is your job search know-how wildly out of date?

If you ever advise friends or family members on their job search, are you sure that your advice is up to date? Job searching has changed significantly in the last 10 years, and a lot of traditional advice no longer matches up with how successful job searches work today. In fact, most job seekers have story upon aggravating story about the bad advice they have received from well-meaning friends and family who just wanted to help – but instead steered job seekers terribly wrong.

Here’s a quick checklist of some of the most commonly repeated pieces of bad advice out there. Take a look, and see if you spot any pointers that you need to remove from your repertoire before giving advice again – or whether you need to revise your strategies for your own job search.

1. “Employers will be impressed if you take the initiative to show up in person instead of just applying online.” Also known as “go out there, and pound the pavement,” this piece of advice has been around for a long time – and it’s wrong, wrong, wrong. In most fields, showing up to apply in person will mark you as unprofessional and out of touch. Most employers provide specific instructions about how they accept applications, and it’s nearly always limited to electronic submissions, often through a specific online application system they’ve set up. (Retail and food service continue to be exceptions to this; in-person applications are more common in those fields.)

2. “Call to follow up on your application, or you won’t look interested in the job.” Legions of job seekers have been taught that calling to follow up on applications is an essential part of the process. Maybe this worked at some point, but these days employers frown on follow-up calls. Persistent following up mainly shows that you don’t understand how the hiring process works and don’t respect the hiring manager’s time. Similarly …

3. “Say in your cover letter that you’ll call in a week to schedule an interview.” A whole generation of college graduates has been instructed by campus career centers to include this in their cover letters. Those career centers should talk more frequently with actual employers, because in reality it comes across as pushy and overbearing. Job seekers don’t get to decide to schedule an interview; once they’ve submitted an application, the ball is in the employer’s court to decide which of the strongest candidates they’d like to speak with.

4. “Go ahead and inflate your current salary. Everyone does it, and employers don’t really check.” Everyone does not do it, and employers do check. And when they do, the lie can torpedo a job offer that had been a sure thing, because lying in your application is a very big deal.

5. “The best jobs aren’t advertised, so you need to network your way into them.”Networking can be hugely helpful, but plenty of people get jobs by applying to publicly posted job ads. But the real reason this advice is problematic is because it leads people to do things like send their résumé to their neighbor’s sister’s friend and ask this total stranger to recommend them for a job at her company. (Unsurprisingly, the neighbor’s sister’s friend is usually disconcerted by being asked to vouch for a stranger, while the job seeker thinks he’s just doing what he’s supposed to do.)

6. “You need to find a way to stand out from the pack. Send the hiring manager chocolate, turn your résumé into an infographic, send a hard copy by overnight mail or otherwise deviate from the usual job application process.” It’s understandable that in a tough job market, people start wondering how they can stand out from the competition, but gimmicks like these make candidates stand out in a bad way. The boring reality is that the way job seekers stand out is by being highly qualified for the job, writing a great cover letter, having a résumé that shows evidence that they’d excel at the duties of the job and being warm, responsive and enthusiastic. Trying to circumvent those basics usually just comes across as naive, hokey or overly aggressive.

So, how many of these pieces of bad advice are you guilty of giving to friends or family in the past – or of following yourself?

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

{ 146 comments… read them below }

  1. Spooky

    1) Actually, I don’t think food and retail are still exceptions to this. The last time I was looking for a part-time job, probably about seven years ago, I was applying to a lot of those types of places. I went up to an employee behind the register and said I wanted to apply for a job there. He looked at me, dumbfounded, and said, “okay, so….why are you here?” All the applications for every single place I applied to that summer were online, and the stores didn’t let their employees handle any in-person apps or keep resumes.

    1. VintageLydia USA

      Agreed. By the time I left my last retail job in 2009 almost no one but fast food places did in-person application, and I don’t think that’s true of fast food anymore either. Some stores will have a computer terminal specifically for job applicants (I know Target does, anyway, or used to) which is a great since not everyone has internet access and the applications are so stupidly long that they might not be able to be done at a library (all the libraries I’ve been to limit their access to the computers by time.)

      1. The Bimmer Guy

        The McDonalds in my area has a computer terminal just for job applicants…something I wouldn’t know if I didn’t have an unshakeable addiction to those darned Chicken McNuggets….

    2. Kyrielle

      I think #1 can be boiled down “apply how they want you to apply”. I still see some food service/retail places with signs up that say “apply within” – in which case, yes, go in and ask to apply! They expect it. If there’s no such sign, either they have no openings, or they’re expecting you to find them and apply via another method – probably online.

      1. Anna

        Yes to this. Also places like auto body shops are not going to necessarily have online applications, so going in is going to be your best bet.

    3. Allison

      I think a lot of independent, “Mom and Pop” places still accept resumes in person, but you’re right, more and more corporate chain stores and restaurants collect applications online. When I worked at Borders one summer, we got a lot of people coming in looking to apply, and I had to tell them they needed to apply online because we didn’t have paper applications to fill out. I hated being the one to tell people that.

      1. Melissa

        Yeah, definitely mom & pop one-location type places still often do their hiring on paper and in person. But applying at any kind of regional or national chain is almost certainly going to involve an online app system.

        1. De Minimis

          I got hired at Borders only a few months before they got rid of paper applications and started doing everything online.

    4. themmases

      Yeah, I’m not sure it’s the norm anymore either. It definitely isn’t for chains. As other commenters noted, if you can apply in person at these stores it’s because the stores have set up computers in the store for applicants to use.

