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Are You Making These Big Job Search Mistakes?

From applications to interviews, how to avoid the top job search mistakes.

Resume Mistakes

I’ll download a pretty resume template from the web and fill in the blanks. You are not a template of a person, so why let a template to represent you as a candidate? Templates are bad on so many levels. They’re full of hidden formatting that can cause you big headaches down the road. Plus, they are often distractingly ornamented with colors and lines and glitter and feathers. Do it right and start from scratch… this is your career we’re talking about.

I'll list every job I've ever had and really knock their socks off. I’ve gotta tell ya, not only will their argyles stay firmly in place, their foreheads will land in a pool of drool. Except in certain cases, a resume doesn’t usually need to extend beyond the past 10 years of experience. Keep it to two pages max. And don’t write bullet point after boring bullet point of daily duties. Instead, show off your quantifiable accomplishments, results of your actions, increasing responsibilities, specialized skills, and the uniqueness that sets you apart from everybody else who can answer a multiline phone and use Microsoft Word.

Minda Haas Kuhlmann/flickr
Source: Minda Haas Kuhlmann/flickr

I'll load it with strings of impressive keywords, buzzwords, and catchphrases because that’s how resumes are supposed to look. Example: “I’m a results-driven, task-oriented, effective communicator who excels under pressure and delivers top-notch results with passion, precision, and professionalism.” Wow, that’s a lot of commas. And a lot of words that tell the reader you think highly of yourself but actually say very little of substance. Every single word on a resume is precious real estate. So why not build the nicest house on the block? Write with a voice that’s professionally appropriate but authentic. Use real examples that show rather than tell how great you are.

Cover Letter Mistakes

See all above. Avoid just writing one template cover letter and merely changing the company name for every job you apply for. Use that space to show genuine excitement for the position and an understanding of their organization. Illustrate, with a brief story- an accomplishment that proves you can step in to solve their problems. Try to be warm and personable, don’t repeat what’s in your resume, don’t be afraid to use humor, do use your authentic voice, and do keep it well under a page. Recruiters and hiring managers receive dozens if not hundreds of resumes and cover letters for each job opening, so make yours short and sweet, not pool of drool.

LinkedIn Mistakes

Avoid the sterile profile that’s merely a chronology of job history. LinkedIn allows you to express yourself with more detail than a resume, and it should look different from your resume. Since resumes are usually full of bullet points, you might try a more narrative style with your LinkedIn profile. Perhaps you’ll use the Summary section to summarize your top professional competencies and/or call attention to some career highlights. Let it tell your story and paint a picture of you as a unique individual. Use a nice clear headshot and do reach out to your network to get those Recommendations and Endorsements. Keeping your LinkedIn up-to-date is a long-term investment in your career development.

Social Media Mistakes

My enthusiasm for LinkedIn does not extend to other social media. Go ahead and assume your potential new employer will Google your name and will pull up your social media. Beat them to the punch. Google yourself. If you don’t like how you’re showing up, clean things up. Have a friend look at your social media accounts to get an outside perspective. Are you in fisticuffs on Facebook? Inebriated on Instagram? Stop that. Tighten up those privacy settings. And what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Instead of fisticuffs and inebriation, use social media as a career development tool. Share updates from your industry. Express expertise on career-related subjects you’re passionate about. Follow companies you admire and interact with them. Many companies first post their new jobs on their social media accounts. What better place for a company to find engaged employees than the place where their biggest fans are engaging with them!

Phone Screening Mistakes

So you landed a pre-interview. As with all interviews, prepare well but don’t come across as overly rehearsed or robotic. Try to smile a bit while you’re on that call—a smile comes through the other side of the line. A phone screen is about leaving a positive and warm impression while confirming that you meet the overall requirements of the job. Both of those points can be accomplished if you have a few good stories in your back pocket. Think of times when you were at your best on the job and we're proud of your accomplishment: you impressed your boss, solved a big problem, landed a major client, or prevented a disaster. With stories like that in hand, you’ll speak with specificity, confidence, and enthusiasm and that’s the kind of candidate they’re after. Phone screeners are often recruiters or HR and they are going to be your best friends in this process.

Interview Mistakes

Interviewing is an art form that takes practice. Because it’s such a big topic, I’ve written several Psychology Today articles that provide insider tips on how to prepare and perform. Check out Landing Interviews But Not Job Offers? 20 Possible Problems and How Job Interviews Really Work.

Final Tips

1. The majority of jobs are not being landed through postings on those big online job boards. Networking is #1. The good news is, you get to decide what networking means for you. If you’re an extrovert, maybe it’s arranging a cocktail hour for professionals in your industry. If you’re an introvert, maybe that means connecting to 50 new people on LinkedIn, sending them a personal note or asking them to connect by phone or a coffee chat.

2. If you’re excited for a job you applied to last week but you haven’t received a response, don’t passively wait for something to happen. Be proactive. Find the name of the company’s internal recruiter, hiring manager, or department director. Send them a message on LinkedIn. Tell them you’re a big fan of the company and would like to hop on a brief call to discuss your resume. If nothing else this gets your name in their inbox or your profile on their screen.

3. Adopt my job seekers’ golden rule: Pay it forward. If someone in your network needs career help, offer it. If you’ve asked for career help from someone in your network, offer help in return. What if they don’t need any career help? Offer to help with yard work or at least send them a gift basket. I mean a good gift basket with craft beer and stinky cheeses, not just apples and stuff.

(An excerpted version of this article titled 8 Crucial Job Search Mistakes You Might Be Making first appeared at

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