5 ways to modernize your job search

If you’re still following job search advice from a decade or more ago, you might be inadvertently sabotaging your own chances of getting hired. And if you think you’re too young to be doing that, think again: It’s not just workers with decades of experience who fall into this trap – even 20somethings fall victim to it, because they’re relying on outdated job advice guides, parents who don’t realize that hiring conventions have changed, or college career centers that haven’t updated their knowledge for the way things work today.

Here are five ways to modernize your job search to compete in 2014.

1. Remove the objective from your resume. Yes, you may have learned years ago that every resume should start with an objective, but that advice has long been outdated. Resume objectives now make your resume look out-of-touch with modern conventions. What’s more, resume objectives are about what youwant, rather than about what the employer wants – and at the initial stage of the hiring process, employers are much more concerned with what skills and experience you can offer than with what your hopes and dreams are. Plus, most resume objectives sound stilted and generic anyway. It’s been a long time since a resume objective did a job candidate any favors.

After you remove the objective, replace it with a profile section – a few sentences or bullet points that highlight who are you are as a candidate and what sets you apart. Done well, these can serve as overall framing for your candidacy, explaining to employers the key facts you want them to know about you. In fact, profile sections have gained so much popularity that resumes without them are starting to look a little bare.

2. Don’t list jobs from two decades ago. Jobs that long ago are unlikely to strengthen your candidacy today, and they can date you and your experience. If you’ve had an impressive career over the last 15 years, why waste space talking about more junior roles you held well before that? Remember: A resume is a marketing document, not a comprehensive listing of everything you’ve ever done.

3. Remove “references available upon request.” Employers take it for granted that you’ll provide references when they ask for them, so there’s no need to announce it up front. This is a convention left over from another time. No employer is going to reject you for including it, but it takes up space better used for something else and, like an objective, makes your resume feel a bit dated.

34. Kill the salesiness in your approach. Job search advice used to center around tactics that today come across as uncomfortably aggressive to most employers. For instance:

  • Including a line in your cover letter that you’ll call in a week to schedule an interview. (You’re not the one who decides whether to schedule an interview; once you’ve expressed interest by applying, the ball in the employer’s court.)
  • Sending cookies or chocolate to the hiring manager, or other gimmicks designed to get your resume noticed. (You’ll come across as if you don’t understand professional boundaries, and as if you don’t think your qualifications stand on their own merit. Plus, fewer people these days accept food from strangers, so it’s likely your food gift will end up in the trash.)
  • Overnighting your resume to the hiring manager to make it stand out. Pick up any job search guide from a decade ago, and you’ll find this advice still in it. But these days, you’re more likely to look like someone who doesn’t follow directions – and worse, your materials might not be considered at all, because you didn’t enter them into the company’s electronic application system.

5. Don’t “pound the pavement.” You might hear from your parents or people who haven’t job searched in a long time that you should show up at the companies you want to work for and drop off your resume in person. But with the exception of a small handful of employers who specifically request this, this is no longer done and will come across as naïve and annoying to most employers. Instead, most job searches these days are done primarily online – looking at online listings, emailing resumes and cover letters, filling out electronic applications, and networking on sites like LinkedIn. Of course, you should still connect with your network in person, but the concept of “pounding the pavement” looking for a job has mostly died off.

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

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon Accountant*

    Especially please don’t show up at the place of business, submit a resume and insist on an interview on the spot. Or after this repeatedly call to schedule an interview.

    Our company will decide if we want to interview not the other way around. Please and thank you.

    My bosses are affiliated with other companies and if we can’t hire you but they know of an opening you’re qualified for they’ve forwarded resumes. Several people have been hired that way.

  2. Stephanie*

    #5 – Even retail and restaurants (more the corporate chains than the local shops) don’t want people to show up in person. Or if you do show up in person, you get directed to a computer terminal to fill out an application.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      Yes! Our small town Walmart even has just the computer kiosk to apply at and I don’t think there’s paper applications available anymore.

      Fast food chains have signs up “apply online” also. Paper applications are becoming a thing of the past.

      1. Zahra*

        My husband is a truck driver and he got his last few jobs by going to the company’s place of business to drop his résumé off. I think that lots of trades still use the “pound the pavement” techniques, but they would not be retail, restaurant or office jobs. This is compounded by the fact that these trades are mostly mom and pop-style companies.

    2. Felicia*

      I think with retail and restaurants, applying in person is still the right thing to do enough of the time, depending on the region, that it’s still wise to advise it. I know that pretty much all retail and restaurant places here want you to apply in person and it’s rarely even possible to apply online, much to the chagrin of my teen sister looking for a retail job. Even the big chain stores want you to apply in person and give you a paper application. I’ve never seen or heard of computer terminals in retail stores where you can apply for jobs before reading about those here, and I’ve applied to quite a few retail jobs about 6 months ago . I wish I had though! I hated walking in in person

      1. Kelly O*

        This is exactly the opposite of what my stepdaughter is finding. She’s 17 and looking for her first job. Nearly all the bigger chains tell her she has to apply online and they’ll call her; only the smaller “mom and pop” type of places actually have a paper application.