      As an applicant I liked this change. I was applying for my last retail or barista-type jobs in the last few years before smart phones were widespread, and as an adolescent/young adult who was moderately organized at best it was hard to walk into a random store with every piece of personal and reference information they might want. Often the store didn’t really need all the information, they were just working with a form they bought.

      Also, I did get my first retail job by following up– because it was a paper form, and they had lost it. As long as stores that do a lot of hiring can provide a place to apply, I think electronic applications are an improvement.

    5. Retail Lifer

      We still did the paper application thing up until last year, but we were definitely in the minority. We don’t have paper applications at all anymore, but some stores still have them and candidates can apply either way.

    6. Elizabeth West

      They sometimes do, if they send field representatives out to job fairs or career centers. When I had to show up for a review of my job-hunting records for UI, the career center here had a rep from Five Guys onsite. I filled out a paper application.

    7. Ad Astra

      It’s still more common in food and retail than anywhere else, but I’d recommend job hunters check online before showing up in person only to be directed to the website. Especially if it’s a large national chain.

    8. Felicia

      I think it depends where you live. Here the vast majority of food/retail places require you to apply in person.

    1. ZSD

      Well, informational interviews are real, and are wonderful things to do. You just can’t use them to ask for a job.

      1. PlainJane

        Agreed. I’ve recommended informational interviews to people exploring new career areas or who have relocated to a city where they have no professional network. But the key is, as ZSD points out, not to ask for a job but to ask for, well, information. It’s reasonable to ask if the person knows of anyone else you should speak with, but it isn’t a back door to an employment interview.

        1. Clever Name

          Yep. I’ve given informational interviews to a handful of people. Try to at least have done a bit of research yourself first so you can ask at least one or two specific questions. It’s really hard for me to give guidance to someone who knows absolutely nothing about my field. I’ve spent way more time than I wanted trying to tease information out of people who probably really just wanted me to say, “I can tell how awesome you are just from writing me this email, so why don’t you come in for an interview?!?” At least they knew not to directly ask for a job.

  2. Amber Rose

    I was always told by my mom, quantity first: if I wasn’t applying to 100 jobs a week, I wasn’t trying hard enough.

    I had a lot of guilt for years over that advice. I tried, but there weren’t 100 jobs I wanted or was qualified for. And my cover letters/resumes were painfully vague, because who has time to customize that many in a week?

    Though I think that advice was sonewhat valid when I was job hunting at 13. I pretty much guarantee that fast food and theaters hire on a first come first serve basis and never read the applications.

    1. Spooky

      I’ll admit that I did this and it worked for me. I moved across the country to NYC last summer with nothing lined up, and I didn’t let myself go to bed at night until I had applied for at least 10 jobs. I ended up with multiple offers and had an offer (for far more money than I’d have dared hope for!) in 22 days. But I was still at the beginning of my career, so I was applying in several different fields. I doubt it would be successful further down the line as you get more specialized.

      1. Kelly L.

        Yeah, I think you’d have to be both in a large city and open to a variety of jobs for it to work. When I was job searching a few years ago, for example, I was searching for something pretty specific, and there were maybe 20 jobs like that in my area (though a few more opened up during my search–this was several months, so it was a rolling pool of jobs). I did apply for some stuff that wasn’t quite right, but still, I never could have filled the days that way. (And I don’t think I could stand more than about 2 Taleo apps in one day anyway!)

        1. Spooky

          Exactly. I think it’s only good advice if it’s an emergency situation, and you’re looking for any job at all. It doesn’t work if you want a GOOD job in a specific field.

        2. over educated and underemployed

          Right now I’m trying to apply for 3 jobs a week and writing each cover letter from scratch…I’m employed .8 FTE currently, but if I had no other job I still don’t think I’d be able to do 10 a day! Wow. I can rarely even find 10 a week that are in the realm of what I’m looking for, and I’m being as broad about “transferable skills” as possibl.

        3. Melissa

          Yeah, customizing a cover letter (which involves researching the company a bit), customizing the resume, and then filling out painfully long and often redundant Taleo-style applicant trackers is a draining process. I’m actively job searching and there’s only so many of those I can take in a day.

    2. Allison

      I had a friend give me similar advice: get a bunch of copies of your resume, go out and give them to every company that exists! Apply to every single job, even the ones you’re not qualified for, because “you never know.”

      1. Charby

        It’s funny how many people do this, and wonder why companies don’t take the time to provide feedback to every applicant. The more automatic the process becomes (for both the applicant and the employer) the less thought and individual attention you can really expect.

    3. Anonymous Educator

      100 per week is a bit excessive. I’d say try 1-3 jobs per day (depending on how urgent your search is). More importantly, I’d say just apply outside of your comfort zone. Not every job you apply to has to sound like your dream job, and you don’t have to be 100% qualified for every job you apply to.

      1. Amber Rose

        I don’t have a comfort zone or a dream job. So that’s never been an issue. But even if I don’t have to be 100% qualified, I can’t ignore stuff like “must know Java” or “must have X certification “. Well, I CAN, but I’d just be wasting everyone’s time.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          I’d actually say unless knowing Java is 50-90% of the job, and you know zero Java, you may want to apply anyway. Most of the jobs I’ve gotten (particularly related to tech) I’ve not officially met the minimum requirements for. I’d say it’s more important that you have a sense that you could do the job.

