Not every piece of job search advice you hear is worth following. In fact, some of it is downright bad and will hurt your chances. Here are 10 pieces of advice that you should ignore every time:
1. Collect letters of recommendation from previous managers before you start your job hunt.
Reality: You can skip this step entirely. Employers know that those letters don't count for much since no one puts critical information in them. Plus, when hiring managers reach the reference-checking stage of the hiring process, they want to talk to your references—on the phone, where they can ask questions and probe for more information. Managers want to hear your references' tone of voice, hear where they hesitate before answering, and hear what they say when asked about potential problem areas.
2. You need to track down the hiring manager's name so that you can address your cover letter to him or her.
Reality: This is another unnecessary step. If the hiring manager's name is easily available, go ahead and use it. But you don't need to call to track it down or do other sleuthing. Hiring managers rarely think, "Wow, this person took the trouble to call and find out my name. What amazing initiative!" It just doesn't matter that much, so instead put that time into writing a great cover letter. Speaking of which…
3. Employers don't really read cover letters.
Reality: A well-written cover letter with personality can get you an interview when your resume alone wouldn't have. Sure, not every hiring manager cares about cover letters, but many do and you have no way of knowing which type you're dealing with. With so many stories of cover letters opening doors that otherwise would have stayed shut, it would be foolish to pass up this incredibly effective way of standing out.
4. Don't leave the ball in the employer's court—say you'll call to schedule an interview.
Reality: Too many job seekers end their cover letters with a statement like, "I'll call in a week to schedule an interview." This is pushy and overly aggressive. Job seekers don't get to decide to schedule an interview; employers do. And employers would spend all day fielding calls if the hundreds of applicants who apply for any given position were to call to follow up. It might be hard to accept, but once you apply, the ball is in the employer's court.
5. Stop by the business you want to work for and apply in person.
Reality: This isn't good salesmanship; it's annoying. Most companies include specific instructions about how they want you to apply, and unless "in person" is included, they don't want you stopping by. Plus, many companies only accept resumes electronically because they use electronic screening systems. (Retail and food service are exceptions to this; in-person applications tend to be more common in those industries.)
6. Send out as many applications as possible every day.
Reality: It doesn't matter how many resumes you send out if they're not tailored to the jobs for which you're applying. A smaller number of well-done applications customized to the job will get you better results.
7. It's OK to inflate your current salary.
Reality: When a prospective employer asks what you're making currently, you might be tempted to inflate the number to get a better offer from them. But if the employer finds out later that you lied, your job offer can be yanked—even after you've already started the job. And many companies ask candidates for W2s or other documentation of the salary they reported.
8. Always send a handwritten thank-you note.
Reality: You should always send a thank you after a job interview, but it's perfectly fine to send it through email. In fact, email can often be better than postal mail, because if an employer is moving quickly, a letter sent through the mail may arrive after a decision has already been made.
9. If you're called for a phone screen, never ask to talk later.
Reality: If an employer calls out of the blue for a phone screen, you might be running out the door for an appointment, in the grocery store, or dealing with a child. It's perfectly fine to explain that you're not able to talk at the moment and ask to schedule a time to talk later; you're not obligated to take the call on the spot.
10. Find a gimmick to make your application stand out.
Reality: Don't listen to people who recommend that you use a fancy resume design, have your resume delivered by overnight mail, or send it along with a box of cookies. The way to stand out in a job search is to be a highly qualified candidate, have a resume that shows a track record of achievement, to write a great cover letter, and be responsive, thoughtful, and enthusiastic during the hiring process. It might be boring, but it's effective.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager'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.