Job seekers make a lot of mistakes. Sometimes they know they are making them, but most often, they make mistakes because they don't know any better. There are many simple ones: not double-checking your work, not dressing appropriately, hounding human resources for an update, not sending a cover letter or thank you, or not using keywords in resumes. But it is the following five mistakes that have an even bigger impact on the outcome of your search:
1. Ignoring directions. Employers provide directions on how to apply in their job descriptions, and often request information they would like you to submit. For example, when they ask for salary history, don't ignore this request. However, you don't have to divulge a number that would suggest you're too expensive or under market value. Address their request for salary history in your cover letter. Either include the number, or provide a good reason why you will not be providing this information at this time, followed by a statement that you would be happy to discuss your past salary during the interview.
Employers also provide directions when they are arranging interviews and sending you follow-up messages. When you overlook or ignore their directions you are telling a potential employer that this is how you will perform on the job. You are unwittingly presenting yourself as someone who feels the rules do not apply to them. Or, at the very least, you look like you don't pay attention to detail. Either way, you're sending the wrong message.
2. Bad-mouthing your situation, boss, or employer. Everyone knows it has been a tough few years for finding jobs and that many employees have been downsized due to no fault of their own. But these aren't excuses you want to use. Whether you're meeting with a former colleague, hiring manager, recruiter, or anyone else with the power to refer or hire you, you must be aware that they are evaluating you and always present yourself as someone who will tackle difficult problems. When asked why you left your last job, never blame others. Take ownership of what you can and state what you've done to remedy the situation in a concise, non-defensive answer.
Your response to what you have been doing during your job search also indicates how motivated you are. Your answer should reference any volunteer work you've done or classes you've taken. Anything is better than nothing. When you complain about any of these things, you don't come across as a problem-solver, you look like a complainer—no one likes someone who complains.
3. Showing up unprepared. When you show up at an interview, be sure you have enough copies of your resume, that you have researched the company, and that you have prepared questions to ask. When asked why you want to work for that employer, your answer must include why you feel they would be a good company to work for and how you can help them. Interviewers are assessing this answer to see how "hungry" you are for the job. Their belief is that the candidates who really want the position have taken time to research the job and the company and know how they will fit in. And always have questions to ask. Nothing says "not interested" more than not asking questions.
4. Only searching for jobs posted online. Many times, employers have already identified a candidate they want to hire by the time they have posted the job. When you only use job postings to find jobs, you may miss out on unadvertised opportunities, enter the competition too late, and then find yourself competing with hundreds of other qualified candidates. For better job search results, work with recruiters and talk to people who work inside companies who could hire you potentially. Savvy job seekers create a list of potential employers and begin looking for people they know inside these companies so they can learn about upcoming, unadvertised openings.
5. Ignoring the power of social media. You won't use Facebook for job search. Or you think Twitter is a waste of time. Or you're waiting for a company to hire you because you have a profile on LinkedIn. These choices portray a resistance to learning and trying new things. In case you forgot, when you start a new job, learning new things is a major component of your new role. Social recruiting is on the rise and more employers are turning to LinkedIn for faster and higher quality hires. Take time to learn how to use social media to identify company insiders, read news about target companies, and participate in discussions to keep you up to date on industry trends. It demonstrates you are committed to lifelong learning, not afraid of challenges and technology, and that you will be a valuable contributor.
Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain. Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.