          1. KH

            Totally agree. I got hired as a technical project manager. I’m not that technical anymore, and I’d never been a project manager. But they gave me the job anyway because I guess I was better than the other candidates.

      2. Elizabeth West

        The UI people want you to apply to a minimum of three a week (at least in my state). I sometimes had trouble finding three I could apply to because if they offered, I was expected to take it–and I’ve already mentioned my math limitation. It would have done me no good at all to get a job I couldn’t actually do and lose my unemployment benefits.

        1. Ad Astra

          My state was only 2 in a week, but I still had the same problem. The first job listing I saw that actually sounded like a good fit turned out to be the job I’m working now. Before that, it was jobs that were tangentially related to my skill set (in a good week) and jobs I was so unqualified for that I knew they’d never bother to call me (in a bad week).

        2. Anx

          I think you’ve touched on something very important here.

          So often I hear people talk about how UI makes people complacent, lazy, or spoiled. I’ve definitely scaled back my search while on UI, not because I didn’t want to work, but because I was terrified of applying for obvious bad-fits and losing my UI (which I might not qualify for again) and having to explain another 1 week stint on my application (since you can’t just well forget about mismatches these days when online apps mandate you list your full history).

          So I think there IS a little bit of a disincentive to get people into work, but in an economy where full-employment doesn’t exist, I think it’s much more efficient to let people be a little choosy and think long-term.

          1. Elizabeth West

            Exactly. And believe me, if the comment section on this blog and the long lines at job fairs are any indication, most people would far rather work than be stuck on some finite government aid. However, it’s not worth taking a job that pays so little you would have to apply for more government aid (like food stamps) so you can actually fricking eat.

        3. De Minimis

          My state requires two applications per week, thankfully that isn’t a problem for me here since there are quite a few jobs and I don’t even have to “settle” for things that might not be the best for me.

          The last time I was on UI I lived someplace with a horrible job market, and that was tough. I kept applying for out of state federal jobs that I knew I had little chance at, since many times there wasn’t anything available locally.

      3. JM in England

        100 jobs per week is now considered the minimum in the UK if you want to keep your Jobseeker’s Allowance! :-)

        1. Anx

          I’m not very familiar with the UK and its economics, politics, and culture, but wouldn’t big business be just as annoyed with this mandate as jobseekers?

          (Of course there are more important reasons why this is unreasonable, like the increased mortality rates)

          1. UK Nerd

            UK hiring managers are becoming quite adept at identifying which applications come from someone who actually wants the job and which come from someone who’s quota filling.

            It’s a waste of everybody’s time, but failing to meet your assigned quota means you can be sanctioned, thus saving the government money.

            (I’m not a fan of the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.)

        2. jules

          This is terrible. No one can write so many applications in a week, at least not decent, thought through one that have a chance of succeeding. I’d say this is more likely to make people miss out on jobs they could have had, instead of actually helping anyone at all…

          This feels like the kind of quota made up by someone who last searched for a job decades ago… or someone with no common sense whatsoever.

          1. UK Nerd

            It’s designed to make people miss their targets so they can be sanctioned.

            100 jobs a week is hyperbole, but unreasonable requirements are not.

            1. JM in England

              The “100” was meant in a tongue-in-cheek context to illustrate the unreasonable demands made by the DWP

      4. Anna

        It also depending on how specialized your search is. When I was looking there were days I applied for three or four a day and other days when nothing new was posted so I didn’t apply for any. I live in a mid-sized market, but my search was specific enough that I might find something or I might not.

        1. T3k

          My field isn’t very specialized and I still have a hard time finding a new job posting everyday in my area (and I live in a pretty major area between 3 cities). The main issue, for myself at least, is that my field has been diluted by some sites that offer the same services for pitiful amounts. One interview I went to for a pretty big company actually admitted to using one such site for awhile until they realized they needed an in-house person for their growing needs.

      5. Dovahkiin

        1 day is exactly the speed/quantity I aimed for when I was searching for mid-level jobs in tech. Both times, it worked out really well, I got a few interviews, and got to make my choice between offers, and the entire process from “I’m going to get serious about looking for a new job. I will search after work.” to “OMG I LOVE THEM I’M GOING TO ACCEPT. YAY LET’S GET DRINKS EVERYONE!” took 4-8 weeks. That said, I live in a city (Denver), in a growing industry (there’s been a lil tech boom here in the past 5 years), and both times I was employed when I was looking, which helps a whole lot.

    4. T

      I always argue with my male friends about this strategy with online dating. They say you need to ignore profile content and just send a generic email to anyone remotely attractive. If they write back, then you look at their profile and decide to respond or ignore. They think nothing of sending 50 emails in a single evening. On the flipside, I think you should actually take the time to read profiles and only message the few that stand out to you.

      Who is right? Well, from what I can tell, we are about equally “successful” based on each getting the same amount of replies. I might send 4 emails while they send 50 but we each might average 2 replies. And it probably takes about the same amount of time to research profiles and send 3-4 thoughtful emails vs. simply looking for cute pics and sending a form letter. But I guess I would argue that my method is more personally satisfying for me and doesn’t waste other people’s time. Plus, while I am not “burdened” with a full inbox, I would assume getting a lot of messages makes it very easy to weed out the form letters.

    5. Stranger than fiction

      Yeah I think that advice is well intended in a ‘flood the zone” kind of way, but it should be more like apply to as many as you can and don’t hold out for only the perfect sounding ones. But holy crap, I’m pretty sure there’s not 100 jobs a week posted that the average job candidate would qualify for.