        (This is in Ohio, not Texas, just for reference.)

        1. MT*

          About 12 months ago, my nephew was job hunting, walked into McD, asked about a job. Was interviewed on the spot and had his hr paperwork handed to him before he left.

    3. Allison*

      The common response to that is “but I can’t get a job that way! my application will go into a black hole! I need to stand out somehow!”

      Honestly, I held a bunch of retail/service jobs throughout college, and I got each one through an online application. I’m sure luck and timing factored into it, and I’ll admit there were a lot of online applications that never got a response, but it is definitely possible to get a job through an online application.

      That said, if a bar, restaurant, or store is a small, independent business with one or two locations, they might not have an online application portal, and it might be beneficial to inquire within if you want to work there.

    4. Anx*

      Fast food chains are so much harder to get a job at for me than more upscale restaurants. One fast food chain hired me (tentatively) because they were opening a new location and had a job fair. Another emailed me one I lied on my personality test (don’t judge–I’ve been broke all summer).

      I’m training for a new restaurant because they did interviews after reviewing paper apps, and let you attach a cover letter. They accepted drop-offs.

      My last job accepted rolling applications by email. No online application, just a resume and cover letter.

      The town where I live though is economically depressed and has soo many chains. There are small businesses of course, but there’s no distinct districts in town to make it easy to know what’s out there if they don’t have an online presence.

      1. Nusy*

        No judgment passed. When I was looking for retail/fast food jobs before college, I noticed that multiple big national chains used the EXACT same “personality questionnaire” in their online applications, and that some answers were… more right than others. If you go through more than 5 of those in a row, you’ll probably start going “OK, what is it that they want to hear?” in your head.

    5. MT*

      I think entry level job, pounding the pavement isnt the worse idea. At work, when we have people apply for an hourly position, if they come in, we have them sit down at the terminal and fill out the application. Then we give them a mini 5-10 minute interview. If the interview goes well, we flag the application in the system. My newphew who is in college, walked into McD’s asked for a job, got an interview on the spot, started 4 days later.

  3. AndersonDarling*

    My situation was an exception to the rule. . . I dropped a resume off in person and got the job.

    I applied on line, but realized I typed the company name incorrectly. The company was an unusual acronym and I had an incorrect letter. I was mortified when I saw the error and drove a corrected copy over the next day. I didn’t ask to talk to anyone, I just dropped it off with the receptionist.

    Turns out that they were having such a hard time finding an administrative assistant that the receptionist was impressed I could simply dress professionally and speak well. She asked the HR rep to call me. I eventually got the job.

  4. JoJo*

    When I was job hunting in 1990, my father kept telling me to “knock on the factory gates”, and he refused to believe that was not a viable job hunting technique.

    When I was job hunting in 2012, the HR guy from my old company thought I should include obsolete skills such as Lotus 1-2-3 and Word Perfect on my resume to “show how I’ve learned new things”.
    The college career counselor insisted I put an objective on my resume.

    Where do these people come up with these things?

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I totally forgot about Lotus 1-2-3! I remember including that on my resume in the early 90s.

      My current HR director would be impressed if someone showed up unannounced with a resume. He’s been our HR person for 35 years and hasn’t stayed up to date AT ALL. I assume that is the issue with these other people.

    2. Felicia*

      I’ve never heard of Lotus 1-2-3. A quick google search indicates that it’s older than I am (I’m 24). Knowing how to use a 30 year old piece of technology is not a “new thing” and would make anyone seem out of touch.

      1. JoJo*

        I think he meant that I’d progressed from Lotus 1-2-3 to Excel, but I thought it just made me come across as old and out of touch, so I left it off.

        1. Felicia*

          There are probably millions of people who also progressed from Lotus 1-2-3 to Excel , so it wouldn’t even be notable progress. It’s kind of like saying you know how to send email – well so does everyone else!

          I’d say if you did that it would be the equivalent of putting you know how to use a type writer.

          1. JoJo*

            Actually, I do know how to use a typewriter, but it’s not something I’d put on a resume in the second decade of the twenty-first century. And he was a HR higher up at Oldjob. It boggles my mind.

    3. straws*

      I received a resume last year that specified proficiency in Windows 3.11 & 95. I wasn’t very impressed.

      1. LittleT*

        @straws: Good thing the resume didn’t mention any other oldies like Microsoft Bob, Apple Lisa, Encarta, DOS or the really high-tech Aquarius, with its ROM-cassette cartridge!

        I shouldn’t poke fun at these, but it’s obvious from those references that the person hasn’t had to do a resume for a really long time.

        1. Stephanie*

          Because I’m a trivia geek and an introverted kid, I was really good at that wizard/castle game that came with Encarta. Maybe I should list that as an accomplishment on my résumé.

          1. Anx*

            I wish I could afford an old computer just to play that, MYST, and WITWICS.

            So many people have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention the Encarta game (Mindmaze)!

            1. Stephanie*

              Mindmaze! That’s what it was called. The room with the old man was always creepy (to 10-year-old Stephanie at least).

