Here are six common misconceptions that can keep you from getting job interviews and offers.
1. The interviewing process is about convincing the interviewer to hire you. It can be easy to think that, but if you think a little deeper, you'll realize that the interviewing process should be about figuring out if you're the right fit for the job, and whether it's a job you even want. Too often, job seekers only think about getting an offer and forget to think about what will come after that. You want to end up in a job that you'll excel at and be happy in, not in one that you'll struggle at or that will make you miserable. If you approach the interview process as a two-way street, not a one-way judgment process, you'll get a better outcome.
2. If the job is work you want to do and would be good at, this is the job you want. The work is only part of the equation in figuring out if you'd be happy at a particular job. The rest of the equation includes the culture of the company, the people you'd work with and the manager you'd work for. Too often, job seekers ignore signals about terrible managers and a culture that will make them unhappy because they're only paying attention to the work they'd do, but jobs don't exist in a vacuum, and you need to evaluate the workplace and the people as well.
3. You have to have connections to get a job. When you hear people talk about the importance of connections in job-hunting, it's easy to start to believe that you'll never find a job without them. Connections do help, but plenty of people get jobs by spotting an ad, sending in a résumé and interviewing, with no connections helping them at all. Networking can help make your job search easier, but don't give up on more straightforward methods of applying either.
4. You need to do something unusual to catch the hiring manager's attention and stand out. Job seekers are sometimes tempted to resort to gimmicks to stand out, like using a fancy résumé design, having their résumé delivered by overnight mail or recording a video résumé. But gimmicks don't make up for a lack of qualifications and will turn off many hiring managers. The right way to stand out is simple: Write a great cover letter and have a résumé that demonstrates a track record of success in the area for which the employer is hiring.
5. If you don't call to follow up on your application and ask for an interview, they'll think you're not persistent or interested enough. While this might have been true at some point in the past, today these calls generally don't help and sometimes hurt. With hundreds of applicants for every opening, if every applicant called to follow up, employers would spend all day fielding these calls – and they don't want to. Once you apply, the ball is in the employers' court to decide if they want to talk with you.
6. You just need to show that you're qualified to do the job. Many job seekers think that all it takes to get an interview is showing that they meet the requirements listed in the ad, and then are confused and frustrated when they don't get interviews. After all, they met all the qualifications listed! But often dozens or even hundreds of applicants meet the job's qualifications, and the employer can't interview all of them. That means that successful applicants go far beyond simply meeting the qualifications – they write engaging cover letters explaining why they're interested in the job and why they'd excel at it, they have compelling résumés that explain what they've accomplished in the past (not just what their duties were), and they stand out as thoughtful, responsible and enthusiastic. If your applications aren't portraying you that way, it's probably holding you back.
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.