    6. Clever Name

      Yeah, in my most recent job search I probably applied to less than twenty jobs over a 1.5 year period total. I know that sounds insanely low, but I have specific skills, and I was really picky about the job I wanted (rare travel, in a field where constant region-wide travel is the norm for some positions). I got 5 interviews before I had an offer.

    7. Muffin Button

      Now that I am employed, when i decide to switch companies I typically apply to 1 job a week. If there was an impending layoff I would probably up that to 2 applications a week.

      When it comes to job applications I very much take the quality over quantity approach. I tailor each resume and cover letter to the specific job, highlighting what skills I’ve learned in my past positions that relate to the new position. Over the past year my interview rate has been 75%. And the one job I did not interview for was a position I applied to quickly … so yeah high quality research and tailoring. I may research a position for 1 or 2 hours before deciding not to even apply.

    8. Theo

      >I was always told by my mom, quantity first: if I wasn’t applying to 100 jobs a week, I wasn’t trying hard enough.

      omg same.

      and then i found out resume bomb looks equally bad.

  3. Gene

    I have no doubt my job search skills are out of date as I haven’t done any since 1990. Now, the only advice I give is to read the AAM archives.

    1. Anony-Moose

      I called my mom to ask her what she thought about getting my little sister (22 and working through college) Alison’s resume review.

      My mom’s response? “Well, I helped her on her resume so I think it’s really good.”

      Cool, except…you’ve run your own business for the last 25 years and have like, two employees. So you’re a liiiiiiittle out of touch.

  4. Stephanie

    #5: Most of the jobs and interviews I’ve gotten have been by applying online. Not to say networking can’t help, however. I think people really push this advice since it gives an illusion of control over a process that has a fair amount of chance.

    1. themmases

      I have gotten jobs through my network before but they were things that just fell in my lap; I had no control over them except the general control you can exercise over your reputation long before you need it. It didn’t save me from having a painful job search process at other times when no one I knew had a job for which they immediately thought of me.

      The jobs I’ve gotten this way were serendipity, like gift giving. I was looking and a family friend needed something done that I would be good at. Or I wasn’t looking, but had some free time and my boss’s friend was hiring. Just like some years something with my partner’s name on it appears to me in a store the month before his birthday. It doesn’t mean that store is now a go-to, and it doesn’t mean I won’t have to laboriously Google all his favorite authors other years.

      1. Kelly L.

        Yep. I got one job because the person doing the hiring knew a friend of mine, and had vented to my friend about needing to hire but dreading all the procedure involved, and so I ended up hearing about it before it was officially posted and had a good word put in for me too. But any advice I would extrapolate would have to be “join obscure religious groups and also maybe write fanfiction,” because that’s how she and I knew each other–we hadn’t met through anything worky at all. It was completely random. And completely random good luck happens, but it’s hard to engineer.

    2. Serin

      I got my current job by applying online in the conventional way — but I knew about my current job (i.e. I knew which of the 150 incomprehensibly titled openings at my current employer were things that would actually use my skills) via networking.

      Networking also told me how hard I could push when it came time to negotiate salary.

      So you probably need both.

    3. Ad Astra

      The best thing about being laid off was the ability to publicly ask my network to help me find a job. I got a lot of great recommendations when I was open to relocating wherever. Once my husband found a new job and our location was set, my leads dried up. My connections even got me a lunch with a high-ranking editor at a local publication, but when it came down to it they didn’t have any appropriate jobs open.

      So, in the end, I got my job by applying online with zero connection to the company.

    4. T3k

      I’ve had half and half results. First internship I got by reaching out and asking, second internship got through connections, first out of college job got by applying to a post in my school major’s facebook group, and second job got through a friend. So based on my pattern, my next job will be through applying.

    5. De Minimis

      I’ve actually never gotten a job through networking. It’s always been an online application to places where I knew no one at all. And yes, this includes federal government jobs!

  5. Artemesia

    A week ago we had dinner with my husband’s former law partner who still practices and he told us the story of the new associate he hired at the firm because he had ‘gumption’ and just contacted him directly and talked him into a job. It was all I could do to nod pleasantly and not say a word. I have seen the exception to the rule.

    1. EditorWriter

      How long before your husband’s former law partner realizes the new associate is all talk and no action? I was in a similar position (someone showed up and handed their resume to the front desk) and my manager would not stop gushing about this “go-getter.” Yet once he was on board, he spent all his time socializing instead of being a “go-getter.”

      1. Charby

        Some people who do that actually are competent. The risk with using gimmicks in hiring is that you’re leaving it up to Fate to decide if the person who walked into your office and demanded a job is brash but capable or a clueless boor. Since you’re not taking the time to actually evaluate them holistically before hiring them, it’s up to sheer chance if it works out or not. The thing about chance is that it sometimes it does work out, which reinforces the person’s belief — it’s kind of like if you bought a lottery ticket and won $500 and started telling everyone you know about your investment prowess.

        1. Three Thousand

          it’s kind of like if you bought a lottery ticket and won $500 and started telling everyone you know about your investment prowess.

          Genius.

          I like “gumption” stories because I personally have zero gumption, and I can see the temptation of hiring someone who stands out as especially brash, particularly if you don’t have a lot of experience hiring and don’t have much knowledge of what such people are likely to be like as employees. If you don’t feel like going through a lot of what seem like interchangeable resumes for a job that doesn’t require a lot of specialization, and if the guy with gumption seems like he’ll do as well as anyone else, why not just save yourself some time and hire him? In your eyes, he’s just made your job easier.

