

          This is very true! But my manager, who is HM for open positions on our team, manages something like 20 people using two team leads to handle a lot of it, and has to interact with people one layer below VP (and sometimes VP) all over the company. If something escalates or requires his time or whatever, it doesn’t matter how badly he wants that position filled – such-and-such VP needs him to spend four hours on a report that requires his knowledge and information (of who’s on first, what’s on second, and so on) Right Now. Or we have an escalated issue with all hands on deck.

          Or he’s done his part and HR is waiting on the background check, arguably the most tedious part of the whole ball of wax.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I totally agree — it should be a huge priority. In practice, though, if you have a bunch of urgent things, some people end up pushing hiring down on the list because it’s not bearing down on them with a deadline RIGHT NOW.

        3. Chinook*

          Having assisted Hiring Managers in their process, I can say that, even if they know they need a body ASAP, that doesn’t mean the paperwork is going to move any faster, time for the interview is going ot magically appear or that the people you want to be there in the interview are going to think it is as important as you do. I think that, the bigger the organization , the slower the hiring process. One job, I got an offer the day after I applied (and that included time for an interview and for them to talk). In my current job, I have seen them take 4 months to hire an engineer in training even though they need someone right now.

        4. Joey*

          Well, when someone important is asking you for something important its hard to say “that’s going to have to wait. Hiring someone takes priority over whatever it is you want.”

    2. EngineerGirl*

      The true hiring manager is the one you’ll be working for. So if you are an engineer then the hiring manager is the engineer’s boss. And most likely they are managing a now-behind project. So they are fighting fires while trying to bring in help. Sometimes the fire gets more attention than the request for help.

    3. Kimberley*

      I’m guilty of hiring from the side of my desk. Yes, filling a vacant position is a priority, but so are the other numerous tasks on my desk with a firm deadline. Other times I am waiting on someone else. I work in a unionized environment and certain rules must be followed. It’s not always as simple as we would all like.

  4. EngineerGirl*

    Or the job requirements might end up getting tweaked post-interview, and now you’re no longer as qualified as someone else

    Many times a good candidate will make the interviewers realize that the job they advertised for is not the one they need. A good candidate will raise questions about areas that need improvement in the organization. Then the employer goes “Oh no, we didn’t say anything about that in the job description!”
    And that is the mistake many people make with jobs. They think the job description is static and therefore they are a perfect fit. But with the right candidate the job is going to grow in a certain direction that is beneficial for the company. Candidates need to not only look at the description, but what it is going to be in the future. Do they have the skills to take it in that direction?

    1. Joey*

      That’s should be the exception though. It’s pretty hard for someone externally to know enough about your operations to be able to tell you what your priorities should be. Especially someone merely interviewing.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        I disagree a bit. I can look at a job opening, look at a company profile, read up on the company and then assess their big challenges. When you have the interview you ask questions and find out what the real challenges are. The answers you get back help to form where the company is going and if you can help.

        A new person can’t do that, but an experienced person most certainly can.

  5. De Minimis*

    Related to the interview going well…

    Having a good rapport and a good conversation with the interviewer doesn’t necessarily mean the interview “went well.”
    You can have a good conversation without successfully addressing the questions that needed to be answered in the interview. When that happens, it is mostly the fault of the interviewer, but candidates need to be aware of what they’re there to do. Just because it seems like you and the interviewer are clicking and would be good buddies socially doesn’t mean the interview is successful.

    1. John*

      Great point. I’ve had many candidates whom I have really enjoyed spending the half hour with but recognized pretty much off the bat they weren’t right for the position.

      That’s where an interviewee has to ask him or herself honestly, sure, the interviewer responded well to well, it seemed, but did it seem like they were responding best to our small talk or when I shared how my qualifications fit the role?

    2. Stephanie*

      This is very true. Some interviewers are naturally very good conversationalists and not great at sussing out substantial answers.

      I had an interview last month with the division’s Big Boss where she asked about a lot of pleasantries like how I liked my alma mater, where I grew up, how I liked living in a former city, etc. While I’m sure that stuff helped give me depth past being “Candidate #3”, it didn’t really help me sell how I could do the job. I tried to steer it toward more professional matters to no avail.

      1. De Minimis*

        When I was interviewing after school I fell prey to this…I had 4 interviews and only one went anywhere. The other three seemed like good conversations, but I didn’t get invited to a second round interview. Of course, I didn’t have enough knowledge about how to interview, and I think I was used to interviewing for lower level positions where it really was more about likeability and rapport.

        1. Stephanie*

          I totally agree. It didn’t help, either, that internship interviews definitely had a bigger focus on likeability and rapport since so many of the candidates had identical backgrounds and little experience. I learned the hard way that a good conversation doesn’t necessarily equal a good interview.

      2. Ruffingit*

        It’s amazing how some interviewers will treat an interview like coffee with a friend or worse like a therapy session wherein you listen to their troubles and complaints about various things. Weird.

        1. Stephanie*

          Luckily, I’ve never had the latter happen!

