When you’re looking for a new job there’s a lot that can go wrong, from formatting your resume improperly to being tripped up by questions during the job interview. Mistakes will happen — some bigger than others — and most of them are survivable…but there are certain pitfalls to avoid that can make your job search run a lot more smoothly. Watch out for these 10 common mistakes job applicants often make.
Not starting your job search early enough
The biggest mistake is not looking for a new job soon enough. You should keep looking for a new job, even if you have one you like and perhaps don’t want to quit. Start your job search at least 18 months or so after starting your new job. Gone are the days of pensions for decades of employee loyalty or people staying at one job for more than a few years. Whatever your job, stay on your toes so you’ll be ready for your next job search.
Relying on ads and job boards
Online job boards can help you find the keywords for your resume and criteria companies are looking for. But for landing a specific job? They’re not usually so helpful, and are more often a waste of time. Be careful, because sometimes they’re not even legitimate job ads. You’re better off reaching out to your network — perhaps using LinkedIn — than spending a ton of time applying to online job listings.
Sending unsolicited resumes
If you’ve found a company you’re interested in working for and the contact information for someone who works there, that’s a great thing. But don’t just send your resume out of the blue (“Hey can you find me a job at your company I’d be a fit for?”). It’s one of the most common job search mistakes you can make. Instead, ask your contact for advice before applying for a position normally there — if they offer to pass along a recommendation or your resume, that’s great. But let them decide to do it or not.
Not keeping your job search a secret
In some cases, it might make sense to tell your boss you’re thinking of leaving — if your manager might be willing to change the things that are bothering you. But this depends highly on your boss, and in most cases you should keep your job search under wraps from your employer. You can make your search private even if the company checks up on employees. Make sure you keep LinkedIn in mind as well — it’s obvious you’re on the hunt if your profile is highlighted with a bright “open for work” sign.
Not cleaning up your online profiles
Most people are aware that potential employers check candidates’ social media profiles, and yet many applicants still get rejected because of their poor online presence. Sometimes it’s not over inappropriate content, but other things like poor communication skills or sharing information about previous employers. Spruce up your social network profiles, and make sure there’s nothing posted there that might put you in a bad light. Consider your latests tweets, too, to make sure they’re a representation of what you’d be ok with a potential new employer seeing (or, of course, switch your social media accounts to private).
Sending generic resumes
It might seem like too much work, but you should tailor your resume for the job and your profession. Remember that both hiring managers and computerised screening systems look to see if your resume matches the position. Avoid common resume mistakes. Use the keywords from the job listing in your resume and summarize your qualifications based on what the company is looking for. Know the key words that are best for your field, and avoid sending out the exact same resume everywhere.
Showing up to the interview underprepared
You’ve got to ace the interview to get the job, but according to hiring managers, too many job applicants aren’t prepared for things like describing situations where they’ve succeeded or failed — or don’t even look interested. Watch your body language, come prepared with questions for the company, and be ready to respond to the most common job interview questions. Here’s a job interview sheet that can help you prep. Also, get to the interview about 15 minutes early, not too early.
Not researching the company enough
This was a biggie when I asked hiring managers what they wished job applicants knew. Know the company’s narrative before you apply — their pain points, values, and industry trends. This will help you figure out if the company is a cultural fit for you, and it will also show your interviewer that you really care about the job and your potential future at the company.
Misusing your network (or not using it at all)
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” rings true to a great extent. Your contacts — and the people they know — are your best source for a new job, since the majority of jobs aren’t even advertised. In some industries, such as computer security and management consulting, networking matters even a great deal more. It’s awkward to reach out to people when you’re looking for a job, but someone in your network could be a great referral. You could use a trade show or conference to network your way into a new job, use the LinkedIn “back door” method, or just, you know, send an email. If you haven’t talked to a reference in a long time, just be transparent about why you’re reaching out.
Underestimating your worth
Even when the job market is tough, you shouldn’t automatically accept any job offer (unless, perhaps, you’re in dire need of a job right now). The only way to make sure a job offer is fair is to know how much your skills and experience are worth. Know what salary to ask for in a new job by using salary search sites and other tools that can help you avoid lowball offers and negotiate your salary. You should have a minimum salary you’d be willing to accept, and aim for getting a higher salary or better benefits than you’re currently getting. The biggest salary negotiation mistake is not doing it, so don’t be afraid to negotiate.
This story was originally published in May 2016 and was updated on May 24, 2021 as a slideshow with new photos and information.