  6. Cubiclees

    Guilty of doing #4 (inflating salary) a couple of times in the past when I felt wasn’t at a range that justified my work.

    I haven’t done it in a couple of years/jobs though, and I don’t think I’d do it again because the line between “not making enough” and “making enough to make me feel like a fraud” is very thin, it seems.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      I’ve never inflated my base, but admittedly I’ve inflated my bonus amount and got away with it. Wouldn’t do it now though. At the time I was coming from a job that I’d taken a significant reduction in pay for and was desperately trying to get back up to the level I had been at the job before that one, or at least closer to it .

  7. Growing Pains

    Has anyone ever here ever used these tactics successfully? I’d like to hear!

    When I was fresh out of college, I must have done half of this list and I still physically cringe thinking about it. It sounded like good advice to my inexperienced ears.

    1. Retail Lifer

      Calling to follow up on a job application can work when it’s a low-level job that gets tons of applicants. It’s easier for the hiring manager who, in this case, might have 100 essentially equal applicants for one entry-level part-time $8 an hour job.

    2. SaraV

      Well, this is for a completely different type of field, and over 20 years ago, but…

      There was the infamous story of an alumnus of our college wanted a job at a record company after working about two years with a radio network. The company was doing only in-person interviews, and there was no way for him to make it. (Several states away, job duties at current job, etc.) So, he audio taped himself answering typical interview questions, and then sent that tape and a 5×7 framed picture of himself. He got the job, and is currently the manager of Big Time Christian Recording Artist.

    3. Meg Murry

      I have experience with #5 – I have gotten multiple different jobs through my network or through the right connection at the right time. For 2 of them, I applied for Job A which wasn’t necessarily the best use of my skills but I needed a job (applying for jobs that required no degree and minimal experience, while I had both), but in reviewing my resume, HR called and said “I know you applied for Job A, but we are actually considering hiring someone for Job B (which requires a degree and experinece) although we haven’t posted it yet, would you be interested in interviewing for Job B?”

      For the other 2, the company was only recruiting through word of mouth/email with their current employees, asking the employees to send resumes for people in their network currently working in the field that might be interested in moving to their company. People I had previously worked with said “Hey, I know you aren’t so happy at ABC Corp, would you like to send your resume so I can submit you for new positions opening up at XYZ Corp?”

      However, that doesn’t mean these companies only hired through these roundabout channels – they also hired plenty of employees through traditional means like job fairs and on campus recruiting (for entry level people fresh out of college and summer internships) and through postings in places like Indeed, Monster and their own careers website- but the direct referral route generally yielded a much higher ratio of qualified applicants to overall resumes submitted than Indeed, Monster, etc did.

      I agree with Alison’s advice though that you aren’t going to network your way in through vague friend of a neighbor of a sister connections – but you should use networking to your advantage in ways like joining alumni groups and going to industry seminars, because that will probably give you higher quality leads than what you find out on Monster, etc.

      1. Meg Murry

        Oh, and I will also admit to filling in the line on applications where it asked for salary with my total annual salary plus bonus – I was at a job that paid a high portion of the compensation in bonuses, and I wasn’t willing to move on for anything less than that total. I did write “including bonus” next to the number on the line though, so I wouldn’t count it as lying.

        1. CrazyCatLady

          I wouldn’t consider that lying either way. It’s still your total compensation and if it comes up in an interview, you could easily explain it.

  8. Not an IT Guy

    #2 – I always hated this piece of advice when it was golden and I’m glad to see that the reason I was against it is the reason why it’s not good to do so nowadays. I always felt like I was bothering employers back in the day by following up (and making me feel like I was getting off on the wrong foot), but it was the norm so you had to do it.

  9. Development professional

    I’d love to also add starting your cover letter with “I am your next Job Title.” I got one like that recently, and it just seriously made me cringe.

  10. Cruciatus

    Unfortunately there are some people for whom this advice just won’t matter. I told the story probably a year or so ago about talking with a coworker who thought Alison’s advice not to do some of these things was terrible–especially about not calling to follow up or going in person. I think I was eventually able to get him to agree that it might be job specific. He’s a librarian (though only in his first position in a teeny, tiny medical library) and seems to think this is the only way it works. I’m not a librarian so maybe it is…

    Out of the 4 jobs I’ve had, I applied to them all through online postings and didn’t have any network that helped me get the jobs. Sometimes I thought I’d never get a job or a new job, but with time it eventually worked out. It took the right hiring people at the right time.

    I will admit to following the advice to write that I would “call to schedule an interview in 2 weeks.” Only I never did. I think eventually it morphed into “I will follow up in two weeks” (I never did) into finally just tossing that totally and saying “I look forward to hearing from you!” So I did make progress. I never liked the line in the first place because it did feel so pushy. I was glad to read here when I finally discovered this site (about 3 years ago this time!) that it was a crap thing to write.

    1. ModernHypatia

      Decidedly not true for libraries as a field.

      (I’ve had it happen there, too. And I sort of want to take people and go “Look, public facing position. Chances I’m at my desk, not that high. Chances I’m helping a patron, pretty good. If you don’t understand there are half a dozen things I’m not doing when you call to ask about your application, I’m not sure you’re a good fit for this job.”)

      An email, maybe, if someone’s not sure if their application went in correctly. But follow-up calls always make me feel like vendors for school libraries who called at 8am, and then were surprised when you didn’t pick up the phone because you were busy doing start of school tasks (attendance, setting up for the day, whatever.)

