Here are eight job-search missteps to put an end to today.
1. Trying to read into every word or action from your interviewer. Because job searching can be so stressful, many job seekers try to find clues about their chances in everything an employer says and does. This leads to frustrating and generally fruitless attempts to parse every word from an interviewer – "Was she signaling I didn't get the job when she said they had more candidates to interview?" "Is it a good sign that he shook my hand and said he'd be in touch?" More often than not, these "signals" don't mean anything at all, and just drive candidates crazy trying to read between the lines.
2. Stressing out over elements of your job applications that really don't matter. Employers really don't care whether you spend time tracking down the hiring manager's name or just address your cover letter to "dear hiring manager," so don't put time into that. Similarly, most hiring managers really don't care what your résumé design looks like as long as it's organized and easy to skim, or whether your post-interview thank-you note is handwritten or emailed. Don't sweat the little stuff; put your energy into showing your qualifications and why you'd excel at the job.
3. Scrimping on the cover letter. If you're applying for jobs without including a compelling cover letter, one that's customized to this specific job, you're missing out on one of the most effective ways to get a hiring manager's attention. A cover letter is your opportunity to make a compelling case for yourself as a candidate, totally aside from what's in your résumé. You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't write one tailored to each job for which you apply.
4. Thinking that you have the job before you have an offer. Too often, candidates see good signs from an employer and think it means that they're going to get an offer – only to be crushed when the offer never comes. And not only does this regularly lead to disappointment, it can also lead you to make bad decisions for yourself – like not continuing to apply for other jobs or even turning down interviews because you think your search is over. Never assume that you're getting the job until you have a formal offer.
5. Not explaining why you'd excel at the job. If you're simply submitting a résumé that runs down where you've worked and what your job duties were, it's no wonder if you're not getting interviews. Hiring managers aren't nearly as concerned about what jobs you've held as they are about what you accomplished in those jobs. Your résumé needs to list specific accomplishments (like "increased Web traffic by 25 percent over 12 months" or "regularly recognized for highest number of customer compliments"), and your cover letter needs to explicitly address how your track record shows that you'd excel if hired.
6. Taking advice from people with no experience hiring. There's tons of advice on job searching out there – from your friends, your relatives and plenty of self-styled experts on the Internet – much of it contradictory. Before you take any job searching advice, think critically about the source. Is it someone with significant experience hiring people? And recent experience, at that? If not, that advice might not be worth much.
7. Taking it personally. It's easy to become personally invested in a job you think you really want and then be devastated when you end up not getting it. Many job seekers start to question what's wrong with them and what they were lacking – but most of the time, these decisions aren't personal at all. Often candidates get rejected not because they weren't well qualified but because someone else was simply a better fit. When there's one open slot and multiple qualified candidates, lots of great people will get rejected. You can't take it personally.
8. Forgetting to evaluate potential employers just as much as they're evaluating you. In the anxiety of an interview, it can be easy to focus only on whether you're impressing your interviewer, but it's crucial to remember that you should be thinking about whether you even want the job. The interview process isn't one-way; you should use the time to think about whether you're the right fit for the work, the manager and the workplace culture. Otherwise, you can end up in a job where you don't excel or aren't happy. So interview that employer right back before you make any decisions.
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.