[See our list of the 50 Best Careers.]
1. Most interviewers aren't very good at interviewing. You might be going into interviews assuming that your interviewers know what they're doing, but in fact, many interviewers are inexperienced, unskilled, unprepared, or otherwise unable to conduct effective interviews. Some of them are even nervous. Most interviewers don't get good training on how to interview well, and a lot of them are winging it.
2. We want you to talk about salary first for exactly the reason you fear. Salary conversations are frustrating and nerve-wracking for job-seekers because they risk low-balling themselves by naming a number first. And that's exactly why employers push candidates to throw out a number first. In an ideal world, employers would simply let you know the range they plan to pay, but in reality, plenty of them take advantage of the power disparity by making candidates talk money first.
3. We're being really friendly because we want you to let your guard down. Good interviewers will do everything they can to put candidates at ease—partly to be nice, of course, but also because they want candidates to let their guard down. Not only do we want to know what you're really like (as opposed to your formal "interview face"), but we also know that you're more likely to reveal something unflattering if you feel comfortable.
[In Pictures: 6 Tips for Landing a Job in 2012.]
4. Fit really, really matters. You could have all the qualifications an employer is looking for, but if they decide that you wouldn't mesh well with the manager, team, or office culture, you're probably not getting the job. Employers aren't just looking for specific skill sets; they're also looking for people who will thrive in their specific environment.
5. Saying you can start sooner than two weeks when you're currently employed is a huge red flag. If you indicate that you'd leave your job without giving your current employer proper notice, we'll take note of that and will assume that if we hire you, we'll be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment too.
6. Employers always underestimate how long it will take to fill a position. They might tell you they'll be scheduling interviews next week or making a decision by the end of the month, but chances are high that it'll take longer than that. Timelines get derailed by all kinds of things: higher priority work that comes up unexpectedly, a decision-maker who's busy or out sick, a budget question that needs to be resolved before they can make the hire, a reference check process that takes longer than expected, and so forth.
7. Rejection letters are intentionally vague. Don't read anything into them. Most rejection notices are standard form letters that are sent to all rejected candidates, using the same language for everyone. Don't try to figure out if they really mean it when they say "you were a strong candidate" or "your experience didn't fit our needs." The only real meaning a rejection notice has is "we've decided not to hire you." (The exception to this is if the employer has added an obviously personal note to the letter.)
[See 10 Myths About Job Searching.]
8. "We'll keep your resume on file" rarely means that your resume will be reviewed the next time that employer has an opening. Employers keep resumes on file because the law requires them to, not because they regularly sort through them for candidates.
9. "We'll call you" might mean "you'll never hear from us again." It's increasingly common for companies to never get back to candidates after interviewing them. This is rude and inconsiderate; candidates are often waiting anxiously to hear back, and have often taken time off of work to interview or even traveled at their own expense. But, unfortunately, this "out of sight, out of mind" behavior has become commonplace.
10. The way you approach your job hunt will affect how happy you are in your new job. If you use gimmicks and aggressive sales tactics instead of standing on the strength of your own qualifications, you're likely to end up working somewhere that rewards that behavior, rather than merit. And then you'll be complaining that the promotions and raises all go to the flashiest employees, instead of those with the best work. Hiring managers who are good at what they do and are rewarding to work for don't need you to use sales tactics or gimmicks in order to stand out, because they know how to identify the best candidate for the job all on their own.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.