  11. Elizabeth West

    About the never lie about your salary, I would not lie about ANYTHING on your resume. I’ve said this before, but someone once told me to fudge mine. She said everyone she knows does it, and then they get hired and learn on the job. This is the same person who told me she hired a creative person and then had to fire her because the person misrepresented herself! It’s like there was NO connection in her mind between the two things.

    1. Sascha

      My dad keeps insisting I need to put “speaks Spanish” on my resume because I studied it in college – ten years ago, barely got above basic conversation skills, and have pretty much completely forgotten it. No thanks.

      1. Kelly L.

        Yup. My mom has said this. I’m basically qualified to order in a restaurant and find the bathroom, Mom.

  12. AnonyMiss

    I’d also add resume paper. Seriously, if you’re a fresh grad, don’t shell out $15(!!!) for a box of 8-12 sheets of “resume paper” – nobody will really care. You’re seriously better off putting that $15 towards your interview suit fund (or getting said suit tailored), or just on going to Starbucks before your interview and collecting yourself before heading in.

    Marginally related, but I can’t keep this in until the open threat… College career centers. Good grief. On my junior college’s campus (I’m still waiting on transferring to a 4-year), I just saw the signs and flyers for the fall “Career Expo and Job Fair.” This is normally an on-campus interviewing event with professional dress expectations and employers ranging from the legit (local businesses, some corporations) to the not-really-interview-dependent (Army, Navy) to the downright hokey (Vector Marketing aka Cutco Knives). This semester, the career center felt the best advertising angle is… a carnival.

    So they have signs with clowns and circus tents and carnival ticket rolls, and even balloon animals flying above the posters. I kind of want to take the day off from my job, and go dressed as a clown, or maybe as a showgirl (complete with feather headdress), and be genuinely surprised when someone calls me out on it, and point them to the sign.

    1. Ad Astra

      I graduated in 2010 and definitely shelled out at least $10 for fancy paper. Off-white, so I could stand out! (Cringe.) I don’t think I used even half the package because nobody ever wanted a print copy of my resume, with the exception of companies that came to interview people on campus. I was a journalism major and it was 2009/2010, so that was a very small number of companies.

      I must not have been the only one who got that advice, though, because Target was always out of resume paper the night before a big job fair.

    2. College Career Counselor

      While I’m sorry to hear about the advertising angle, on some level I understand it. They’re trying to capture student attention. Unfortunately, capturing that attention is not necessarily going to translate into student participation in the career fair. And your reaction shows that their methods are actually off-putting!

    3. Elizabeth West

      open threat, hahaha

      I have a box of that paper, with matching envelopes. But I’m a pack rat and I’ve had it a LONG time. Now I use it for crafty things. That’s all it’s good for!

  13. YourOwnPersonalCheeses

    A little while ago I was looking through the 2012 edition of What Colour is Your Parachute (which is considered pretty much a job-search bible), and some of the advice is actually stuff on this list. I remember it mentioned showing up in person and asking if anything is available, and also how applying online is very ineffective and networking is much better. Here’s hoping the 2015 edition is more up-to-date! (Does anyone know?)

    1. College Career Counselor

      What Color Is Your Parachute was (last time I looked) very much unchanged from the previous several iterations (a new edition comes out every year). Dick Bolles is not 100 (he’s only 88), and my understanding is that he based what became the WCIYP industry on conversations he had with dissatisfied clergy. There is kind of a spiritual tone to some of the stuff in the book, which some may like and which others may find off-putting. I suspect that the book may actually hold some practical value (I’m thinking of the some of the exercises), but not particularly for the traditional college set, which as a group may not have enough perspective or self-awareness to do them effectively. It’s hard to ask what you prefer in a working environment if you’ve not really been in one.

      1. YourOwnPersonalCheeses

        Yeah, the exercises seem like they could be useful (especially if you already have some life/work experience and some idea of what you like and don’t like), but the advice about which job-hunt methods are most likely to yield results is very different from the advice on this site.

        1. Liza

          Agreed. I remember reading it several years ago and I liked the parts about figuring out what you really want to do with your life. (Even if I typed “file” instead of “life,” first try there. What do you want to do with YOUR file?)

  14. Xarcady

    As recently as 2014, the unemployment office in my state was encouraging people to do #2: Call to follow up on your application. And #3: State in your cover letter that you will call in a week to set up an interview.

    And they also told people the way 90% of people found jobs was networking. I think that was to encourage people to show up at the events they sponsored.

    Along with telling me to remove all dates from my resume because I was over 40, and making me create a resume using a format I have never seen before or since, well, let’s just say I went to the workshops because they were mandatory, not because I was getting much out of them.

    1. Retail Lifer

      I was told a few years ago (in my mid-30’s at the time) to take my graduation dates off my resume because it made me look too old.

    2. Sascha

      The “no dates” or functional resumes drive me bonkers. One of my friends applied for a position in my department and submitted a no-date functional resume, and not only did the hiring manager think it was weird (and had a lot of back and forth trying to get in touch with him to supply the dates), it got passed around the department and laughed at. Dates are important!!!

      1. Stranger than fiction

        Ugh a good friend of mine refuses to change her functional resume. And guess who just got a job by her husband “networking” on her behalf at the local playground?

      2. Anx

        I have been trying to get my aunt to consider a chronological resume. She’s been trying to break into a field (related to her former field) for about 10 years with no luck and is in her early to mid 60s.