            2. CA Anon*

              MYST is available for iPad now! They also redid it about 10 years back for PC, but I have no idea if that’s still compatible with current computers.

              1. Anx*

                That’s tempting. I couldn’t get an iPad but I know people with them. Only issue is that I kind of really like the outdated graphics. At the time they were really mesmerizing (it was the 90s and I was a kid)

                Thanks for the tip!

  5. Lily in NYC*

    Re: the advice not to list jobs from two decades ago on your resume. What if it was somewhere that makes me look really good and is a fantastic conversation starter? And I worked there for seven years, so it helps to show I’m not a job hopper. People really, really want to work there but it’s not easy to get hired, so I don’t want to leave it off my resume. I also got promoted twice in 5 years at that job, which is another reason I’d like to leave it.

    1. Dani X*

      Is that the only job you had? Because I would think the jobs you held in the last 13 years would be more of an indicator on whether you are a job hopper then the fact that 20 years ago you were at a job for 7 years. And if that was the last time you were promoted I would have to wonder why and not be wowed by the fact that it was twice in 5 years.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I’m an executive assistant who got promoted into a management position, so I do think that is something to mention. It’s not as common to get promoted as an admin. My main reason for wanting to keep it is because in every interview I’ve had, that one job seemed to get an incredible reaction from people – like: Oh Wow, you worked there??? Tell me about it. Every place I’ve worked has been well-known and well-respected, but this one is special.

        1. Career Counselorette*

          From my perspective, I think it depends on the rest of the resume. If it were a situation where you worked like 10+ years at one company and then only 1 or 2 years at the most recent one, and those are the only two experiences on your resume, then sure, that might be helpful. But if you have equally impressive and more current experience, plus (as mentioned) if you have been promoted in more recent roles, it’s probably better to focus on that and take off the older but more noteworthy job, as much of a conversation-starter as it is.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        It was 1993-2000. It was the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and I had a very interesting job there. It’s been amazingly helpful in job interviews to be able to talk about the time my actions directly led investigators to find a child who had been kidnapped by a stranger two days earlier. At every interview I’ve ever had, the interviewer wanted to discuss my job there after seeing it on my resume. People just tend to find it an interesting subject and want to hear more about it.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        I forgot to mention – Alison, I paid for you to look at my resume last year during one of your “specials” and you told me I needed to make it more clear that I got promoted twice while there. I’ve worked at most of my jobs for 5 years or more, so I really don’t have all that many places of employment on my resume. Maybe that’s why you didn’t suggest removing it?

          1. JM in England*

            Here in the UK, people tend to think you’ve something to hide if you don’t give a full employment history. In my own experience, I worked for some of the market leading companies in my field in the (relatively) distant past; therefore I wish to showcase that.

  6. pizzagrl*

    Re: #1 (objectives)…my mom suggested I speak with a cousin who has been a recruiter for many years about my job search. her first critique of my resume was that it needed an objective…it was very hard not to tune her out after that.

  7. Leah*

    Yeah. There are a few jobs where the pavement pounding works but you’ll know that if you’re in the field. My father-in-law is in such a field and also has 30+ years in a field where until a few years ago there was one school granting the required degree. Now there are two and together they grant around 15 degrees a year for students working in the US, Canada, and a few in the UK. About half of them use the degree for his position. He wrote a letter to someone who’d passed him over for an interview and wound up getting the job.

    I work in a huge field that I am new to and does not require the same specific degree and is packed with applicants. If I followed my father-in-law’s advice (much of it from a certain parachute book), I’d probably get put on some sort of blacklist if I didn’t drop from exhaustion first. He loves that parachute book and seems very bothered that I don’t.

  8. A.*

    Usually when a retail employer wants job seekers to apply in person, the job announcement or sign will explicitly say so.

  9. Nusy*

    And “work experience” classes, oh goodness.

    To earn my paralegal degree, I had to take a one-semester cooperative work experience class. We had to find our own jobs with no help from the college (and that’s how I nabbed the internship in prosecution!), then attend a weekly class telling us how to get an internship. Excerpts:

    * Your resume needs an objective
    * Your resume needs to list every single job you held in the past 10 years, including the 3-month stint at the burger joint, because “people skills”
    * Your resume absolutely must be printed on resume paper, never on plain copy paper. Resume paper should be off-white to cream colored, but never stark white or loud colors
    * Your cover letter should start something like “In response to your ad for Paralegal I with the Law Offices of Lannister, Tyrell, Stark, Targaryen & Baratheon in the July 29th Westeros Post, enclosed please find my current resume, reference list, and (2-5) writing samples.”
    * We talked about work ethics, dress code, etc. about 10-12 weeks into the semester (by then, most of those who had little knowledge of the dress code of a law firm had one or more write-ups for inappropriate attire, and all complained they could have used the info earlier)
    * We talked at length about how to get a set-term internship with a planned exit date, and mentioned in passing how to overcome that date and translate your position into a paid job. We never mentioned how to set out to find a job that pays from the get-go.

    The first kind commenter to spot every pitfall in our curriculum wins a lifetime supply of brownie points.

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