          It wasn’t until the most recent interview I realized that it wasn’t good to have my interview notes mostly consist of “Fall was her favorite season in DC, but spring was really nice too” and “We both grew up in the DFW area.” It’s definitely a delicate balance between striking a rapport and conveying excelling in the role (especially if you’re not a referred candidate).

          It’s also hard to re-steer the conversation, given the power differential in the interview setting. “Hi, can we talk about the role instead of my hobbies?”

  6. Stephanie*

    I’m totally guilty of #1. I reply to a posting like “This was written for me!” and then never hear back in some cases (occasionally, I do).

    On the flip side, I’m surprised at the jobs I do get calls for

    It’s a slight head scratcher until I remember how inaccurate or exaggerated the descriptions for past jobs were.

  7. Sunflower*

    #5 is very easy to get sucked into. Especially when you are on a cold streak or applying to everything and and finally get some responses. It’s probably the part of my search I struggle with the most.

    Actually I would rename this whole list ‘Things I know I shouldn’t think or do but I do anyway’

    1. Bryan*

      It took me reading dozens of times on here to not do these things to get them out of my head.

  8. Ali*

    I still fall for #1. I got rejected late last week for a position I felt capable of doing that was at a place I was really excited about working for. (I even wrote a paragraph saying why I wanted to work for them in my cover letter.) I didn’t even get interviewed, and I thought…I couldn’t believe my experience didn’t at least get me that much! Lately, with my non-success rate, I’m beginning to think I really do suck at selling myself. Heh.

  9. Sabrina*

    #2 Every time I’ve had an interview I thought went well, I haven’t gotten the job. I must be horrible at gauging these things.

    #7 I don’t even think my bachelor’s degree has made me more marketable


  10. Anonymous Educator*

    “I haven’t heard back yet, so I probably didn’t get the job.”
    Maybe, but unless months have gone by, there’s no reason to assume that yet.

    Funny you say this, because two of my last four jobs I got after not hearing from the employer for several months!

    One I applied to on a lark (at least on paper, I wasn’t anywhere near qualified for the job), so when my future employer called me months later for an interview, I was wondering to myself “What job is this again? Did I apply for this?”

    Another I got some phone interviews with right away, but then I didn’t hear from the employer again for months, and that’s when I got my references checked and got the job offer.

    I think in both situations (actually, I know for certain for the second one), my future employer found me intriguing, but on paper I just didn’t seem as impressive as some other candidates. It’s only after actually interviewing the other candidates, that they realized I was the best person to hire.

    I’m not saying people shouldn’t give up after months of hearing nothing. I’m just saying months of hearing nothing doesn’t mean you aren’t a serious contender or the person they eventually offer the job to!

  11. Joey*

    And the mother of them all:

    There can’t be anyone better for this job than me so of course I’ll be getting an offer.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      I don’t get that one at all. Maybe its my lack of self confidence, but I always think that someone way superior than me is interviewing for the position. And I’m always surprised to get a call back. And even more surprised when they tell me I blew the competition out of the water.

      Maybe that’s Dunning-Krueger for you. If you’re incompetent you are arrogant, and even medium competent you question yourself.

  12. Greg*

    I’d add one more that slightly dissents from something AAM mentioned in passing: “I need to write the perfect cover letter for every job I apply to.”

    Look, I fully support the idea that most people could improve their job prospects (and their life in general) by improving their writing skills. And there are certainly jobs where a well-written cover letter can land you an interview you might not otherwise have gotten. But if you find yourself trying too hard to write something interesting about your fit for a particular job, or if you find yourself waiting two weeks to apply because you’re not sure what to say, you might want to heed the words of James Thurber: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

    My experience as a hiring manager has been that 5% of cover letters help a candidate, 5% hurt, and the other 90% are inert. It’s not the worst thing in the world to be in that 90%, especially if it means your application is on top of the pile (or if it means you end up applying to a job you might have otherwise never got around to).

    Furthermore, if you’re counting on witty cover letters as your golden ticket to a job, that might mean you’re spending too much time on blind job applications (ie, jobs where you don’t have any connections). The best jobs are the ones where you don’t need to write a cover letter because someone refers you.

    Again, this is more a point of emphasis. I’m not anti-cover letter. I just think sometimes job seekers (and career advisors) tend to focus on them too much because it’s one of the things we can control. And we should all be aware that there is a cost to zeroing in on them to the exclusion of all else.

    1. Looking for new career*

      Thank you for chiming in. It’s good to hear different perspectives from different people who do hiring.

      And I’ll keep this in mind when I’m being overly perfectionist while writing a cover letter and/or taking too long to get it in!

  13. Marketing Chick*

    Oh, the dreaded #3 and #4! I just started job searching after 7 years of being out of the market, and am finding such a crazy variance in company timelines! Two jobs I heard back at 7am the morning after applying the night before and getting phone screen interviews, another company I forgot about and heard back several weeks later. I’m currently SEVEN interviews into one place in which I should ‘hear back’ this week on the final hiring stages, so it is definitely hard to keep up my weekly job applications if your heart is set on something.

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