        What should you do if you are in your 60s with a long gap and don’t want to annoy people with a functional? Do you think it’s really fine to just go with the regular chronological format?

    3. NickelandDime

      The networking advice is really bad. Honestly – even if you know someone at a company, you really can’t circumvent their application process. They can put in a good word for you, but even that doesn’t guarantee an interview. I applied to a position, asked a friend about the position and the department, and I honestly know he put in a good word for me. Nothing. I don’t blame him for that. The networking advice just puts unnecessary pressure on people.

      1. Sascha

        The same thing happened with a friend I was helping out – HR killed his application because he had an Associate’s degree, and not a Bachelor’s degree (even though the position allowed for “equivalent experience” in place of a Bachelor’s, which he had). I tried really hard to get him past HR because I knew he’d be a good fit and qualified for the job, but they were sticklers on that degree.

          1. College Career Counselor

            I’ll bet that if the applicant pool had NOT had a bunch of BA holding candidates, they would have considered “equivalent experience.” But, in the absence of actively keeping ALL the requirements in play, it was simply too easy to use “BA holder” as a sorting mechanism to cull the applicant herd.

        1. Elizabeth West

          Same thing happened at Exjob. We had someone apply who had no HS diploma or GED. The person was a referral and had a ton of relevant experience and was highly recommended by the referring party, who was also well-liked. Nope.

          If we hadn’t been bought out and were still a small local company with no huge looming HR department, I’m willing to bet she might have been hired anyway while she pursued that GED. As far as I know, having it is not a legal requirement.

      2. Worn Heels

        Well, they always leave out the important part — you have to know somebody *important*. The reason they leave this off is because if you already knew someone important, you wouldn’t need networking advice books. :-)

        Besides, if you don’t, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to network your way into those connections, any more than the guy with a job as a waiter at a city club can network their way into a job at a white-shoe law firm. You can’t just know somebody important, sadly — in a lot of those circles you have to “have always known” them to get them to help you, by having gone to school together or by your families being friends.

    4. JoJo

      I went to one of those workshops where I was told to put ‘buzzwords’ into the margins and white out the font. Apparently this will ‘fool’ the computer software into putting my resume at the top.

  15. The Bimmer Guy

    I’m starting to see ads on Facebook for a certain resume-building website that feature pictures of complicated-looking resumes full of graphs and icons and colors, and it’s disturbing to see that so many people on Facebook commented, “This is so cool”…and then proceeded to tag friends that were actively job searching and suggest that they use such resumes. A hiring manager may have 100 candidates for a single job posting. Why should she devote extra time to going through the rigmarole of deciphering your complicated, cluttered, graph-based resume when she has 99 other candidates whose resumes are far easier to read and understand?

    That’s just “standing out” for all the wrong reasons.

  16. Elysian

    #5 – I so hope this is true. People keep telling me, and I just… I am not a networker. Please just accept my resume and cover letter, and judge me on my skills and not who I know. Like, if I know someone well enough I’ll talk to them, but networking for networking’s sake just kills me inside.

    1. Weekday Warrior

      This list of networking tips has a bit of a ‘bro” vocabulary but is very motivating for those of us who dislike “networking” in a forced way. As the article says – ” just be a sociable engaged individual” – we can all aim for that!

    2. YourOwnPersonalCheeses

      I hope so too! The whole idea of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has always kind of bummed me out. As a kid/teenager, I assumed that I would have to “schmooze” to get hired. :( So glad to know it doesn’t have to be that way!

    3. Lily Rowan

      I agree that networking for networking’s sake is the worst, but building up your group of contacts in your field can be really valuable! And you can get good information in roundabout ways — I had moved back to my hometown and was looking for a job. I had seen a posting, but figured the position was more junior than what I was looking for, so hadn’t applied, but my mother had a friend who also worked at the place, who said no, it was a senior job, just a poorly written ad. I got the job!

      1. Elizabeth West

        Cool! :D

        Yes to this. I follow writers I like on Twitter and other writers are now following me. Not only am I building a network (albeit a tiny one), there is more stuff to read. :) They sometimes post about conferences, etc. that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise (not that I can go right now if they’re far away, but at least I’m aware of them).

    4. Ad Astra

      I sometimes go to happy hours sponsored by my city’s young professionals organization, and the only-here-to-network people always seem to show up in full force. I’m there to make some friends or at least get out of the house once in a while, but a lot of people will disappear from the conversation as soon as it’s clear that I can’t do anything to help their career.

      My company pays for my membership, but a lot of these people are spending real money to be there, so maybe that’s why it attracts chronic social climbers. I was pretty active in another city’s young professionals organization, but it was free, and I made a lot of friends in completely unrelated industries who could do me no favors professionally.

      1. Elizabeth West

        We have a fancy supper club here, but it’s just a hair out of my reach financially. It would be a good place to network, though; I’m pretty sure some bigwigs go there. Which would probably include some of my former bosses, so maybe it’s not that great an idea!

  17. Mimmy

    The fact that career centers and unemployment offices still give out this advice just boggles my mind. I remember right after getting my MSW reading how important it was to say that you’ll follow up for an interview, and actually writing that felt very disingenuous because I am FAR from pushy.

    I was surprised to see #5 (networking) on this list. My friend/classmate told me this just a few months ago; well, makes sense….she works at a community college :P Anyway….I agree that this kind of networking puts too much pressure on people, especially those of us who dread networking. However, if done right, I think it CAN work. I think the key is to let these conversations happen naturally. Don’t force it. A common question at any function–professional or family–is “what do you do?” or, if you haven’t seen a person in some time, “What have you been up to?”. Then just let the conversation flow from there. If someone has a lead you may be interested in, they’ll let you know. I’ve had other people say to me, “I’ll keep an eye out for xxx”. Again, if something turns up, great! If not, that’s okay.

    1. Ad Astra

      It does seem like if your job is to help people find employment you’d be obligated to keep up with trends and changes. Weird that so many are so far out of touch.

      1. Kelly L.

        I feel like it’s sort of a separate industry that feeds on itself and regurgitates its own ideas again and again, without actually having much connection to actual hiring. It’s too much of a closed circle, from what I gather.

      2. Stevie Wonders

        Most of the (then current) job searching books/advice I’ve read over the last 30 years struck me as rank HR/corporate propaganda. Almost none from the POV of a job hunter, or effectively help them navigate a system that has gone from very inefficient to outright dysfunctional. Much of it made me question when the authors last looked for work. I’ve found blogs like this useful due to real world experiences of job seekers, instead of hiring authorities with distorted and unrealistic views of the hiring process.

  18. Worn Heels

    #1: This information is often right for the wrong reasons. In my town at least, there are hundreds of businesses crammed into anonymous office parks and high-rises that have a website that does not acknowledge that there is a branch office of their business in my town, or (for smaller businesses, contractors, and consultants, that have a website that only shows up on page 10 of the Google search results. Unless you visited these areas, there would be no clear way to know that these businesses existed.

  19. Buttonhole

    My 90 year old granny told me to look for jobs in the newspaper. Of course I won’t! But thanks for the advice, granny. Love you too, granny…

  20. AnnieNonymous

    Networking is helpful if it’s natural. I’ve asked friends to forward my resume to hiring managers, but I’ve never pushed for interviews or asked my friends to talk me up more than was warranted. Obviously networking is helpful, but I think it’s the sort of thing where you can’t trust that people will automatically know how to be good at it, so it’s better if you just don’t recommend it. The people who are bound to be good at it will figure it out anyway.

    So much bad advice is the result of having to look like you’re “actively” searching for a job. How do you prove to your mom/school/unemployment office that you’re applying for jobs if they can’t quantify that you’re making these annoying calls or leaving the house to show up at the businesses in person? The application process has gone online, so you can apply at 2 am from your bedroom, but people don’t see this happening, so sometimes they don’t believe you.

  21. Baymax

    Regarding #4, while I agree that inflating your salary can and will come back to bite you, I try to leave salary requirements and history information off applications as much as possible. IIRC, keeping that info private was recommended on this very blog in many posts. The prospective employer could use that info to lower your offer based on previous salary, and if that salary is higher they’d likely just stick with their own range. Having it on there doesn’t help you. Any salary discussion other than maybe the starting range for the position can and should come up much later in the process. I’m curious to hear other commenters’ reaction to this item.

    1. YourOwnPersonalCheeses

      I wondered about that too. One (of many) things I’ve learned from this website is that you shouldn’t reveal your current income if at all possible, for exactly the kinds of reasons you mention. It’s not actually a legit thing for a prospective employer to need to know.

  22. KTB

    I love this list. My husband recently started job searching again, and while I haven’t convinced him that he needs to read this site ASAP, I have gotten some traction by parroting AAM.

    For example, my last piece of advice was for him to fill out all of the relevant boxes on the online form. He was balking at filling out anything that was also on his resume (jobs, education, etc.). I asked him if there was someone at the company who also had his resume so as to pull him through the system. Since the answer was no, I told him to fill out everything, so that the computer didn’t auto-reject him. So far, so good.

    That said, I’m not sure what he did about the salary box. Maybe someone wised up and they didn’t include one? That would be nice!

  23. Newly Seeking

    This advice is being given by state employment counsellors. Got laid off in July and had to go in for a counseling session on how to job hunt. The counsellor backed down a little when I showed him the elaborate Google Doc I use to track my job hunting activities but on the list of activities provided by the state as a condition of receiving unemployment you need to do at least three of per week is calling or going in to companies. I told him what the article said, and he agreed that it might not be appropriate in all contexts – but the next appointment is in October and who knows what counselor I’ll get and what that one believes.

  24. Chris Hogg

    Alison –

    Love and recommend your advice. But in the two US News & World Report articles noted below you seem to be saying to follow up, and, to not follow up. Can you clarify? Thanks.

    How to Derail Your Job Search
    8. Being too quick to assume that you’re out of the running, so not following up. After a job interview, do you obsess over all the little mistakes you think you made, and beat yourself up for not giving different answers? Some people take this to such an extreme that they decide they obviously failed the interview, and so they don’t bother to do any follow-up. Obsess if you must, but don’t let it deter you from following up after the interview to reiterate your interest. Your self-assessment may not line up with theirs.

    Is Your Job-Search Advice Wildly Outdated? (this post)
    2. “Call to follow up on your application, or you won’t look interested in the job.” Legions of job seekers have been taught that calling to follow up on applications is an essential part of the process. Maybe this worked at some point, but these days employers frown on follow-up calls. Persistent following up mainly shows that you don’t understand how the hiring process works and don’t respect the hiring manager’s time. Similarly…

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      The older one is talking about following up after an interview, and by email (like a post-interview thank you note). The second one is talking about following up after just submitting an application and by phone — so two different things!

Comments are closed.